I always hear with increasing indignation the words through my mind by Michel van Hilten, spokesperson for the Jehovah's Witnesses in the Netherlands (ND 29 December). He was shocked by the eighty reports of sexual abuse that by now Reclaimed Voices were inside. He indicated that his organization also has hotlines and that none of the reports have been received there. "Were those reports done to us? We want to make up for every misery that has been done and provide the care we can, "he says.
But the Jehovah's Witnesses do not have a hotline like other churches have. Within this faith grouping, believers are expected to go to the elders in their local congregation with a case of sin or transgression. They must therefore also do so in a situation of sexual abuse. The only 'reporting point' are those elders. In the stories that come to us, victims tell us time and time again that when they finally found the courage to speak out, they went to the elders. But they did not do anything then; they asked the victim to remain silent about it. In some cases, a perpetrator had to take a step back, but he was not excluded or reported to the police. As a result, victims were still confronted with their abusers, sometimes more times a week.
They are poignant stories of victims who did not feel heard, unprotected, unrecognized in their pain. Their feelings of loneliness touch me deeply, when they feel that they can not go anywhere, because they were not believed or helped the first time.
Van Hilten's words are a slap in the face of the victims. They have in many cases reported to the elders in their congregation. They did not listen to them. What did Van Hilten expect? That they would once again turn to an organization that has already abandoned them the first time?
According to the article, the spokesman for the Jehovah's Witnesses thinks that people have not knocked at them because they "do not necessarily want spiritual help, but want to denounce us as a community of faith."
"The 'hotlines' are your own elders."
Victims of sexual abuse within this faith group indeed do not seek 'spiritual help' in the form of biblical texts or Watchtower-articles. They want to be recognized in what has been done to them.
Recognizing your own failure requires strength. On the contrary, it is weak to attribute wrong motives to abusive victims who dare to speak courageously about painful experiences. It is weak for an organization as an organization to get into a victim role and pretend that you are being attacked in your faith.
If the Jehovah's Witnesses really want to make up for every misery that people have suffered, they will have to come to the recognition of what went wrong. Van Hilten says: "Our denomination is known worldwide for its high moral standards and standards. Then you do not expect this. " An organization with such high moral standards should feel the moral obligation to actually focus on the safety of children. That means taking responsibility and daring to be honest, with an open attitude to dare to look at their own policy, even if shortcomings occur. Only then can justice be done.
Posted in: Dutch newspaper