Jehovah's Witnesses (WTS)
Policies & examples of child sexual abuse
||"In the organization, you have to have two witnesses, and of course
it's almost impossible to have two witnesses to a child molestation. So if
a parent comes with their daughter to the elder, they ask and he says, no,
I didn't do it, then that's the end of the matter. I would like to see
them recognize it, take it to the civil authorities and professionals that
are capable and qualified to help the victims." Joe Anderson, former
Jehovah's Witness elder. 1
Placing abuse in perspective:
Since the year 2000, evidence has emerged of widespread
child sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church, and of subsequent
payoffs and cover-ups by the church. Some evidence of sexual abuse within
the Watchtower Society (WTS) has also appeared in the media in recent years.
What is missing is a measure of balance.
Sexual abuse is found throughout society. Approximately 1%
of girls are so abused by their fathers before puberty, and about 1% by
their step-fathers. Abuse of boys is at a lower level. There is really no
reliable data which demonstrates whether religion plays a role in this
phenomenon. We have never located any trustworthy evidence that sexual abuse
of pre-pubertal children is higher or lower in the WTS when compared to the Roman Catholic Church, other faith groups, or in society as a whole.
WTS rules about abuse:
Christianity bases its beliefs and practices on the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). Three main
themes in the Scriptures are:
A person should forgive someone who has hurt or abused
Individuals can be redeemed.
People can change through prayer and spiritual support.
These biblical themes often come into conflict with secular
standards, which may include beliefs that:
hebephiles, and ephebophilies should be punished for their crimes against children.
Child sexual abuse perpetrators typically molest dozens of
children before they are caught. Thus, they have to be isolated from new
potential victims, at least until they receive counseling and there is
some confidence that they will not reoffend.
Parents need to be informed if a child abuser is in their
group or neighborhood.
Every religious institution develops their own policies
and regulations concerning accusations of child sexual and physical abuse. The Jehovah's Witnesses organization follows a biblical standard when investigating allegations of
any offense on the part of a member. Proof that an offense has occurred
A confession on the part of the alleged perpetrator, or
The testimony of at least two witnesses to a single case
of abuse, 2 or
The testimony of one witness to abuse, followed by
testimony of a second witness to another instance of abuse. 2,3
In the case of sexual abuse, the only witnesses are usually
the perpetrator and the victim. As a result, proof cannot often be obtained
unless the perpetrator is willing to confess to the crime. According to a
1995 article in the Watchtower, a publication of the Watchtower Society
(WTS), if proof cannot be
obtained, elders are to "explain to the accuser that nothing more can be
done in a judicial (church disciplinary) way...the congregation will
continue to view the one accused as an innocent person." The article
suggested that "The question of his guilt or innocence can be
safely left in Jehovah's (God's) hands." Some victims ask for more.
At a recent trial in a Canadian court, a lawyer for the
prosecution stated that the Witnesses imposes a three-year statute of limitations
on behaviors like sexual abuse. Any charges brought to the elders of a
congregation by an alleged victim must relate to recent abuse. 4
If abuse cannot be proven, the elders of the congregation "are
expected to report the allegation to the branch office of the Jehovah's
Witnesses in their country, if local privacy laws permit. Again, privacy
laws permitting, a record is made a the branch office that the individual
has been accused of child abuse....The aim is to balance the right to
privacy of the individual with the overriding need to protect the safety of
Where child abuse can be proven, and the member is
unrepentant, he or she is disfellowshipped. This involves being expelled from the organization. However, if
they can convince elders that they have truly repented of their abusive
behavior, they can be readmitted into the congregation. If repentant then
she/he is not permitted to hold a responsible job in the congregation for at
least twenty years. 5
The Jehovah's Witnesses has a dual policy concerning cases of child abuse
which meet their standards of proof:
Local elders are required by the WTS to alert police and/or child
protection services only in those political jurisdictions which require
religious institutions to report suspected cases of abuse. Some states in
the U.S. do not have mandated reporting. Other require certain
professionals like physicians, teachers, and social workers to report, but
allow religious leaders to remain silent. Some states have no laws at all in
Where reporting is not mandated by the state, their
policy is to keep keep the matter secret. Communications between elders
and members are kept confidential. They generally do not report abuse but
attempt to handle it within the organization. An abuser will often be
encouraged to confess to authorities. A disciplinary hearing may be held.
However, only elders can take notes, which are later collected and kept in
a secure location. No tape recordings are permitted.
The Witnesses hold that the privilege of clergy confidentiality
applies to any confidential communication among its members, including
statements at disciplinary hearings which involve multiple elders and
Some members in the organization suggest that the latter
policies can put WTS members and the rest of the public at risk.
Sometimes confessed molesters will be allowed to remain in the congregation,
with disastrous results in the form of continued molestation. One
responsibility expected of members is that they do door-to-door
evangelizing. An abusive pedophile or hebephile could use this opportunity to recruit new victims.
Some examples of continued abuse:
The WTS' policy of handling some suspected sexual abuse
cases in secret has aroused a growing level of opposition inside and outside
of the Jehovah's Witnesses. The main concern is that there is a very high probability that the
abuse will continue. This is reduced by intensive counseling, but is never
eliminated. There is a general consensus among mental health professionals
that pedophilia and or
hebephilia (the sexual attraction to children) is unchangeable, much
in the same way that one's sexual orientation is fixed. What may be changed
is the perpetrator's actions. They can sometimes control their feelings and
not act upon them. The average abusive pedophile or hebephile who is arrested has molested dozens of children.
Counseling by WTS elders may or may not break this pattern of abuse, and
may leave children vulnerable to molestation in the future.
Some instances that have resulted in court cases include:
New Hampshire: A WTS member informed elders that
her husband was physically abusing their children. They took no action. For years afterwards,
the man sexually and physically abused children in his own
family. He was finally caught, tried and given a 56 year prison sentence.
Texas: In 1992, WTS elders ordered a teen-age
boy to stop molesting his younger sister. The youth later sexually abused another
sister. Police found out about the latter case when alerted by hospital
staff after his victim attempted to commit suicide. In 1997, the
perpetrator was given a 40-year prison term.
Maine: WTS elders disciplined a member for child
molesting. Later, the perpetrator molested a teen-age boy between 1989 and
1992. It was only after the second victim disclosed the abuse to a
therapist that authorities were notified.
- Wisdom Martin, "Sexual abuse allegations within Jehovah's Witnesses
denomination," WKRN Nashville, TN, at: http://www.wkrn.com/
- These policies are based on verses from the Bible: Deuteronomy
19:15 and Matthew 18:15-17.
- Peter Smith, "Jehovah's Witnesses' policy on
child molesters attacked - Church says
it follows laws on reporting suspected abuse," Courier-Journal,
Louisville, KY, 2001-FEB-4, http://www.courier-journal.com/
- "Colleagues concealed sex abuse to protect 'clean image' of
Witnesses: elder," Canoe.ca, at: http://canoe.ca/
- Letter: J.R. Brown, Director, Office of Public Information, WTS, to
Betsan Powys, Panorama program, British Broadcasting Corporation,
Copyright © 2002 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written on: 2002-SEP-3
Last updated on: 2011-SEP-20
Author: B.A. Robinson