Stephanie Fessler v Watch Tower - Trial on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017 in Pennsylvania

by AndersonsInfo 60 Replies latest watchtower child-abuse

  • darkspilver

    This is a report from the York Dispatch from May 2013:

    York victims of sexual assault struggle for peace

    She looks pretty tough now, sporting big hoop earrings and a spiked, two-toned faux hawk.

    But 20 years ago, Stephanie Fessler was a vulnerable 4-year-old girl told she was to blame for being sexually assaulted by a male congregation member at Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses.

    She was 14 the second time it happened. This time, it came at the hands of a 50-year-old woman from the church. Fessler said she was given the same punishment as her abuser.

    "I was publicly reproved (disgraced) at a church meeting," Fessler said Thursday after speaking about the abuse in public for the first time. "Because she was a woman, I should've known better. It was against the church ..."

  • rebelfighter


    Never a JW I am so sorry for the things you went through as a JW, it was not right. I am from a generation where we just hid what went on in the home. I just connected with a long list girlfriend and we both thought each others parents were great turned out how wrong we were. Both of us escaped the moment we graduated and barely looked back. I was raised by a mother who a high functioning alcoholic but the moment she walked in the front door she became the most abusive human being. She was also strung out on every prescription drug she could get her hands on. Great combo. In our generation we just avoided them. Some of us ran away from home, I became very independent, at the age of 14 started paying my own way and started bullying her, she met her match. That is when she called me the Rebel.

  • Richard Oliver
    Richard Oliver


    Part of the claim is that because the elders did not report the matter to the proper authorities that she is now able to bring a private claim against the elders fro the non-reporting.

    Berry v Watchtower Bible and Tract Society

    Because we hold that Watchtower and Wilton Congregation have no common law duty to protect the plaintiffs and that the plaintiffs may not bring a private cause of action for the alleged failure of the elders to comply with RSA 169-C:29, we affirm the trial court's dismissal of the plaintiffs' action, albeit for different reasons. We need not, therefore, address the remaining arguments.

    John Doe v Roman Catholic Diocese of Galveston-Houston

    Treatises and legal commentaries examining a duty to report child abuse address the issue in the context of state reporting statutes. See, e.g., 43 C.J.S. Infants § 117 (2007) (“There is authority that a failure to comply with a statute imposing a duty on specified persons, institutions, or agencies to report known or suspected child abuse may give rise to a private cause of action against that person, institution, or agency failing to do so ....”);

    Arabaugh v Board of Education County of Pedelton

    Accordingly we conclude that West Virginia Code § 49–6A–2 does not give rise to an implied private civil cause of action, in addition to criminal penalties imposed by the statute, for failure to report suspected child abuse where an individual with a duty to report under the statute is alleged to have had reasonable cause to suspect that a child is being abused and has failed to report suspected abuse. The same conclusion has been reached by a decided majority of states which have applied factors comparable to those in Hurley when considering whether a private cause of action was implied through mandatory reporting statutes similar to ours.

    Fischer v Metclaf:

    The legislature established that violation of the mandatory reporting provision would constitute a second degree misdemeanor. To find a legislative intent to provide a *791 private right of action against non-reporters, we would have to ignore the well-established rule that a court may not disregard the plain purpose and language of the statutes to bring about what some of its members may conceive to be a more proper result. Vocelle v. Knight Bros. Paper Co., 118 So.2d 664 (Fla. 1st DCA 1960). Mindful that the courts may not “supply an omission that to all appearances was not in the minds of the legislators when the law was enacted,” Special Disability Trust Fund, Dept. of Labor & Employment Sec. v. Motor & Compressor Co., 446 So.2d 224 (Fla. 1st DCA 1984); see Armstrong v. Edgewater, 157 So.2d 422 (Fla.1963), we hold that S.M. Fischer is not afforded a civil cause of action for the failure of her father's psychiatrist to report alleged abuse.

    Doe 1 v North Central Behavorial Health Systems

    Holdings: The Appellate Court, McDade, J., held that:
    1 Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act did not provide an implied private right of action to children;
    2 children did not fall within definition of “abused children” under Act;
    3 clinic had no duty to report abuse under the Act; and
    4 clinic had no common law duty to report abuse by one of its patients

    Bradley v Ray:

    Next friend brought action on child's behalf against child's stepfather, child's mother, psychologist, and widow of second psychologist, as defendant ad litem for injuries sustained as result of alleged prolonged sexual abuse by stepfather. The Circuit Court, Boone County, Gene Hamilton, J., dismissed petition against psychologist and widow for failure to state claim, and next friend appealed. The Court of Appeals, Laura Denvir Stith, J., held that: (1) as matter of first impression, psychologists owe common-law duty to child to warn appropriate authorities that client presents serious danger of future violence to readily ascertainable victim; (2) as matter of first impression, statute requiring psychologists to report suspected sexual abuse did not create private cause of action; (3) petition did not state claim against psychologists for aiding and abetting stepfather's sexual abuse; and (4) claim of prima facie tort failed to allege requisite intentional lawful act.

  • ToesUp

    Good for you Rebelfighter. You sound a lot like me. I fight fire with fire and can fling sh*t back. ha ha

    "I am from a generation where we just hid what went on in the home." My Dad (Elder) never told us what went on the the congregation. If he was in a Judicial Commitee, he would sometimes say, "all that glitters is not gold." Meaning, what appears on the outside, maybe something you would never expect.

    My Dad was an Elder (he was kind and compassionate). I just could never figure out why he would not go to bat for me. Now that I have experienced life a little more and know more about the JW cult, I know that the position of Elder identifies some. Some choose it over their own families. He is deceased now and I cherish his memory. I guess I just have to let it go even though it perplexes me.

  • rebelfighter

    The "Elder" was extremely nice for five years never talked about his beliefs until I asked the wrong question then I got a quick good bye.

  • shepherdless

    Thank you Richard for pulling out those cases. Since I asked for them, I guess I owe you a response. I can only find:

    Berry v Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, and

    John Doe v Roman Catholic Diocese of Galveston-Houston.

    I can't find the other 3 you mentioned.

    The John Doe case is irrelevant. John Doe brought a case 20 years beyond the statute of limitations, and the decision was in relation to whether there was an exception to allow him to make the claim.

    Berry v Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is much more interesting (also upsetting if read in detail). In that case, the abuser was the step father. He abused his daughters for about 6 years. The mother reported it to the Elders of the congregation during counselling between the mother and step-father for domestic violence. She did not report the matter to the Police or give Elders permission to report the matter to the Police. It appears that the elders suggested she not do so.

    At trial and on appeal, all judges agreed that breach of statute (not reporting the matter to Police) did not itself give rise to a cause of action. However, the appeal court was split on the issue of whether Watchtower breached a common law duty.The majority dismissed the common law claim, in part, stating:
    There is no allegation that the elders created any opportunity for Berry to abuse his daughters.   As noted, there was no allegation that the alleged abuse took place on congregation property or at congregation-related activities.   There is no allegation that the elders acted in any way other than by providing spiritual guidance and scriptural advice, at the request of the plaintiffs' mother.
    One obvious difference between the Berry case and the above matter relates to the part I put in bold in the above quote.

    Further, the Berry case confirms (if there was ever any doubt), that whilst a failure to report may not, of itself, be actionable, it can be evidence of a common law breach of duty of care.

    I also note that Watchtower tried to argue clergy privilege, but that issue was not decided. The dissenting decision was strongly worded; the judge was almost scathing of his/her co-judges.

    I guess I have to agree that this case may well go to appeal, and the outcome is far from certain.

  • Richard Oliver
    Richard Oliver

    Well sgeperdless a simple westlaw search brings up a large number of cases where the general concensious is that breaking the statute to report does not allow for a private cause of action, that it is the state that can bring it either criminally or if the statute allows for a civil matter. That is what is happening in Delaware is the state is bringing the charge not a private citizen.

    Also you did bring it up in the berry case and it is the only act that the appeals court let stand in the Conti case is when the abuse occured either on church property or during official church activities such as field service.

  • darkspilver

    According to the following webpage:

    (which is a 'fund-raising' website for which I have no involvement or knowledge, and this is not a recomendation or suggestion to donate, and I can not vouch for the varacity of the fund-raising campaign.)

    https://fundly . com/thenewsystem

    Stephanie is fighting this case alone as her entire family has shunned her due to her sexual orientation.

  • darkspilver

    Looks like WT offered $100,000 to settle?....

    Below is an 800 word article - plus 23 pages of court documents.

    Did Jehovah's Witness elders fail to report sexual abuse? Trial starts Tuesday

    Steve Marroni - February 07, 2017 at 6:00 AM, updated February 07, 2017 at 9:25 AM

    When she was a teenager, Stephanie Fessler was sexually abused by a member of her York County church.

    It was a place where she was supposed to feel safe, but it was the authorities within that church who not only failed to protect her, but they covered up the abuse, she claims.

    And according to a lawsuit Fessler filed against the Jehovah's Witness church in Spring Grove, had church elders contacted the authorities as they were legally obligated to do, she would have been spared more sexual assaults from the same woman.

    While her abuser, Terry J. Monheim, pleaded guilty back in 2012 in York County Court, a lawsuit Fessler filed against Monheim and the church is going to trial Tuesday in Philadelphia.

    Her goal in filing the suit, besides personal justice, is to remove the secrecy within the denomination that allowed her abuse to continue after it was reported to church elders, her attorney, Jeffrey Fritz, said Monday.

    "Her main motivation is exposing that the policies of the Watchtower and the Jehovah's Witnesses are not following mandatory reporting laws in Pennsylvania," he said Monday. "That's what led to this happening to her, and continuing to happen to other victims within the religion, as well."

    The above link also includes the court documents at the bottom.

  • jesscd

    @Pete Zahut and others who have commented on parents culpability - I totally agree. There has to be some responsibility on the parents part here - especially as it continued for a year after the initial meeting with elders.

    As for the kids responsibility - fifteen, especially as a naive witness kid is still a very vulnerable time. If this was an older man, would she be considered more of a victim? The girl is a victim, there really is no question and she shouldn't be blamed.

    WT as by PA law should have reported, but the parents should have been parents too, and both protected their daughter from further harm and reported the woman.

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