As my commentary on Jehovah’s Witnesses, I have read an official English translation (from Dutch) of the Utrecht University’s report called “Sexual Abuse and Willingness to Report Sexual Abuse Within the Jehovah’s Witness Community”. I have included this report in it’s entirety, downloadable at the link under Related Reading. I also make many references to the parent organization called Watchtower.
It seems my commentary on Jehovah’s Witnesses is one of many. Numerous people and entire countries are now talking about the secretive group. It’s a newsworthy subject. Writing about the organization continues to be important for me. After all, it’s the religion in which I was born and raised. Writing out my thoughts and feelings is part of deconstructing and healing from their beliefs, which were most certainly hazardous to my well-being. Specifically, the religion is now under much scrutiny for their archaic teachings about child sex abuse. It’s getting them into a lot of legal trouble.
Netherlands Enlist Help of Utrecht University
Of note, when approached by Justice Minister Sander Dekker of the Netherlands, Jehovah’s Witnesses resisted producing an independent inquiry about sex abuse within their organization.
The religious group claimed the child sexual abuse problem within any of their Netherlands congregations was no worse than when compared to other religious organizations. Furthermore, they view child sex abuse as a “sin” rather than a crime. Most of their members aren’t even aware that it is a crime, even though it is identified as such in law. Don’t worry Watchtower. Other religions are being investigated as well, so don’t take it so personally.
Interestingly, a group known as Reclaimed Voices reported 267 cases which begged an investigation into the child sex abuse plague in the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion. Furthermore, this group courageously brought the social issue to the attention of government officials, who subsequently decided to enlist the Utrecht University to investigate. And yes, most of the complaints came from folks who became ex-members of a religion who seriously let them down. More often than not, the elders actually re-traumatized their victims, being ill-equipped to be of any help to victims. After that secondary failure, attending meetings became a most unsavory place for victims who were feeling re-traumatized each time they attended, when catching the leering eyes of their known predator, still being embraced by the entire congregation. Little wonder they left.
Personally, I am pleased that the report is now final and has been published. I was disappointed — but not surprised — to learn that the Jehovah’s Witnesses attempted to stop the report from being published. Right from the start, the religious order refused to cooperate with the Netherlands’ officials. They are convinced that religious law trumps secular law. They insist that the government has no business telling their religion what to do, even if they are failing their members miserably. Their negligence actually compounds the risks to children. You’d think they’d at least pretend to be open to accepting assistance and offers of helpful suggestions. But no.
Quite frankly, I found their desire to suppress the report suspicious. If the Jehovah’s Witnesses had nothing to hide, why would they fear publication of such a report? Perhaps they had something to hide after all? As part of my commentary on Jehovah’s Witnesses, I’m including several related links which describe the journey inside the closed group for answers.
During the investigation, the Dutch police raided three offices of Jehovah’s Witnesses in order to locate the evidence they required.
Remember the Australia Royal Commission?
Indeed, as with the case of Australia’s Royal Commission Case Study 29, the Watchtower headquarters in the Netherlands had plenty to hide, as evident in the Utrecht University’s findings. Below is my commentary on Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Netherlands. Their policies fail the victims of child sex abuse at literally every step in the reporting process and internal judicial review. I explain why Jehovah’s Witnesses elders think and act the way they do, since I once was a member of that cloistered group. In addition, I have a personal copy of the elders’ secret manual and other magazines for reference. Some relevant scriptures that are well-used to keep members in line will also be shared here. Obedience to God is everything, after all. Yes, you may even detect a hint of sarcasm now and again in this commentary on Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Utrecht University Conclusions (In point form and bold)
▪ A total of 751 people shared experiences concerning sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witness community in the Netherlands via an electronic contact point that was specially created for the purposes of this study. These included 292 accounts of personal experiences of sexual abuse and 459 accounts of sexual abuse experienced by another person.
Note my commentary is offered in plain text. It is obvious to me that Watchtower knew pedophiles existed among their members because they possess their own database of known pedophiles held in heavily secured private servers.
▪ 80% of the participants in the study reported their experiences of sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witness community.
Undoubtedly, members who experienced abuse will contact their congregation’s elders first. Loyal members report what they deem as “sins” to their elders. It’s how they’re instructed to behave. Without a doubt, head office at Watchtower knows about the pedophiles, as elders send reports in official blue envelopes to head office in Warwick, New York. The elders are what could be loosely described as the “first responders” if one can call them that. Unfortunately, the reports most often end with the elders’ first call to head office in upstate New York, because that’s what their elders’ manual instructs elders to do.
The first thing elders are instructed to do is call headquarters in upstate New York for legal direction per Elder's Manual, Ch. 14.7. That's usually the end of the matter, as the victim's complaints are most often suppressed. More on that below.
▪ 30% of the respondents notified the police and 27% of the respondents filed a police report.
Readers will note that a low percentage of victims reported the crime to police. There are multiple reasons for that.
1) If the victim “disobeys” the scriptures, the elders will threaten members saying “if you report this ‘sin’ — not a crime — you will bring reproach on Jehovah’s name and you will be sinning against God.” Members don’t want to get on God’s bad side. As a result, many members will back down from reporting. More at point number 4.
2) Members are told that because child sex abuse is a “sin” police are unable to help because they deal with crimes.
3) As part of members’ deep indoctrination, members are kept in ignorance of the laws of the land. They aren’t normally taught that sexual assaults are crimes against the victims, even though the 2019-05 Watchtower mentions the word “crime” twice. Comparatively, the term “sin” is used fifty-one times in that same magazine. Again, for emphasis I repeat that the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that rape and even pedophilia is a sin, then dealt with it internally as a sin only.
4) Elders are known to say, “Armageddon is coming any day now. Leave the matter in Jehovah’s hands. He will fix everything when the New World Order comes” As well, with Armageddon so close at hand, the frightened victim is also afraid to be caught off guard on God’s bad side so close to that illustrious day. They don’t wish to lose out on their long hoped-for reward of surviving Armageddon, entering paradise, and living forever. What a horribly confusing mess was plopped into their already-complicated lives.
5) Scriptures Used as a Hammer Against Victims
i) Jehovah’s Witnesses members are heavily indoctrinated to distrust “worldly” authorities. Religious elders teach that God’s authority supercedes any “worldly” authority, such as police. “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities, for there is no authority except by God, the existing authorities stand placed in their relative positions by God.”—Romans 13:1. Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught to believe that religious law can void secular law. In other words, they believe themselves to be above the law of the land. Seriously. Existing authorities are “relative” and “permitted” by God’s “undeserved kindness”, according to the religion.
ii) The elders quote another scripture, imploring members not to take their brother to court. “Does anyone of you that has a case against the other dare to go to court before unrighteous men and not before the holy ones?”—1 Corinthians 6:1. Anyone who is disobedient to scripture is a “sinner” and made to feel guilty for their personal failure. Members don’t wish to be known as a “sinner”. Before the assault ever occurred, they had low self-esteem and feelings of unworthiness. Their “worthiness” is always under the microscope.
iii) Another scripture regularly heard by members is that “All scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.”—2 Timothy 3:16. Members believe that elders are equipped to help them on any matter, including legal issues, in setting things right if something bad happens. They believe elders are inspired when they’re using the bible to answer questions and solve problems. Between the bible and the legal department, everything gets “fixed” without ever going outside the religion for help. It’s another example of the “group-think” of an insular, cloistered community.
▪ Three-quarters of the victims awarded a score of 5 or less for the handling of their report by the Jehovah’s Witness community (average score: 3.3).
This low score doesn’t surprise me. It doesn’t take very long for a victim to realize that their report of child sex abuse won’t be taken seriously by the religious elders. Why?
1) The elders are not trained on how to handle cases of child sexual abuse. The elders are not taught what a serious crime such as rape or pedophilia entails. At the most vulnerable time of reporting this “sin”, the ignorance of these elders comes as a terrible shock to victims, when victims realize the “wisdom” of their elders falls terribly and tragically short.
2) The secret elders’ manual instructs them to call headquarters in upstate New York for legal direction. Elders are then instructed to silence the victim if unable to produce two members of the religion who witnessed the event. Outsiders — non-members — don’t count as a “witness”. Cloistered much?
3) No doubt elders find this step of hearing evidence and deciding to organize a judicial hearing to be confusing, because often the instructions from the legal department do not correspond with what their elders’ manual offers. I would suggest this step is extremely dis-empowering for elders. Most elders are not well educated and these legal situations would be well over their head. Following convoluted and sometimes illegal advice from the legal department might even traumatize it’s elders! If you wonder why I suggest something might be illegal, see the next point.
4) Meanwhile, due to time-killing delays, all victim’s evidence vital to the case is destroyed. By not calling police, elders and their legal department in upstate New York actually interfere with — or even hijack — the process of justice. Elders, in their ignorance, destroy rather than preserve evidence, even if inadvertently or unintentionally. Not to mention how dis-heartened victims end up feeling, when their esteemed elders and their god fail them so utterly.
▪ 63% of the victims awarded a score of 6 or more for the handling of their report by the police (average score: 6.4).
I’m not surprised to learn that the police scored higher than the elders in handling their complaint.
1) The police are trained to handle all kinds of crimes.
2) The police take child sex assault accusations seriously and act professionally.
3) Police have no agenda to silence the victims, and there are no rules ordering the police to disregard the complaints or silence the victims.
▪ Compared to internal channels (80% report the offence within the community), a relatively small proportion of the participants in the study engage external channels (30% notify the police and 27% file an official police report). There are reasons to assume that the filing of a police report is hindered by the closed nature of the community and the risks involved in informing external parties. However, our study does not provide causal evidence for this factor and follow-up studies would be required for such evidence.
1) I dearly appreciate the University finds that suggest follow-up studies would be required regarding victims being hindered from filing police reports. I would welcome a further inquiry.
2) Even more notably, I appreciate knowing that the University study realizes that reporting these crimes to police is hindered by the closed nature of the community
3) I appreciate that the University recognizes that there are risks involved if members were to inform external parties. The biggest concern is the risk to victims.
4) Victims are told to read articles in the Awake! and Watchtower magazines, rather than to seek therapy. The magazine articles are demoralizing and degrading to victims. For example, victims are repeatedly told they may be experiencing “repressed memory”. Note that the term is always displayed in quotes as in “memories”. Along with that comes the implication that the victim has an overly-active imagination. Imagine the scenario in the judicial meeting with elders using air quotes around the word “memories”. I believe that action undermines the victim’s confidence over and above the sexual attack.
While reading this article (downloadable below in it's entirety) the victim is treated as someone with a terrible imagination and an equally bad memory. Note how the word "memory" is quoted. Delay is also a prominent ploy of the elders, hoping the victim will drop the accusations. And by the end of the page, if the accusation is denied, nothing more would be done. At that point, the accused will be treated by all as "innocent" and is expected to be forgiven by victim. How's that for victim support rules? Source: The Watchtower, November 1, 1995, p.28.
5) Victims are often blamed for their attack. Read and download the November 1, 1995 Watchtower Article, “Comfort for Those with a Stricken Spirit” under the sub-heading Related Reading. The article demonstrates how Watchtower writers suggest to a victim that they are experiencing “repressed memory” or having a faulty “memory”. This heaps shame on an already shamed victim. Watchtower’s elders simply do not take the victim of sexual assault seriously. They do not know how to offer help to victims. Even that critical aspect is controlled by Watchtower’s legal team.
More Commentary on Jehovah’s Witnesses (Watchtower’s) Mindset about Women and Children
Watchtower policies don’t allow for validation of a victim’s experiences. One of the most comforting statements a therapist offered to me was the assurance that at such a young age (four years old), I had no awareness of sex. Nor did I have the language to describe what was happening to me at that tender age. I was in shock and had no dialogue at the time of the assault. Now as I look back, I suppose that’s what predators count on when attacking young children. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I could even comprehend what had happened to me at such an age. I didn’t even remember the event until many years later. I found my therapist’s comments to be such a comfort. I felt believed. That’s what it took for me to be validated.
Women and mothers are often blamed for the mis-behavior of their sons.
March 8, 1974 Awake! page 15 Women and mothers generally are blamed for raising rapists in the article "When Faced with the Threat of Rape". It's written in their magazines. This is only one demonstration of just how misogynistic, hierarchical, and patriarchal their teachings really are.
▪ According to our respondents, the closed culture within the Jehovah’s Witness community can also be linked to the problems concerning the handling of reports of sexual abuse. The [Jehovah’s Witnesses] board has now put protocols and instructions in place to establish procedures for responding to reports of sexual abuse, although these mainly seem to focus on protecting the community – and, by extension, the culprit – rather than the victim. As a result, victims receive limited support and insufficient recognition, which can result in secondary victimisation.
Bracketed text is mine. I see the above point as an astute observation by the University. Investigators recognized the instructions and procedures by Jehovah’s Witnesses policy-makers as ineffective in protecting the victims of sexual abuse.
1) The ineffectiveness of Watchtower’s policies often produce a secondary victimization, especially if they are expected to face their attacker with their accusation during the elders’ internal investigation. Elders will use a scripture to enforce this policy. “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”—Matthew 18:15,16 Exactly why the victim of child sex abuse must ever be forced to approach their attacker is beyond my comprehension. This is such incredibly harmful advice. Hasn’t the victim been traumatized enough, Watchtower?
2) Another problem that arises due to faulty policy-making by the religious order is that victims are expected to forgive their attacker. It is my opinion that no one can tell a victim when it is time to forgive. It takes a long time to come to a place of forgiveness, even if the attacker acknowledges their part in the crime. No victim is benefited by elders insisting they forgive their attacker, as everyone heals at their own rate and in their own way and time. Forgiveness is especially impossible if the perpetrator denies the crime, or blames the victim. Nor is it helpful to be forced into the predator’s presence at each meeting, after an attack. That’s just sick, Watchtower. And you must know that. It’s common sense.
▪ While the community has taken steps over the past 10 years to improve how reports of sexual abuse are handled, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ formalistic system still provides no guarantee of an adequate response to sexual abuse.
Indeed, the hierarchical nature of the institution is not a conducive environment for handling child sexual abuse.
1) Often the perpetrator is a friend of the elders — or worse still — a fellow elder. A frightened child would most assuredly feel terrified and intimidated, sitting in the presence of these four grown men who are often together and known to be close friends of each other.
2) After all this time, children aren’t allowed to have anyone at the elders’ judicial hearing for moral support. The child victim must stand against those judgmental men, who are oblivious of the unfairness of their strict and unyielding patriarchal questionings and policies. Elders question the minutest details of what happened. They also ask inappropriate questions such as, “Did you make up this story?”
Backlash from Jehovah’s Witnesses
Not surprising, Jehovah’s Witnesses quickly hired professors to object to the findings of the Utrecht University. Included with a letter from the Watchtower board in the Netherlands is an appendix, an expert opinion “correcting” the Utrecht report. Watchtower continues to defend their stance on child sex abuse, even though the plague still continues. More and more victims come forward every day. Yet the religious hierarchy believes themselves to be above the law by virtue of being a religion.
Watchtower, by their response, apparently feels no compassion for victims to find relief for the terrible policies which continually endanger children. They seem to think that their religious rules are more important than the safety of children. They absolve themselves of secular laws.
The Watchtower Society claims they do not interfere with family dynamics. The fact remains that the religion interferes with every single aspect of members’ lives — every day! They have multiple rules for every circumstance imaginable. It’s worse than the Pharisees of the bible who Jesus condemned as hypocrites. Many professional psychiatrists and therapists name Jehovah’s Witnesses as a cloistered cult.
Download a copy of the Utrecht University Summary sexual abuse and willingness to report sexual abuse within the jehovah’s witness community (119 KB pdf format)
Reddit has a great discussion about the Dutch Report on Jehovah’s Witnesses trying to hide their child sex abuse problem in the Netherlands.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses hired a team of scholars to correct the Utrecht University’s investigation. This “expert opinion” was used as an appendix to the letter the JWs wrote to justice minister, Sander Dekker on January 9, 2020. Download a copy of the report submitted to the Netherlands officials “correcting” the findings of the Utrecht University team of scholars.
Download the November 1, 1995 Watchtower Article, “Comfort for Those with a Stricken Spirit” which demonstrates how Watchtower writers suggest a victim is experiencing “repressed memory” or having a faulty “memory” rather than taking the victim of a sexual assault seriously (655 KB pdf format).
Watchtower Enables Predatory Behavior A look at the Jehovah’s Witnesses Elder Manual of instructions reveals serious flaws in the way children are treated when sexual abuse cases are reported to their institution’s elders, from a woman’s point of view.
Silent No More: Investigation finds allegations of sexual abuse inside Jehovah’s Witnesses Organization in the United States. Yearlong investigation found evidence of cover-up (Includes five embedded videos).
Strangest of all, one of the professors defending Watchtower’s choices claims victims of child sex abuse are “persecuting” Watchtower. The lawyer Massimo Introvigne “distinguished himself in France by his systematic interventions in favor of sects”. Besides defending Jehovah’s Witnesses, he also defended the likes of Scientology, known to shun it’s ex-members, calling them “suppressive persons“, Order of the Solar Temple, a cult and religious sect that claims to be based upon the ideals of the Knights Templar, the Unification Church (Moonies), as well as the AUM sect responsible for a deadly attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995. All the sects know they can count on Introvigne’s organization, CESNUR”.
Watchtower elected to hire Professor Massimo Introvigne, an acclaimed expert on satanism to defend them. Introvigne’s talk, available on YouTube is called, Satan The Prophet – A History of Modern Satanism. He discusses his authored book Satanism: A Social History (Brill 2016), where he defines satanism as the organized veneration of Satan through ritual practices. Assuredly, Watchtower and Massimo Introvigne are strange bedfellows.
Massimo Introvigne has rewritten an already very mild book of his about the Watchtower Society (WTS), censoring out every possibly critical statement. The WTS was so grateful that their leadership actually “invited” the thousands of Italian Jehovah’s Witnesses to turn into militant buyers of the book, almost as if it were the latest issue of Awake!, although the customers this time were only members of the WTS themselves…[a] Jehovah’s Witness of Trento in Italy was put through a tough spell of interrogation by the Elders of the organization, and one issue that came up was that he had read Introvigne’s [uncensored] book. Read the article in it’s entirety here.
UPDATE! Netherlands: Jehovah’s Witnesses lose appeal over child abuse report. The Dutch government does not need to remove a report of sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses from the Internet. Also, the state does not have to post rectification. Original published in Dutch on August 4, 2020.
Read the English Translation here.
Updated August 13, 2023 with JW news about an investigation from New Zealand: RNZ investigation reveals 11 alleged paedophiles active within the Jehovah’s Witnesses
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