The previous two articles in this series have discussed Watchtower policy and scriptural debate. However, this is not some theoretical debate of interest only to scholars and lawyers. At the core of all this back and forth over scripture and law are real human beings.
What is the actual impact of Watchtower policy when put into practice for real abuse survivors?
Two of these survivors were able to give detailed and comprehensive testimony at the ARC hearings, and the submission of the Senior Counsel contains detailed findings related to their experiences.
The Case of BCB
The first survivor was a woman referred to as BCB in order to protect her identity. She described how Jehovah’s Witness elder Bill Neill repeatedly abused her from the age of 15. She outlined the various impacts of Watchtower’s policy on her case in harrowing detail. These included:
- An instance where, as per Watchtower policy at the time, she was forced by the elders to confront Bill Neill, repeat her accusations directly to him, and hear him challenge and dismiss them – an experience she found deeply traumatic.
- She was required to describe intimate details of her assault to a room full of men. As a result, she found herself unable to fully detail the worst aspects of her experience.
- She was given no counseling or support for her extreme emotional trauma, and was simply instructed to read Watchtower literature.
Even though the elders claimed to believe her, due to the two witness rule, nothing significant could be done. Neill did step down as an elder, but the reason was not announced to the congregation. No further sanctions were imposed. Neill remained a Witness in good standing.
And almost unbelievably, BCB was forced to continue attending meetings in Neill’s home.
I’ll say that again.
- BCB was required to continue attending meetings in the home of the man whom she had stated, and the elders apparently agreed, had abused her.
Additionally, elder Max Horley and Circuit Overseer Doug Jackson sent a letter to the branch described as follows by the Commission:
148 The letter of 1 February 1992 further reported that both Mr Horley and Mr Doug Jackson were ‘impressed by Brother Neill’s acceptance of counsel and his humility throughout the ordeal’ and recommended that he be appointed as an elder again ‘once this has died down’.
Unsurprisingly, BCB didn’t fare well as a result of this treatment. She testified that she’d since had a nervous breakdown and required ongoing expensive medical and therapeutic care to deal with the mental and physical injures Neill’s abuse had inflicted.
Max Horley and Doug Jackson appeared before the ARC to defend themselves. They didn’t impress.
Jackson gave meaningless responses that often verged on gibberish, and a shamefaced Horley, despite attempting initially to defend his actions and Watchtower policy, in the end agreed that BCB had been terribly failed by both.
Here are just some of the Commission’s many detailed findings on the case of BCB. They back up and validate all the claims BCB made (bold is mine):
F6 It was distressing for BCB to be required by the elders to tell of what had happened to her to a group of men, including the man whom she accused of abusing her, and it was not likely to, nor did it, result in BCB disclosing the full extent of her abuse.
F9 The application of the two‐witness rule meant that there was insufficient evidence for the elders to act against BCB’s abuser even though they believed her, which left her feeling disbelieved and unsupported, and it left the abuser in the congregation where he may have been a risk to other children.
F10 Mr Horley telling BCB that she should not discuss her abuse with anyone left her feeling silenced and unsupported.
F13 It was traumatic for BCB and inappropriate of Mr Horley for him to have required BCB to attend Bible study at Bill Neill’s home when he knew that BCB accused Bill Neill of abusing her.
F14 The recommendation of the elders to the Branch Office that Bill Neill be reinstated as an elder ‘once this has died down’ and their expressed concern ‘that there may also be worldly people who also know’ demonstrates that they were more concerned about the reputation of Bill Neill and the congregation than about the risk that he posed to children.
The Case of BCG
BCG was born into a Jehovah’s Witness family, and had three sisters. When she was 17 her father, a ministerial servant, began to abuse her. Her initial attempt to contact the elders were rebuffed, and when she finally was able to get their attention, her story took a sadly familiar path. Among the indignities the Watchtower process inflicted, BCG recounts that:
- She was required to confront her father with the accusations, who became so angry and aggressive that he had to be restrained from violently attacking her. BCG found this experience terrifying.
- She stated that the elders, all friends of her father, appeared to attack her credibility as a witnesses, rather than support and protect her as an abuse survivor. She was left with the distinct impression that they were not impartial in the matter.
One of the most troubling aspects of BCG’s story highlights how elders can act in defiance of Watchtower’s rules with impunity.
Remember the two witness rule? Well, BCG told told the elders that her father had abused her younger sisters as well her older sister. The elders dismissed this report, stating that the girls were too young to know what they were talking about, and were not witnesses to the same event, even though Watchtower policy at the time would have accepted their evidence as a second witness.
During the hearings, the elders involved (Ron De Rooy, Dino Ali, and Kevin Bowditch) flat out denied under oath that she had made this report to them. Ali in particular was quite adamant on this fact.
To the clear shock of Ali, the ARC then produced a set of handwritten notes, taken from the congregation archives, and written by Ali during the investigation. The notes confirm, in Ali’s own handwriting, that not only had BCG informed the elders as to her father’s abuse of her sisters (a charge her mother corroborated) but that her father had confessed to the abuse before the elders.
Yet, despite having more than enough evidence to act, even under the discredited process of Watchtower, Ron De Rooy, Dino Ali and Kevin Bowditch did not find that BCG’s father had abused his daughters.
Among the many findings on the case of BCG, the Senior Counsel finds: (bold is mine)
F21 The evidence presented to the judicial committee of BCH having abused his other daughters satisfied the Jehovah’s Witness organisation’s own rules with regard to sufficiency of evidence to establish that BCH had abused BCG, but the elders wrongly ignored that evidence and accordingly failed to uphold BCG’s complaint against BCH.
F23 The elders inexplicably and wrongly ignored BCH’s confession to having abused BCG and thereby, within the precepts of the Jehovah’s Witness organisation’s own rules and procedures, failed to uphold BCG’s complaint against BCH.
F26 The failure by the elders to report BCH’s sexual abuse of BCG to the police had the result that BCH remained at large in the community and a risk to children, and reflects that the elders were not concerned with child safety but rather with keeping their organisation ‘clean’.
F27 The judicial committee’s failure to uphold BCG’s complaint of abuse by BCH conveyed to BCG that the organisation tolerated child sexual abuse within its ranks.
F28 The advice given by the elders to BCG that she not speak about her abuse to anyone had the effect of silencing her.
As a result of this bungled (or worse) investigation, BCG attempted suicide. Her father was later disfellowshipped on a separate charge of “loose conduct and lying,” though a later appeal did confirm the charges of sexual abuse as well.
However, he was still re-instated just three years later.
Upon being informed of this BCG, terrified for the safety of children in the congregation, decided to report her own abuse to the police. She alleges that Ron De Rooy threatened her with disfellowshipping if she did so. De Rooy denied this under oath, just as he denied BCG reporting the abuse of her sisters.
Among the many damning findings of Senior Counsel on the reinstatement are: (bold is mine)
F31 The decision to reinstate BCH took no account of the risk that BCH posed to children, paid little regard to the fact that he had been disfellowshipped because of child sexual abuse, and was focussed principally on his extra‐marital relationship.
F32 The decision to reinstate BCH took no account of BCH’s failure to apologise to BCG, a factor relevant to consideration of sincere repentance, or of what BCG might have had to say about BCH being reinstated.
F33 The decision to reinstate BCH was disrespectful and unsupportive of BCG.
Nonetheless, BCG took her case to the police. The ARC also found, after testimony from a legal professional involved, that the delays caused by the Watchtower process, and the clumsy nature of the process itself, had rendered much of the evidence inadmissible. Nonetheless, her father was finally convicted on the third trial. What did BCG have to say about this?
245 BCG told the Royal Commission that her experience of the three criminal trials was significantly less traumatic than her experience sitting through the committee meetings.
Today BCG is disfellowshipped, and is currently being shunned by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
A Plea to Elders
It may well be that you are an elder reading this. Perhaps you no longer believe in the faith, but are trapped, not wishing to be shunned by your family and friends. Perhaps you still consider yourself a Witness but believe, as other elders do, that in this specific area the Organization is making a terrible error of judgement.
Whatever the case, if a member of your congregation comes to you with an allegation of sexual abuse, please:
CONTACT THE POLICE
You may lose your privileges of service. But surely that is a small price to pay for being able to look yourself in the mirror and know that, when a vulnerable member of your congregation came to you for help, in the moment they needed you most, you did not fail them.
- Royal Commission findings: Governing Body member Geoffrey Jackson “evasive and unhelpful”
- Royal Commission findings: Watchtower policies place JW children “at significant risk of sexual abuse”
- Reveal article: Jehovah’s Witnesses shield child sex abusers from police, report says
- 12 things we learned from Geoffrey Jackson’s testimony at the Royal Commission
- Royal Commission’s Angus Stewart accuses Watchtower representative of deliberate deception
- Elders shamed under questioning by the Royal Commission
- Australian Royal Commission hears that 1,006 alleged child sex abusers were covered up by Watchtower
- Stephen Lett slams “apostate-driven lies and dishonesties” concerning child abuse record
- JWsurvey articles on child abuse