After the Mark Sewell conviction: Abuse survivors across the world – Step forward and speak out!!!
Courageous abuse survivors should take some comfort with the June 27, 2014 conviction of another Jehovah’s Witness elder, this time in the UK.
AAWA feels that the rulings in this particular court case are historic in the sense that most sex crimes committed against Jehovah’s Witness children and women have often gone unpunished. Why? Because of a unique set of circumstances controlled and enforced by the Governing Body of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. This may no longer be the case after the historic Sewell trial.
Civil authorities should take a closer look at how criminal matters are dealt with by small groups of elders within Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Halls. What role should “Judicial Committees” play when criminal matters are involved? Should they be allowed to ignore both the laws and common sense when criminal acts are brought to their attention? These questions should be investigated by police departments, courts, and other official organizations – like the UK’s Charity Commission.
While most of us would agree that freedom to practice religion should be protected, we should also care about the application of proper justice for Jehovah’s Witnesses abuse survivors (and others like them). We need to demand that our courts and other government agencies hold formal investigations and eventually take firm and decisive action to stop Watchtower abuses.
Jehovah’s Witnesses call themselves “Brothers and Sisters,” trying to perpetuate the belief that they are part of a “family.” This fallacy attempts to legitimize inference in private family relationships and the handling of all congregational matters by Judicial Committees. The truth is that their involvement is not intended to support the victim of a crime within a family, but rather to protect their own organizational façade.
Why the Sewell Trial and Conviction is Unique
The aforementioned Sewell case is unique in some ways. At least two survivors of his criminal acts faced Judicial Committees where they were not only cross-examined by a group of elders, but also questioned by the accused, a known pedophile and the very man who assaulted them.
Those women were not only brave for speaking out about Mark Sewell’s history of abuse and his criminal acts against them personally, but they incidentally exposed the inner workings of a patriarchal system that should be immediately dismantled.
No one, and especially not crime victims, should be subjected to non-legal cross-examinations by Watchtower “kangaroo courts” known as “Judicial Committees.”
The rape survivor in the Sewell case described her feelings about the case. “I couldn’t function, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, and I think the worst thing for me was that nobody would believe me.”
Then she exposed the hypocrisy of those holding authority within her own Kingdom Hall when she revealed an embarrassing fact:
“There were twelve elders – and not one of them stood up – not one!”
AAWA Speaks Out about the Sewell Trial
Lee Marsh, President of AAWA, offered her opinion on this amazing case:
“Sewell may be sentenced next week – but it is important to remember that all of his victims have been given life sentences because of his abuse. They were also not only put through a cross-examination by a judicial committee, but were required to remain silent while elders determined guilt or innocence.
“Judicial Committees are not courts of law! They should not be examining criminal matters and pronouncing guilt and innocence – while allowing perpetrators to be forgiven and to continue their abuse in congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
AAWA calls upon the UK’s Charity Commission to look closely at this case while undertaking their current statutory inquiry into Jehovah’s Witnesses of Great Britain. This is another example of Jehovah’s Witnesses silencing criminal matters by applying their own secret rules and regulations. Indeed, referencing the Sewell case, Wales Online reported (6/29/14) that Jehovah’s Witness elders (who are Charitable Trustees) shredded critical child abuse evidence and were uncooperative during the police investigation.
The Commission should expand their current statutory inquiry of Jehovah’s Witnesses of Great Britain by using all facts and evidence made available during this trial.
Contrary to the secret guidance given to Jehovah’s Witness elders, such arrogant tactics are commonplace – as many former elders can testify. This kind of cover up is used to protect the organization at the expense of victims.
The Sewell case is not an isolated incident, but rather just another example of Jehovah’s Witnesses silencing criminal matters by the application of their own rules and regulations. AAWA’s position is that not only the Charitable Trustees should be called to account for not taking stronger action earlier, but also the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and its leaders who created and enforce these unjust and exploitative rules worldwide.
AAWA also hopes that more abuse survivors across the globe will be heartened by the courage of these women – women who were able to secure by their honest words a conviction against this criminal Jehovah’s Witness.
AAWA further hopes that others who have been hurt by Watchtower policies will be silent no longer, but will step forward to ask for and get professional support. Above all, let them fearlessly report their own stories of abuse to local criminal authorities without being impeded by leaders of their Kingdom Halls.
It’s time that Jehovah’s Witnesses, both regular publishers and serving elders, step forward and bravely demand that the Watchtower’s Governing Body, along with the Service and Legal Departments, stop hiding behind the flawed “2 witness rule” and actually do something positive and effective to protect both young and older members of their congregations. The Watchtower should make changes in their policies so that Kingdom Halls do not become “pedophile paradises” any longer.
One Last Word to Serving Jehovah’s Witness Elders:
Stop being accomplices to unlawful and disgusting crimes by hiding and excusing criminals who prey on the young and the weak. Cooperate with the police, local authorities and medical professionals. Above all – provide real help and love to the victims among your flock. Don’t punish them for exposing those who prey upon them and others in your congregations. Be brave and do the right thing! Stop cowering in fear of Watchtower leaders who don’t really care about the flock. Search your own heart and let your Christian conscience be your guide. Empathize with the victims, not criminals you wouldn’t allow around your own children. For once be on the right side of this very important issue.
Wales Online article: Link
BBC article about Sewell trial: Link
SNAP comment about Sewell case: Link