Last year around this time I was on holiday in Bulgaria. I was in a luxury hotel at the pool. On my phone I followed the news in the Netherlands. Trouw published on 21 July 2018 the first of several articles (*) about sexual abuse within the Jehovah's Witnesses. A total of eight articles appeared on Friday, Saturday and Monday. The articles released a lot of reactions and emotions in a Facebook group of which I was the manager at the time. Several people from this group have contributed to the articles.
The articles are of a high journalistic quality. They are the result of 2 years of intensive investigative journalism. We have proceeded very carefully, collecting documents, making international contacts, hearing personal abuse stories and talking to experts. It is precisely this clever piece of careful investigative journalism that makes the articles very strong. There is no sensation and the journalists themselves do not take a stand.
Behind the scenes, a number of people brainstormed how more publicity could be given to how Jehovah's Witnesses deal with situations involving sexual abuse. In two articles, politicians responded, who indicated that they were in favor of an investigation. beside they requested the Minister of Justice and Security to give a written response. To reinforce the idea of an investigation, I started one in the same weekend from my holiday address petition with the request to the House of Representatives to conduct an investigation.
On Sunday 23 July, one day after the interview with Mark in Trouw, Frank Huiting became a member of the facebook group I was the manager of. Frank introduced himself as the person who had done his story under the name Mark. Frank indicated that he would like to see more of the subject being done. His commitment: a child-safe environment for everyone. That is why an investigation should be conducted, and the organization should be encouraged to change its policy. Frank and I met for the first time on 24 July via Facebookmessenger and the day after we had our first telephone conversation. It immediately became clear that we had a lot of common ground. It was decided to add Frank to the brainstorming group.
I wrote one in the first week opinieartikel that was published in the Brabants Dagblad. Furthermore, the brainstorming group on 25 August would meet. During this meeting it soon became clear that we would be most effective if we formally formed a foundation. Preparations for this foundation were made, a name was invented, a mission and vision were drawn up and we were thinking about how we would step outside. At the beginning of November we announced on facebook and in the week of 20 November - the week against child abuse - we would go out formally.
All this has triggered a number of developments that we had not fully foreseen in advance. Since November 2017 is a foundation Reclaimed Voices, been in the media every month. The Ministry of Justice and Security has held discussions with representatives of Jehovah's Witnessesbut also with the foundation. The foundation has also maintained active relationships with various politicians from the Permanent Parliamentary Committee on Justice and Security. Among other things, efforts were being made to conduct an independent investigation into dealing with reports of sexual child abuse within the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses. It was our expectation that Jehovah's Witnesses would not voluntarily cooperate in such research, and we also expressed this expectation to the ministry.
During the past months, it was also for politics and the ministry increasingly clear that Jehovah's Witnesses would not cooperate on their own to such research. In May 2018 the minister had to inform the Chamber that Jehovah's witnesses would not take the initiative for an independent investigation. Reclaimed Voices has directly contacted a number of politicians from the Chamber Committee Justice and Security and requested an interview. Another strategy for an investigation was discussed during this meeting. Furthermore, the experiences with making a report were shared and concerns were expressed because of a possible lack of knowledge of the religious context in the vice police and the Public Prosecution Service.
Where are we now in one year after the articles in the newspaper Trouw?
Since November, various media have paid attention to the subject. Trouw, RTLNieuws and RTVNoord have proved to be good cooperation partners. Furthermore I have with our lawyer RTL Late Night sat at the table and also has One today made a good report. Several other media, including newspapers and internet news pages have paid attention to the subject. As a result, many people in the Netherlands have heard something about the subject. Moreover, this has led to such 300 situations of sexual abuse being known to the foundation.
A number of people have reported to the police where they have explicitly spoken about the religious context in the Jehovah's Witnesses. Although we do not have all kinds of further details, it is clear that the Public Prosecution Service deals with this and conducts research. In addition, there has recently been a case before the judge about abuse within the Jehovah's Witnesses and a recent case has been reported to the vice squad, which is now being investigated extensively.
The Lower House has a motion adopted whereby the minister is asked to investigate whether article 160 Code of Criminal Procedure can be extended so that a declaration must always be made if someone has knowledge of the situation of child sexual abuse. There is also a motion adopted whereby the government is called upon to investigate the reports received by the foundation. Results from other countries, such as Australia, must be included. Furthermore, the internal guidelines and procedures must be examined. There are also Parliamentary questions asked about how the declarations are handled, how the non-disclosure right can interfere with the cooperation of Jehovah's Witnesses and what role the new Privacy Act (AVG) plays in the whole.
We do not know what an investigation will look like and who will lead the research. We do, however, learn from persons with abuse experiences that they see the developments as a form of recognition up to now, and how they feel supported by the unanimous adoption of the motion on research. In the meantime, voices are also starting active Jehovah's Witnesses to indicate that the organization will have to pick up this subject.
(*) This concerns the following articles in Trouw:
"This is our secret. If you open your mouth, I'll do something to you. "
Children Jehovah's poorly protected from abuse
Elder is detective, judge and psychologist
Broad call for research into Jehovah's Witnesses
'A paradise for pedophiles'
Research on Jehovah's is needed
'Jehovahs themselves must want research'
With Jehovah's, the group always comes before the individual