The matter remains in 'Jehovah's hand'

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GASTOPINION - Victims of abuse are in the cold. Perpetrators are hardly punished. Nobody is warned of the pedophile. The result of an internal legal procedure in which the police and judiciary are not informed. Is your child also at risk?

In the morning they are at the station. They try to sell booklets to passersby. On Sunday morning they call at your door while you want to sleep late. But who would have thought that this group could be a danger for children? 'A paradise for pedophiles', as newspaper Trouw recently headlined?

Unfortunately, sexual abuse occurs everywhere. The Jehovah's Witnesses are no exception. In personal conversations with victims of abuse within the Witnesses, I always hear the same story: the organizational interest goes for the interests of victims and the safety of children. The municipality and society are not warned of a pedophile in their midst. Children are therefore at risk.

Own legal system

Reports of sexual abuse are kept indoors. Police and justice are not informed. Elders assume "the two witnesses rule": an accusation is proven if there are two witnesses or if the perpetrator confesses. Sexual abuse is difficult to prove by this rule. The abuse happens after all in secret. Perpetrators put pressure on children to remain silent. If the child finds the courage to speak out, a confrontation takes place. In the presence of the perpetrator, elders ask for intimate details of the abuse. Usually the perpetrator denies. A traumatic experience for victims on top of the abuse.

Is the abuse not proven? Then no further action is taken. The matter is left in 'Jehovah's hand'. Victims and parents are not allowed to speak about the abuse with others. The perpetrator remains a respected member of the community. The perpetrator can make new victims because the municipality is not warned. This confidentiality often has far-reaching consequences for the health and development of the child.

Sometimes the abuse can be proven: the perpetrator confesses or there is a second victim. In case of repentance, the offender may remain a member without major consequences. With no repentance the perpetrator is expelled from the community. In both situations the municipality is not informed about the abuse.

In exclusion, the perpetrator is released on society. Nobody has been warned. The perpetrator can make new victims. Your children are at risk!

To care

As a teacher I am very worried. Teachers must report suspicions of sexual abuse to their students. An organization that works with children has the responsibility to protect children against abuse. This should also apply to a religious organization! But elders have no legal obligation to report abuse to the authorities. Reporting to worldly authorities would detract from God's organization. Victims feel inhibited to make a declaration. The importance of a religious organization is placed above the safety of children.

Sexual child abuse within the Jehovah's Witnesses affects the whole society. Offenders who walk around freely can make victims everywhere.

In a petition, I call on the government to investigate this terrible misconduct. You surely also sign, in the interest of the victims, but also in the interest of your own children?

Raymond Hintjes from Roermond is a teacher of ideology and former Jehovah's Witness.

Previously published in: Brabants Dagblad

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