Not a month goes by without fresh media claims about Watchtower’s mishandling of alleged sexual assault.
This past year alone has seen multiple instances where victims brought Watchtower before various courts to face damning evidence that its controversial policies when dealing with assault accusations have failed to protect victims and, in many cases, given de facto sanctuary to attacker. (*Links provided at end of article)
Now, another case has come to light, and this time there is a new and disturbing aspect to this otherwise sadly familiar pattern of events.
The Salt Lake Tribune Newspaper of Utah has published a story by journalist Courtney Tanner about a lawsuit now underway in Utah, where a woman has accused a Jehovah’s Witness in the Roy congregation of Webber County, of raping her on multiple occasions when she was a legal minor between 2007 and 2008.
This story differs from other experiences reported by Jehovah’s Witness abuse survivors. It appears that the alleged abuser recorded his assaults on audio and made these recordings available to the elders.
The woman alleges the elders played these recordings for hours during a judicial committee, at which she was present, and used these recordings of her own rape to prove she had sinned and consented to the rape.
I’ll just let that sink in.
Now, I’ll repeat it.
The elders played a rape survivor an audio recording of her own rape and then accused her, a minor, of giving consent.
Needless to say, the woman is claiming that both, the assaults themselves and the Judicial Committee process that followed, caused her significant physical and emotional harm. As a result, she is suing the congregation firstly for failing to provide sufficient warning about a known sexual predator. Tanner reports that:
A leader from the congregation apparently warned the girl’s parents in November 2006 that the instructor — who previously attended church sessions in Ogden and Oregon — was a “bad kid” who had “engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with a female member of the Clearfield congregation.” The plaintiff says that warning wasn’t enough.
The second part of the woman’s claim relates to the emotional injuries that she claims the elders inflicted by subjecting her to the audio recordings of her own assault in an attempt to discredit her accusations.
Untrained, Unskilled, and Unaccountable
The first and most obvious of these problems is Watchtower’s well-documented and extremely controversial stance on not automatically warning parents in a congregation if one of their members has a history of sexual violence towards children. This policy has been shown, time and again, to generate nothing but more victims as it leaves parents unaware of the danger. Whilst the plaintiff states she was warned that her attacker “engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with a female member of the Clearfield congregation,” one can easily see how such a warning would not actually communicate the danger she was in. For Witnesses, “inappropriate sexual behaviour” could simply mean consensual kissing between unmarried adults, and hardly brings to mind the danger of sexual assault.
The second is that, up until very recently, Watchtower refused to state that men convicted of child molestation could never be appointed to a position of authority. Instead, they leave a loophole in the wording of their policies that potentially allows this to happen if enough time, as deemed by them, had passed and if the accused showed sufficient repentance. The plaintive claims that her attacker was an “instructor” in the congregation. It is not clear what this title implies, and some readers have contacted JW Survey to contest the claim that her attacker was an Elder or a Ministerial Servant. Yet even if this man turns out not to have been an appointed man, the fact remains that many confirmed accounts of appointed men engaging in child abuse are on record.
While it is true that Watchtower has toughened its language on this point in recent months, (seemingly due to external pressure rather than internally driven concern) the new rules only apply to those seeking appointment. Watchtower has not yet said anything about elders already appointed with a known history of molestation. They are apparently free to continue in their position of authority and responsibility by the sheer luck of being appointed before Watchtower was forced to crack down.
The third problem occurs when an organization, like Watchtower, tries to take over the responsibilities and duties best left in the realm of judicial service and law enforcement. In a proper court of law, in any civilized nation, the situation described by the woman would be handled in a very different way. Skilled legal professionals would be designated to represent the defendant and the accused, and an experienced Judge would be appointed to oversee proceedings that would have public accountability. Any evidence, such as an audio recording of an alleged rape, would be presented and handled in a sensitive way. By doing so, this would give the defense a chance to fully respond to the evidence without putting the alleged victim through unnecessary, further trauma. Cross-examination would be done under the close supervision of the skilled and experienced judge, and, throughout the entire process, the victim would have access to professional support services.
In short, a child molestation trial and the handling of the evidence would be undertaken by people who know what they are doing: trained professionals.
By contrast, Watchtower Judicial Committees formed to deal with accusations of child rape are staffed and run by men with no professional training nor any accountability. The elder who sits down before you and starts interrogating you about quite possibly the worst moment of your life, likely has no more idea of how to effectively handle the matter than you do and is liable to no one other than Watchtower. Little wonder that one such survivor, describing her experiences before the Australian Royal Commission in Case Study 29, stated that the process of a police investigation and three court trials was still less of an ordeal than the process of a Jehovah’s Witness Judicial Committee.
Sadly, it appears that Watchtower has very little interest in substantially altering its head-in-the-sand attitude to this problem, as demonstrated by a recently leaked letter to the Spanish congregations, which we will cover in the near future.
(Updated 10/11/16 to reflect feedback.)
**LINKS TO PREVIOUS ARTICLES ABOUT VARIOUS COURT CASES AGAINST WATCHTOWER: