Anyone who starts on sexual abuse in the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses is told that they have been providing information for years to protect children. Representatives of the faith community will not fail to point out the many publications that they have published on the subject. There is indeed a lot of material on their website and on the page 'Jehovah's Witnesses provide information to prevent sexual abuse is fenced with large numbers of print runs.
According to the views of Jehovah's Witnesses, the responsibility for the protection of children lies with the parents. Almost all information material is therefore intended to help parents with this. But what about the responsibility of the organization? What if the policy of the organization has consequences that prevent children from being well protected? And why is there nothing publicly published about the policy that is being pursued?
It appears that information is being deliberately withheld from ordinary church members and the outside world. Since the members do have to deal with it in practice, they should be entitled to understand it. Especially when it comes to situations involving sexual abuse.
Hierarchical information provision
Ordinary baptized members of the congregation have access to the booklet as a manual for their life and service as Jehovah's Witnesses Organized to do Jehovah's will (2005). One gets this book at baptism and it is not intended for the general public. City members also have access to it Workbook life and service meeting, the magazines The Watchtower en Awake! and all other publications intended for fresh preparation. Furthermore, members of the congregation are occasionally informed by means of announcements or reading aloud (a part of) letters intended for the congregations.
Elders have a manual for carrying out their duties. The current manual is called Feed the flock of God (ks-10, 2010). The forerunner of it was Pay attention to yourself and to the entire herd (ks-91, 1991, the Dutch version refers to earlier editions of 1977, 1979, 1981). Only those who are an elder usually have a copy of this book. The guidelines are supplemented and / or amended by means of letters that are also only accessible to elders. A letter containing additional or replacement directions should be noted in designated places in the elders handbook. Sometimes entire paragraphs are crossed out when indicated. Most of the most recently updated sexual abuse policy is contained in the letter to all bodies of elders, dated September 1, 2017.
Higher in the hierarchy than elders are the circuit overseers and branch overseers. Regarding sexual abuse, the legal department of a branch has information to ensure that policies are enforced in a way that, if possible, does not violate the law of the country. Elders who are faced with a sexual assault allegation should immediately contact the Legal Department at their branch. After the meeting with the Legal Department, they are put through to the Service Department (see item 7 of the letter To all the Bodies of Elders, September 1, 2017). The Service Department instructs elders on what to do when they need to investigate a sexual abuse allegation, when a judicial committee is formed, on restrictions or exclusion, and on reinstatement requests. A guide with guidelines is used, known in English as Child Protection Guidelines For Branch Office Service Desks. This is undoubtedly also a Dutch version.
The website of Jehova's Witnesses has a login area, where members can access information according to their position in the hierarchy.
Misleading? An example from Australia
This hierarchical information provision can be misleading, or at least paint a nicer picture than reality. The ordinary church members receive only part of the information, usually that part that one also wants to share with the outside world. The latter is well illustrated by an example from Australia. In the late summer of 2002 was there a letter to all municipalities sent. The reason would be that reports had been published in the media about how various sexual organizations dealt with accusations of sexual abuse. This could lead to questions to Jehovah's Witnesses about how they are doing. In order to know how to respond in such a situation, the "biblical standpoint" was explained in the letter.
As a result of this letter, questions were received at the branch office. In a letter from the Australian branch office to all bodies of elders dated 10 October 2002, the following comments are made:
"Some questions about the statement on page 2 of our letter To All Congregations in Australia dated August 28, 2002:" We have long instructed elsewhere to report allegations of child abuse to the authorities. there is only one witness. "This statement needs to be understood in the following context: (1) This is a general letter to the congregation and not elsewhere; and (2) the Society has long been instructed elsewhere to follow the following procedure:
- When elsewhere receive reports of physical or sexual abuse of a child, they should contact the Society's Legal Department immediately. Victims of such abuse need to be protected from further danger. ”- See letter AB: AS To All Bodies of Elders, August 25, 1989, page 3.
- “When a member of the congregation is accused of child molestation, the elsewhere should contact the Society immediately. Some states make it mandatory that elsewhere report an accusation to the proper authorities but other states do not. … Before speaking to the one accused, the elsewhere should contact the Society. ”- See letter SA To All Bodies of Elders, November I, 1995, page 1.”
In the remainder of this letter it is explained that (in Australia) laws differ per state and can change through time. The definition of child abuse (child abuse) would also not be legally established. Elders should therefore always contact (the legal department of) the branch office, so that they can act according to what the law requires at that moment and that place.
The aforementioned sentence, which raised questions about, suggests that people have been reporting sexual abuse to the authorities for a long time. At least in Australia in states where this is required by law. The research by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse However, it shows that not one of the 1006 perpetrators known to the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses between 1950 and 2015 was indicated by the elders to the authorities. No wonder perhaps that elders asked questions to the branch about this part of the text. In the response they received it was pointed out that the text in question was part of a general letter to the municipalities, or the ordinary members. Elders had to follow the instructions they have received from the society for a long time.
Ordinary church members know nothing about the instructions that elders receive. They do not know that elders should immediately contact (the legal department) of their branch office. They do not know that the elders should follow instructions that they get from above. However, they did receive this letter from 28 August 2002 To All Congregations the (incorrect) impression that elders have long reported to the authorities, even if there are no two witnesses to the abuse.
Netherlands: a 'new' protocol?
A document with the name has recently been published in the Netherlands Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Scripturally Based Position on Child Protection produced. In the third week of March, the following statement was made to congregation members, which was to be read exactly like this:
'We would like to let you know that a statement has been issued with the title The biblical view of Jehovah's Witnesses on the protection of children. If you want to receive a copy as a member of the municipality, you can get it from the coordinator of the body of elders or the secretary. Receive our warm greetings. Your brothers, Christian Church of Jehovah's Witnesses. "
Not a word about sexual child abuse, while the document is actually about that. It is also not distributed, but only provided to those who ask for it. Chances are that ordinary church members have forgotten that it exists in no time.
Even in the case of the elders, there is no transparency in this case. There is no mention of media attention for sexual abuse at Jehovah's Witnesses or referred to discussions with staff of the Ministry of Justice and Security. In the accompanying letter, the document states that publishers - members of the municipality - sometimes ask questions about the way in which the organization views child abuse and that this form is intended to provide answers. However, the elders are instructed to carefully follow the guidelines as they appear in the letter to all bodies of elders of 1 September 2017.
In letter from Minister Sander Dekker to the House of Representatives of 21 March 2018, the minister seems to assume that the administration of Jehovah's Witnesses 'has shown willingness to take a number of steps', by developing a protocol. However, nothing has changed since the first meeting of Ministry officials with the representatives of Jehovah's Witnesses. The policy is still the same, the recently released document is in general a translation of a document already existing in Australia and only provides partial information. This again concerns information that - possibly - may be shared with the outside world, but that does not show how the policy actually works.
Since 1 may be the document concerning the protection of children on the official website of Jehovah's Witnesses. It is listed under "legal information," "information packets to be downloaded" that are intended for government officials, human rights organizations and legal companies. Does this location betray the actual target group for this information?
A signature for data processing
Signing the form seems to be a requirement for being able to participate in certain religious activities and receiving spiritual support. What is not mentioned, however, is that someone who does not sign the form is unlikely to be eligible to become 'servant in the ministry', elder or 'pioneer'. This information is in the accompanying form (S-291) that is only known to the elders. This same instruction sheet also states that someone who refuses to sign the form will still be kept in the local municipality. This concerns information that is written on his 'publisher's card' (S-21), which usually relates to the number of hours that he spent on evangelization work in addition to his name and date of baptism.
The April 2018 communication form (S-147-18), which is also intended for elders only, states that the secretary must inform the body of elders if a publisher refuses to sign the consent form.
However, information that is relevant to receiving 'spiritual support' and fully qualifying for a position as 'servant in the ministry', elder or pioneer, means that one keeps track of matters related to one's attitude and behavior with regard to the organization. It then concerns whether or not someone participates diligently in the evangelization work, follows obedient guidelines or shows a critical attitude, has been reprimanded for a sin, has been restricted or has even been ruled out. This is therefore information other than personal data with which one can identify someone.
Most of the information on the website speaks about the security and protection of the aforementioned personal data. But the information that the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses actually keeps of its members (and ex-members) is of a much more sensitive nature. Keeping these data up to date is accounted for under the guise of religious freedom. But there is no transparency about it, not even to the members, while they (unconsciously) put a signature on it.
The organization of Jehovah's Witnesses is not transparent to its members nor to the outside world. They want to make it appear more beautiful than it really is.
Because ordinary church members are not aware of the actual policy on child sexual abuse, they can maintain the 'clean image' to the outside world when they get questions about it. They also less easily believe in stories about abuse that reach them from the media and world. They really believe that their organization is doing well. Lack of information can make people blind to reality and that victims of sexual abuse are not taken seriously.
While ordinary church members are not aware of the policy, the organization can shift the responsibility. Moreover, there are discrepancies in the advice given to members of the congregation and victims of sexual abuse and the policy that must be carried out by elders.
- Child Protection Guidelines For Branch Office Service Desks (2016), [Internal Document] .Te download via: https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/sites/default/files/WAT.0024.001.0006.pdf
- Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses in the Netherlands (2018, March) Permission statement for the use of personal data (S-290-O 3 / 18)
- Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses in the Netherlands (2018, 13 March) To all Bodies of Elders [Letter]
- Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Scripturally Based Position on Child Protection (S-23-O Ne 1 / 18) (2018) [Document] .Te download via: https://www.jw.org/nl/nieuws/juridisch/juridische-informatie/informatie/pakket-jg-bijbels-standpunt-bescherming-kinderen/
- Jehovah's Witnesses provide information to prevent sexual abuse, on JW.org, consulted April 2018: https://www.jw.org/nl/jehovahs-getuigen/activiteiten/hulp-samenleving/beschermen-kinderen-seksueel-misbruik/#?insight[search_id]=65d29679-78c2-455c-a382-2f9e91fac571&insight[search_result_index]=3
- "Pay attention to yourself and the whole flock" (1991) ks-91, handbook for elders [PDF], New York, USA, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. International Bible Students Association. English copy can be downloaded via: https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/sites/default/files/WAT.0003.001.0001.pdf
- Testigos Cristianos de Jehová, (2017, 1 September). To all Bodies of Elders [Letter], concerns: to protect minors against abuse.
- Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Britain (2018, April) Announcements and Reminders (S-147-18_E_Bi_04) [Internal document]
- Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Britain (2018, April) Instructions for use or personal data (S-291-E 3 / 18) [Internal Document]
- Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia (2002, 10 October)To All Bodies or Elsewhere in Australia [Letter]
- Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia (2002, 28 August) To All Congregations in Australia [Letter]. To download via: https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/sites/default/files/WAT.0004.001.0001.pdf
- "Feed the flock of God" (2010) ks-10, handbook for elders [PDF], Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. English copy can be downloaded via: https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/sites/default/files/WAT.0013.002.0001.pdf