This is an excerpt about shunning from the Royal Commissions latest (final?) report: I think it is a must read and shows clearly that shunning also needs to be considered when child abuse is discussed and how cruel it is.
Here the report:
Jehovah’s Witnesses are counselled against associating, fraternising or conversing with a person who has been disfellowshipped or who has chosen to disassociate from the Jehovah’s Witness organisation. This practice is known as ‘shunning’.
Even family members are instructed not to associate with a disfellowshipped or disassociated relative unless the association is unavoidable – for example, if they share a house with the person.
Violation by a Jehovah’s Witness of the decree against associating with a disfellowshipped or disassociated person may itself, in certain circumstances, be a disfellowshipping offence.
There is evidence before the Royal Commission of the difficulty that people experience in deciding to leave the Jehovah’s Witness organisation because of the fear of being shunned by friends and loved ones.
BCG told the Royal Commission that, when she decided to leave the Jehovah’s Witness organisation, she and her three children ‘were completely shunned, ostracised and actively avoided by members’ of the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses that she had left.
The Royal Commission heard evidence that a person who wishes to leave the Jehovah’s Witness organisation must ‘disassociate’ from the organisation. A person takes the action of 'disassociation’ if that person ‘deliberately repudiates his Christian standing’ and rejects ‘the congregation by his actions or by stating that he no longer wants to be recognised as or known as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses’.
Mr Geoffrey Jackson gave evidence that, if a person ‘definitely’ no longer wants to be subject to the Jehovah’s Witness organisation’s discipline and rules, they must actively leave the organisation by disassociating.
The Royal Commission heard that, if a person does not want to formally disassociate, they may instead choose to become ‘inactive’. Documents in evidence describe an ‘inactive’ person as a person who might have ‘failed to study God’s word regularly’, may be experiencing personal problems or may have ‘lost his zeal for serving Jehovah’.
The Jehovah’s Witness organisation still considers a person who chooses to become ‘inactive’ to be a Jehovah’s Witness and therefore still subject to its rules and disciplinary procedures.
Furthermore, that ‘inactive’ person will remain the concern of elders and others in the congregation in relation to the ‘rendering [of] appropriate spiritual assistance’ to that person.
Mr O’Brien told the Royal Commission that a person who chooses to become ‘inactive’ rather than disassociating entirely from the Jehovah’s Witness organisation is able to retain their ‘spiritual and familial association’.
It is clear that members of the Jehovah’s Witness organisation who no longer want to be subject to the organisation’s rules and discipline have no alternative but to actively leave (or disassociate from) the organisation.
Shunning and survivors of child sexual abuse
It is conceivable that a survivor of child sexual abuse may no longer wish to be part of, or subject to the rules and discipline of, the Jehovah’s Witness organisation at all. This might be the case especially if they feel that their complaint of abuse was not dealt with adequately or if their abuser remains in the organisation. As discussed above, a survivor’s decision to actively leave (disassociate from) the organisation would typically result in that person being shunned by other members of the organisation.
Also, it is conceivable, if not likely, that a survivor’s entire family and social networks comprise members of the Jehovah’s Witness organisation. A survivor of child sexual abuse may therefore be faced with the impossible choice between staying in an organisation which is protective of their abuser in order to retain their social and familial network and leaving the organisation and losing that entire network as a result.
Mr Geoffrey Jackson gave evidence that the decision to disassociate and leave the Jehovah’s Witnesses was a ‘difficult’ one that can be ‘personally devastating because [a person] can lose their whole social network and their families’.
The Watchtower & Ors submitted that the Royal Commission’s consideration of the practice of shunning is ‘outside the Terms of Reference and has no immediate relevance to institutional responses to child sexual abuse’. We do not agree with this submission. In our view, it is clear that the practice of shunning is an inextricable component of the institutional response to child sexual abuse (bold is mine).
The Jehovah’s Witness organisation’s practice of shunning members who disassociate from the organisation has the very real potential of putting a survivor in the untenable position of having to choose between constant re-traumatisation at having to share a community with their abuser and losing that entire community altogether.
The Jehovah’s Witness organisation’s policy of requiring its members to shun and actively avoid those who leave (or disassociate from) the organisation:
• makes it extremely difficult for a person to leave the organisation
can be upsetting for those who leave and for their friends and family who remain behind
• can be particularly devastating for those who have suffered child sexual abuse in the organisation and who wish to leave because they feel that their complaints about it have not been dealt with adequately or because their abuser remains in the congregation.