Placing abuse in perspective:
Since the year 2000, evidence has emerged of widespread child sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church, and of subsequent payoffs and cover-ups by the church. Some evidence of sexual abuse within the Watchtower Society (WTS) has also appeared in the media in recent years. What is missing is a measure of balance.Sexual abuse is found throughout society. Approximately 1% of girls are so abused by their fathers before puberty, and about 1% by their step-fathers. Abuse of boys is at a lower level. There is really no reliable data which demonstrates whether religion plays a role in this phenomenon. We have never located any trustworthy evidence that sexual abuse of pre-pubertal children is higher or lower in the WTS when compared to the Roman Catholic Church, other faith groups, or in society as a whole. However, sexual abuse of pre-adults in the Catholic Church almost entirely teen, non-adult males as victims.
WTS rules about abuse:
Christianity bases its beliefs and practices on the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). Three main themes in the Scriptures are:
These biblical themes often come into conflict with secular standards, which may include beliefs that:
Every religious institution develops their own policies and regulations concerning accusations of child sexual and physical abuse. The Jehovah's Witnesses organization follows a biblical standard when investigating allegations of any offense on the part of a member. Proof that an offense has occurred requires either:
In the case of sexual abuse, the only witnesses are almost universally the perpetrator and the victim. As a result, proof cannot often be obtained unless the perpetrator is willing to confess to the crime. According to a 1995 article in the Watchtower, a publication of the Watchtower Society (WTS), if proof cannot be obtained, elders are to:
The article suggested that:
Some victims ask for more.
At a recent trial in a Canadian court, a lawyer for the prosecution stated that the Witnesses imposes a three-year statute of limitations on behaviors like sexual abuse. Any charges brought to the elders of a congregation by an alleged victim must relate to recent abuse. 4
If abuse cannot be proven, the elders of the congregation:
Where child abuse can be proven, and the member is unrepentant, he or she is disfellowshipped. This involves being expelled from the organization. However, if they can convince elders that they have truly repented of their abusive behavior, they can be readmitted into the congregation later. If repentant then she/he is not permitted to hold a responsible job in the congregation for at least twenty years. 5
The Jehovah's Witnesses has a dual policy concerning cases of child abuse which meet their standards of proof:
The Witnesses hold that the privilege of clergy confidentiality applies to any confidential communication among its members, including statements at disciplinary hearings which involve multiple elders and witnesses.
Some members in the organization suggest that the latter policies can put WTS members and the rest of the public at risk. Sometimes confessed molesters will be allowed to remain in the congregation, with disastrous results in the form of continuing molestation of children. One responsibility expected of members is that they do door-to-door evangelizing. An abusive pedophile or hebephile could use this opportunity to recruit new victims.
Some examples of continued abuse:
The WTS' policy of handling some suspected sexual abuse cases in secret has aroused a growing level of opposition inside and outside of the denomination. The main concern is that there is a very high probability that the abuse will continue. This is reduced by intensive counseling, but is never eliminated. There is a general consensus among mental health professionals that pedophilia and hebephilia (the sexual attraction to children) is unchangeable, much in the same way that one's sexual orientation is fixed. What may be changed is the perpetrator's actions. They can sometimes control their feelings and not act upon them. The average abusive pedophile or hebephile who is arrested has molested dozens of children. Counseling by WTS elders may or may not break this pattern of abuse, and may leave children vulnerable to molestation in the future.
Some instances that have resulted in court cases include:
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