Sexual Abuse, the Watchtower Society and Out-of-Court Settlements

Lee Marsh

Many survivors of sexual abuse among Jehovah’s Witnesses opt to sue the Watchtower Society and the congregation where the abuse happened. This is a very difficult and trying decision to make and subsequent action to take.

These kinds of lawsuits are not tried in a criminal courtroom, although at one level I think they should be. These kinds of cases are filed as civil law suits against agencies that not only hid the abuse but threatened the victims and their families with disfellowshipping if they reported the abuse to the police or others in the congregation. Many of them were told that if they reported the abuse they would cause divisions within the congregation and would not be submissive.

This effectively acted as a gag order. Victims and their parents are not even permitted to tell extended family members about the abuse, leaving the abuser free to find other victims. When the  abuser is a direct family member, who lives with the victim, the child often winds up being further abused and knows that going to the elders will not stop the abuse; it might make it worse. So there is no protection, not for them and not for others.

Most victims who finally break their silence do so because they have left the Jehovah’s Witnesses and now feel free to talk about the abuse. They are now free to tell the police and to get the needed help that was denied them due to the restrictive orders by the elders.

Witnesses and the public are told that victims are free to talk to the police. What they often don’t understand is that not taking your brother to court, which comes from 1 Cor. 6:1, is taken very seriously among JWs and why Witnesses are willing to listen to the elders advice.

Most JWs are told by their elders that by making the abuse public knowledge, it will bring shame on the congregation, the Watchtower Society and ultimately their God, Jehovah. Watchtower publications continually warn about bringing reproach on God’s name by letting the non-JW world know that sexual abuses, among other crimes, exists within the congregations. And THAT doing so would make one an “enemy of God”. Added to this are experiences where elders have expressly forbidden an entire congregation from talking about a CONVICTION of an abuser, stating that even if you are telling the truth, it is wrong if it brings “reproach on Jehovah”.

So where does this leave the victim? He or she loses his or her voice because they have been ordered not to talk about it; not to other Witnesses and definitely not to anyone outside of the Witnesses. This also means that seeking counseling is out of the question. Eventually the question would arise regarding how the victim knew the abuser and that would mean explaining the connection to the Witnesses.

The lack of counseling at the time to the victim often results in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which if left untreated can affect every aspect of the person’s life, which includes their own self-worth and all relationships, whether that is family, friends, fellow workers and even their relationship with God.

Without a voice, victims loses their ability to get any sense of protection or justice. As humans, we have a sense of what is right and wrong, and wrong should have consequences. Even young children understand this. Within the Jehovah’s Witnesses there is no justice for the clear majority of victims. A serious wrong was done to them and there needed to be some sense of justice, of resolution. As children, they needed to have the abuse stopped. They needed to know other children would be safe. They needed to know the abuser would be disciplined in some serious way to make up for their actions. Many victims would have done much better with a sincere apology and promise to not do it again. So it should be no surprise that many years later, when victims have left the Witnesses, that many of them seek out some degree of justice.

I was watching a movie about restorative justice. In the film the mother needed some sense of justice, for her voice to be heard. The man who killed her son was caught and convicted and was about to be killed for the various crimes he committed, including the death of this young boy. The mother didn’t really know why she had to be there but she knew she had to go. In a discussion about the film in the Special Features, the writer and the director spoke about how the legal justice system often leaves the victims and their families out of the judicial process. They said that often during the process the family of the slain are secondary victims. They have lost a loved one. They carry that loss with them every day for the rest of their lives. But they don’t have a voice in the judicial system, although courts are just now permitting victim statements to be read before sentencing. They get a voice.

Witness victims may get to tell the elders, but if the accused denies everything, it ends there. And then the victim is silenced. So after a couple of decades many of these victims can finally get their voices heard. For many that is what they really want. They want to stand up in a court and say this is what happened to me and they want to know they have been heard. Every word gets recorded and included in the transcript of the trial. It becomes part of a permanent record. And maybe there is some justice.

Many ex-Witnesses have chosen to go to the courts to have their voices heard and to get some justice just to know that the courts agree that they were wronged. Awards and financial restitution are a bonus. But these court cases are wearing on victims, who must dredge up some of the most horrific and traumatic experiences of their young lives. Very often the Watchtower Society, more concerned with their image and “name” rather than with the wrong done to the victim, will offer out-of-court settlements simply to make the case go away. By doing so, they are in effect admitting guilt on the part of elders who prevented them from going to the police. Faced with long-drawn out court battles against a billion-dollar company many victims choose to accept the settlement.

No one will step up and say the words, “We were wrong”, but the implication is there. Sadly, the condition placed on the settlement is a non-disclosure order. This serves again to protect the abuser and those responsible for covering up the abuse. The victims have finally been heard by the courts, but sadly not by other Witnesses who need to know that danger lurks within the congregation and that the elders are tasked with keeping it a secret.

The Watchtower Society needs to listen to the rants in the past that they made about the Catholic Church, about how terrible the Catholic Church was to keep sexual abuse by priests a secret. Watchtower has written many articles saying that the Church needed to clean up its act and to get those priests out of the Church. By hiding the abuse, they were bringing further shame on the Church. Well, now might be a good time to take those words and direct them at themselves.


Sexual Abuse, the Watchtower Society and Out-of-Court Settlements — 27 Comments

  1. Beautifully written article, Lee! I was thinking that perhaps there must be an entity here in the U.S., much like the U.K. Charity Commission, that issues licenses to registered charities here in the country that would have an interest in investigating the WTBTS, like what is being done in the U.K. Every country where Jehovah’s Witnesses are needs to have this done.

    • The US Constitution guarantees religious rights. so it will be a huge challenge to get past that. One way we are looking at is human rights violations. Charities in the US seem to mostly be state by state which would make the task harder. But we have it all in mind.

  2. Thankyou Lee for this post. In Canada here, there are many cover ups as to sexual abuse of childern to…as well as alot of other abuses is guilty of. More publicity this Org. gets as to what it truly is, all for the better…people need to know.

    • Are you really saying that sexual abuse does not happen within the JW congregations? Really? I have spoken to hundreds of victims from all over the world – many of them from Canada. There are several victims right in my family. And every single one was hushed up.

      Either the WTS orders elders to report every single case BEFORE they call Bethel or they will wind up paying out a lot more money.

  3. I think we should pay attention to what the Bible says ! Not any man! No matter what the religion! Stop pointing fingers and pay attention to your own actions! Thanks SJ Praise Jehovah!

    • Susan.. do you really know what the Bible ( not ‘any man ! ) The Bible says according to Chil Abuse ? .. open your Bible and read this verse Matt 18:6 is Jesus, our perfect model, who is THE one we should follow, Read this verse ,and you’ll see what is the ‘punition’ for someone who abuse child !!! it’s so Clear !!! don’t tell me to read 1 Cor 6:9-11 ….it was written by ..just an apostle named Paul , and Paul was a kind of ‘extremist’ ..and, furthermore, he never talked about child abuse… a lot of ‘infractions’ but never about child abuse. ! Jehovah will apply his justice against all these people who don’t care of children, even those from GB !! Governing Body.. So easy to use the wrong verses..

    • Susan I will not debate religion here but there is a problem when MEN try to determine what the scripture really means. I definitely agree we should not blindly follow what any PERSON says. Innocent children are paying big for mistakes made and abuses hidden.

  4. I have no doubt that sexual abuse could have happened in a witness family! I was a victim of child abuse and my family was not witnesses. Child abuse can happen in any family or religion. I think the chances may be less for a family that follows Bible principal’s, but unfortunately we are just human and Satan has ahold of someone who is weak, we have to keep checking ourselves constantly! Amen!

    • Susan Not “could” have happened. it happens hundreds and even thousands of times. And elders cover it up. I agree it can happen in a family from any religion. But I am not talking about other religions. Most have their own people trying to work to protect children. People are human. Some make grievous sins against innocent children. They need to be exposed. Not kept in the congregation where they can continue to abuse the children who are already their victims but can then go out and find other children in the congregation. It is the abusers who need to be reported and be pushed out for their actions. If the WTS believes that it is better to pretend the problem doesn’t exist then they are no better than any of the other religions they have attacked for hiding the abuses that happen in their churches. You can’t say they are bad while you are doing the exact same thing. Rather hypocritical. Far better to say; “We will not tolerate sexual abusers in the congregations. We will report them even if the family asks us not to. It is our responsibility to keep the congregation clean and we can’t do that with child abusers in our midst.”

  5. I was never a Botchtowerite, and it is great to read that many have left their evil clutches.

    It is distressing to read however the destructive remnants of their ideology!

    i.e. e.g. – Susan J’s reference on March 6, 2017 at 1:46 am, to a ‘ Satan ‘ that she apparently believes can ‘ take hold ‘ of someone who is ‘ weak? ‘.


  6. australiancomposer maybe you’re right with your thoughts…i don’t want to discuss here about where we came from , where we are going, .. i just wanted to show that the decisions taken by the Governing Body of the Watchtower Society concerning the child abuse affairs are totally not acceptable, It was the same thing concerning the Terrible decision for Malawi/Mexique .. they ( GB ) are in deep trouble presently, just think about the next magazine Watchtower, ( Study Edition) February 2017,, p26 paragraph 12 first two sentences shows that Fear of trials, and the sentence :
    12 The Governing Body is neither inspired nor infallible. Therefore, it can err in doctrinal matters or in organizational direction.
    Neither inspired !!!! ‘ it can err in doctrinal matters or organizational directions …… they just want to ‘wash their hands’ …. they escape all possible future prosecutions..

  7. And : about ”err in doctrinal matters , we can think of 607, blood transfusion, shunning,,,etc…. a very large scope of erratic teachings !

  8. Without a voice, victims lose their ability to get any sense of protection or justice. The lack of counseling at the time to the victim often results in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

    They should be counseled so want to stand up in a court and say this is what happened to me and they want to know they have been heard with much justice on news will give confidence to victims and hence crime reduces.

    [info edited-LM]

  9. They don’t seem to understand, that if the victim does not make public knowledge about the abuse, then it will absolutely bring shame on the congregation and the Watchtower Society. They only care about the organisations reputation ( which is already a bad one) and not the well being of the abused victim. Many people already call the organisation a paradise for pedophiles, since they receive no punishment from the law if not reported to the REAL authorities. I´m glad that this subject is coming out more and more, so the WT cannot hide their true selves anymore. They should stop pointing fingers at the Catholic church and start calling the police when sexual abuse happens, and get rid of the two witness rule when it is a case of sexual abuse.

    • This is the exact thing they shredded the Catholic Church over for years. Meanwhile they have been doing the same thing. But the Catholic Church has admitted it now and has paid people for damages and they are cleaning up their act. No so the WTS. They still believe if they hide it no one will ever know and it is apostates and disgruntled victims that are the problem. Hey the abusers started this and the elders covered it up at the direction of Bethel.

  10. When I was eleven years old I was sexually abused by an elders son, I confided n my family who where also JWs , a meeting was held at the local congregation in front of 4 elders , one being the abusers father, the abusers mother and my parents , and the abuser himself.
    I was asked to describe the incidents in graphic details .The shame I felt was painful , I didn’t even know the correct words to describe the acts he had performed on me
    When the abuser was disfellowshipped his mother voiced her blame towards me in front of all present.
    I recall it was a very frightening and overwhelming experience for me . I recieved no support from the organisation

    During the following years the event was not spoken of , as if it didn’t really happen when I was around 14 years old I wanted to talk about it to my mum , I was angry and frustrated as I did not feel the abuser had been brought to justice and that by being dealt with by the elders there was something not right about it, I wanted to go to the police, my mum did not want to discuss it, (she had been involved in the religion long enough to accept all of the teachings ) Having also learnt that older girls had been receiving unwanted advances from the abuser , I asked them too to come forward and speak up but they chose to remain silent

    I shared the details with my close friend who with the schools heads help involved the police, little was done , a warning given to the abuser and a caution due to the time lapse .

    The elders had disfellowshipped him for the acts he committed against me so how could they deem it unnecessary to inform the police and fail to get any proffesionall support for me ?

    When I was in my 20s I once again attempted to bring charges, this time naming the elders involved in the meeting ,
    This time the police interviewed all of the elders and none of them could recall the event.

    Spending my younger years listenening to the bible teachings of honesty and high morals, the elders clearly have short memories of the regular teachings about protecting the flock I certainly question the elders morals and how they will drop them when it comes to protecting the organisation .

    I lost innocence and trust of many people at that time,.

    i was labelled as a black sheep by many for the honest young woman I became.
    I made it common knowledge by the time I was 15 that the man who glared at me from the back of the Kingdom Hall was an abuser and unsafe to children and they should be protected from his presence, I also had thedaily battle of standing my ground against my parents when I begged relentlessly not to attend the meeting any longer, I could not stomach my inside knowledge of what really goes on and mix with these people .

    As an adult I am appalled at how I was treated, I am 46 years old now and the memory saddens me so much.

    The comment Philip Joe makes about PTSD is so true.

    • Dee, I am so sorry. They just don’t understand how much of a secondary betrayal their behavior is. How does the child trust anyone after those kinds of responses. And because they stop the victims from getting counseling, just in case they mention they were all JWs at the time, the victims suffer for decades unnecessarily. If you haven’t done so yet and feel the need to talk to someone, please find a counselor. It can make a world of difference to finally be heard by a person who understands and is compassionate

    • TERRIBLE very terrible with what you went through. I am so truly sorry. I too was molested at an early age. I am 54 now and live in California. I know most of the brothers and sisters here are wonderful people but caught up in deceptions. My Mom and Dad passed away several years ago and were in the “Truth” over 50+ years. They probably are rolling over in their grave with all this stuff. BLESS YOU AND HANG IN THERE!

  11. I was one of those interviewed by the Royal Commission….i want to take it further but dont know where to start. It happened in victoria and sa over 7yrs…but i live in qld now.
    Could someone direct me to a relevant legal firm database?
    Kind regards

Leave a Reply