It is a great moment to look back on the activities of Reclaimed Voices and the results of respectful activism at end of the year 2018.
In the second half of 2017 a lot of preparatory work was carried out, which led to Reclaimed Voices being officially founded as a foundation in January 2018. In November and December 2017 Reclaimed Voices shared in the media that she was familiar with multiple stories of sexual abuse within the Jehovah's Witnesses. This led to a meeting with officials from the Ministry of Justice and Security in January. Reclaimed Voices had a overview report written that was shared with these officials. In this report the background to the problem is explained and a plea was made for the establishment of an independent investigation.
To reinforce our request, the foundation contacted some members of the. Permanent Parliamentary Committee on Justice and Security. This Committee was also urged to start an independent investigation. From the beginning Reclaimed Voices was aware that the Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses in the Netherlands would not cooperate in such an investigation. This concern was shared with the MPs and the officers of the Department of Justice and Safety. In May 2018 our suspicions were confirmed and it seemed that the minister could not take any further action. Reclaimed Voices took the initiative to speak with a number of MPs about what possibilities there were. We have pointed out the stories that were known to us, the results of the investigation in Australia and the various lawsuits in the USA. We also shared that we have policy documents. It should therefore be possible to set up a form of inquiery. The MPs agreed and filed a motion. This motion was submitted to the Parliament at the end of June and it was adopted unanimously!
Behind the scenes Reclaimed Voices has had a lot of contact with the Ministry of Justice and Security and with the scientific Research and Documentation Center (WODC) about the execution of the investigation that was proposed in the motion. The foundation is currently awaiting a preliminary memorandum in which the investigation frameworks and the precise formulation of the research question will be presented.
In addition to this scientific research that will be carried out, the Public Prosecution Service is conducting criminal investigations. The Reclaimed Voices Foundation is involved in this through their contact with victims of abuse. From January on the foundation is legally represented by criminal lawyer Nico Meijering. Nico Meijering has corresponded with the organization of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Emmen about handing over files. Notable was the unwilling cooperation to submit the full files which were requested by victims. A number of victims also reported to the police sexual abuse within the Jehovah's Witnesses through Nico Meijering. These reports are currently under investigation, together with a number of other reports that have been made directly to the police. At the moment criminal investigation is being carried out in nine abuse cases. At the beginning of December it was announced that the Public Prosecution Service raided two kingdom halls, the branch office of Jehovah's witnesses and four private houses. The reason for this is that requests for voluntary submission of dossiers were not answered. We do not know what has been found during these raids, but it is our hope that the information that has been seized can contribute to these criminal investigations.
At first we were shocked by the fact that there had been raids. Reclaimed Voices is aware that such a means can raise strong associations with persecution of the faith community among Jehovah's Witnesses. Human Rights are very important to Reclaimed Voices, and one of those rights is the freedom of religion. At the same time, such a right can never lead to other rights and freedoms being violated. When demonstrably not cooperating with a criminal investigation, legal coercion may be necessary. Although there is no criminal investigation into the faith community, Reclaimed Voices hopes that research in these nine cases will contribute to keeping the organization itself accountable. By this we do not mean the individual Jehovah's Witnesses. Where possible, we have conducted respectful conversations with individual Witnesses this year. Some have approached us and others have called on us during their preaching work. With friendliness and asking questions more is achieved than with aggressive rejection, scolding, disturbing meetings and the like.
This yearh there has been a lot of media attention. We have conducted many background discussions, contributed to news items on TV and in newspapers. Eén Vandaag en Hart van Nederland have broadcasted reports. RTL News has made several news items. We have consciously worked on bringing this subject to the media in a respectful and non-sensational way. In our view, that worked out well. We have never spoken offensively towars individual Witnesses, but we have spoken as objectively and factually as possible. Where possible, our claims are substantiated with documents and personal stories from a number of victims. People who have found the courage to speak openly in the media. This has further contributed to the fact that more people have approached us with their story and that we now know more than 300 stories of abuse. The subject of sexual abuse within the Jehovah's Witnesses has been monthly in the media this year. It has been pointed out how Jehovah's witnesses deal with complaints of sexual abuse, how matters are documented and archived, and how little or no cooperation is given in criminal investigations. Where possible, we pointed out our mission: to create an environment where children can grow up safely and find recognition for victims of abuse.
Another highlight was to be able to work on one YouTube documentary directed by Lloyd Evans. This documentary in which victims, various journalists, a member of parliament and the board of Reclaimed Voices cooperated will show what can be achieved with respectful activism. The end result of this documentary is expected at any moment. Based on the images that the foundation has seen, our expectations are high.
n Children's safety is the most important starting point for Reclaimed Voices. In October Reclaimed Voices published amanifesto. This manifesto ,signed by prominent figures in Dutch society, is an appeal to both religious communities and individuals to ensure the safety of children. This manifesto was presented to the mayor of Emmen during a respectful protest in Emmen in front of the Branch office of the Jehovah's Witnesses. This protest had a dignified character through the speeches, the music and the symbolism that were used. Dilana Smith sang her song Behind Closed Doors. This was a highlight for the board of the foundation together with a number of victims of abuse that were present. Dilana has indicated that she like to work for Reclaimed Voices as our ambassador.
It is impossible to mention everything that the foundation has done this year. There have been many interviews with persons who have been abused, interviews have been held with healthcare professionals, with the police, with the Public Prosecution Service, with the Minister and his staff, with members of parliament and with journalists. Articles have been written for the website. A lot of research is being done in the background by Aswin. A lot of mutual consultation takes place here. Aswin and I try to combine our experiential knowledge with our knowledge from our educational background. Frank, Aswin and I hold weekly meetings. Insights are shared, situations are discussed, strategies are determined. For us, the work for Reclaimed Voices is now a daily task in addition to our other activities: work, family and leisure.
We see the results of our work and we get a lot of appreciation. At the same time we realize very well that we are working on a subject that can be very confronting for people. This means that it is challenging to keep this subject under the attention of those who do not understand the background of the Jehovah's Witnesses. One cannot and does not always want to grasp the full situation. Some professionals are of the opinion that they know it all, but still miss the point. Others find the subject too confrontational because they themselves have the necessary experiences with sexual abuse. Reading or hearing the often poignant stories can be emotionally exhausting. We knew that we were facing challenges when we started the foundation and we see the need to continue our efforts.
One of the most difficult challenges is being confronted with discouragement. It is not always easy to be confronted with negative reactions. Certainly not if they come from people for whom you are fighting. Comments such as "it's useless what you are doing" or "you do not pay attention to other forms of abuse" or criticism of the way we are approaching the subject, sometimes makes the work heavy. At the same time, we know that it makes sense what we do. This year more has been achieved than we had wished for in advance.
We are convinced that the way we approach things is a good one and we would like to continue like this.. We have met many special people this year. Persons with abuse experiences who still daily deal with the consequences of the abuse. Your stories have really touched us! Some of you have shared your stories in the media. This has certainly contributed to increased awareness for this topic. We were allowed to collaborate with many others: honest journalists, politicians, police officers, experts in the field of abuse and religion, former Jehovah's Witnesses, but also some active Jehovah's Witnesses. All the work we have been able to do, and the achievements so far, are the result of mutual trust, respect and our sincere desire to give children a safe childhood. We thank everyone with whom we have been working for their trust in our cooperation. Together with you, we hope to meet a new challenging year in which we remain committed to an environment where children can grow up safely, even if this happens to be within a religious community!
We wish you all an inspiring, powerful and loving 2019!