Royal Commission findings: Watchtower policies place JW children “at significant risk of sexual abuse”
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Angus Stewart, senior council at the Royal Commission, has delivered damning summary findings detailing Watchtower's mishandling of child abuse

Angus Stewart, senior counsel at the Royal Commission, has delivered damning summary findings detailing Watchtower’s mishandling of child abuse

The summer of 2015 saw The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse hold an eight-day hearing focusing on the Jehovah’s Witness organization.

Far from being a dry legal debate, the hearings made headlines around the world for good reason. It emerged that since 1950, the Australian branch of the Watchtower had failed to report over 1006 alleged child abusers in its membership to the authorities, and that this was not merely due to incompetence but rather a deliberate result of Watchtower policy and doctrine.

Now, almost six months later, the Royal Commission has published the Submissions of Senior Counsel Assisting the Commission, Angus Stewart.

The way this process works is that the Senior Counsel Assisting the Commission submits to the ARC what he feels the findings should be, based upon evidence gathered. Then the other involved parties get to respond to his submissions. Thus on the Royal Commission website you can see that both Watchtower and one of the abuse survivors, BCG, have submitted their requests for changes to the submission. These will be taken into consideration by the ARC, with modifications made where appropriate, and presented to the government.

This means changes might occur between now and final publication, but given the rather feeble nature of the Watchtower’s counter-submission I wouldn’t expect much watering down of the key findings.

In total, there are 77 findings, each supported by explanatory paragraphs. To examine them all in detail would take many articles, but in this series of three articles I have chosen to focus upon three areas, the first of which will be covered below:

The child sexual abuse policies and practices of Watchtower

To fully understand the gravity of Senior Counsel’s findings, we must first establish a little context about Witness culture.

One of the goals of the ARC was to establish why none of these 1,006 alleged abusers had been reported to the police. After all, even if it was the self-stated policy of the Watchtower for elders not to report (for reasons explored and debunked elsewhere in the submission), surely the outraged parents and their children would still be rushing to law enforcement? Why then had so many survivors and their families not done this?

As the hearings progressed, an answer emerged; a picture of a religion that on one hand tells its followers to obey secular laws, but adds caveats that the laws of the religion supersede secular laws, and that any person or organization outside the faith is potentially a tool of Satan, wicked and untrustworthy.

Thus, the first finding of the submission identifies what many exJW’s know all too well:

F1: The Jehovah’s Witness organisation presents its members with conflicting and ambiguous teachings regarding their relationship with secular authorities, thereby fostering a distrust of such authorities.

Given the explicit policy of not reporting abuse to the authorities, and with deep distrust of those authorities indoctrinated into Jehovah’s Witnesses, this meant that often the only measures available to Witnesses to investigate allegations, sanction abusers and protect children were those taken by the religion itself. This places even greater responsibility on Watchtower to ensure that these steps are effective in protecting children and sanctioning abusers.

How did Watchtowers internal processes hold up to scrutiny from the independent experts of the ARC?

Not well, to put it mildly.

Lets take, for example, the now infamous two witness rule. This is a Watchtower policy stating that any crime or sin must have at least two witnesses to the act before any judicial action can be taken, even if the investigating elders believe the accusation to be true. The religion justifies this policy as being a direct scriptural command found in Matthew 18:16, Deuteronomy 19:15, as well as in 2nd Corinthians and the book of Timothy.

The obvious problem here is that sexual abuse rarely occurs in the presence of two witnesses.

Much back and forth went on during the hearings between the Commission and senior Watchtower officials about whether this policy could be changed, and indeed as to whether Watchtower’s application of the scripture was even true to the original intent of bible writers. Watchtower made it clear that, despite their acknowledging the serious flaws inherent in the rule, it was nonetheless set in stone.

Due to the importance of this specific issue, the full submission of Senior Counsel is replicated below. It’s hard to see how it could be more damning. (Bold is mine)

F42  The requirement that two or more eyewitnesses to the same incident are required in the absence of a confession from the accused, the testimony of two or three witnesses to separate incidents of the same kind of wrongdoing, or strong circumstantial evidence testified to by at least two witnesses (i.e. the two witness rule):

a) means that in respect of child sexual abuse which almost invariably occurs in private, very often no finding of guilt will be made in respect of a guilty accused 


b) causes victims of child sexual abuse to feel unheard and unsupported when it results in allegations of child sexual abuse not being upheld 


c) is a danger to children in the Jehovah’s Witness organisation because its consequence is that very often nothing is done about an abuser in the organisation 


d) does not seem to be applied by the Jehovah’s Witness organisation in the case of an accusation of adultery, which suggests that adultery is taken more seriously by the organisation than child sexual abuse, and

e) needs to be revisited by the Jehovah’s Witness organisation with a view to abandoning it or at least reformulating it to ensure that safe decisions as to someone being guilty of child sexual abuse can be made more easily.

The Commission also found that the policy of a male-only judicial committee interrogating a female survivor and investigating the accusation “is a fundamental flaw in the process which weakens the decisions by excluding women.”

With Watchtower’s investigative process judged dangerously flawed, what of the sanctions applied to offenders? The ARC was told that, should an abuser somehow be found guilty in spite of the two witness rule, they faced two possible sanctions from the religion: Reproof if they are considered to be repentant, and disfellowshipping if not.

Let’s start with the sanction of reproof. How did it fair up under Royal Commission scrutiny?

Not well.

It was established that, whilst a reproof would be announced to the congregation, the reason for the reproof would not be. The problem here is that a reproof can cover a vast spectrum of behavior; from simply getting a little drunk at a party at one end of the spectrum, all the way up to crimes such as child molestation and rape on the other. Thus there was no way for the congregation to know if the reproof meant there was a child abuser in their midst, and thus take steps to protect their children.

Thus, the Senior Counsel finds:

F52  The sanction of reproval therefore does nothing to protect children in the congregation and in the broader community.

Let’s say, however, that the elders do not judge the abuser to be repentant. In this case, they would disfellowship the person. Now, it must be admitted that since all in the congregation would then utterly shun this person, the children in the congregation would probably no longer be at risk from this abuser. However, as became painfully obvious during the interview with elder Kevin Bowdich on Day 149, there is still a massive problem with this sanction.

(Excerpt from Transcript Day 149)

Senior Counsel Angus Stewart: In your decision on whether or not to disfellowship someone, you don’t take consideration of children outside of the congregation? 


Kevin Bowdich: We do take consideration of them, but what ability have we got to protect every child in Australia?

Thus, the Senior Counsel finds:

F54  The sanction of disfellowshipping does nothing to protect children in the community.

So, to summarize:

  • The Watchtower judicial process is usually prevented from taking place due to the two witness rule.
  • If the process does take place, it is not fit for purpose.
  • The sanctions available to the judicial process are in most cases meaningless from a child protection standpoint.

Hardly surprising that of the Watchtower policies overall, the Senior Counsel finds: (Bold is mine)

F67 The practices and procedures of the Jehovah’s Witness organisation for the prevention of child sexual abuse, and in particular for the management of the risk of an abuser reoffending, do not take account of the actual risk of an offender reoffending and accordingly place children in the organisation at significant risk of sexual abuse.

The Senior Counsel's findings reveal that Watchtower's child abuse policies do more harm than good

The Senior Counsel’s findings reveal that Watchtower’s child abuse policies do more harm than good

 

Oh, and one other quick finding to discuss before we go…

The hearings explored what would happen if an abuse survivor, disgusted and wounded from her treatment by Watchtower, wanted to leave the religion. The Watchtower representatives questioned on this point tried to spin and misrepresent their policy as being enlightened, kind and respectful of religious freedom, allowing people to choose another faith without serious repercussions.

Did the Senior Counsel agree?

If you are currently being shunned, or feel that you are being forced to shun someone despite your conscience, this is what an independent legal investigative team with no skin in the game finds on the question of the JW shunning policy. (Bold is mine)

F69  Members of the Jehovah’s Witness organisation who no longer want to be subject to the organisation’s rules and discipline have no alternative than to leave the organisation which requires that they disassociate from it.

F70  The Jehovah’s Witness organisation’s policy of requiring its adherents to actively shun those who leave the organisation

a) makes it extremely difficult for someone to leave the organisation

b) is cruel on those who leave and on their friends and family who remain behind 

is particularly cruel on those who have suffered child sexual abuse in the organisation and who wish to leave because they feel that their complaints about it have not been adequately dealt with

d) is not apparently justified by the Scriptures which are cited in support of it

e) is adopted and enforced in order to prevent people from leaving the organisation and 
thereby to maintain its membership, and

f) is in conflict with the organisation’s professed support for freedom of religious choice and 
the belief that Jehovah God is a compassionate God who recognises the worth and dignity of all human beings. 


If you are an active Jehovah’s Witness, perhaps reading this article because you are having doubts, or because you are seeking to better understand the accusations you have heard about your organization, please read the findings contained in the submission. Read the transcripts available on the same website. Watch the videos of the testimony available on youtube. Then ask yourself:

  • Were you aware that Watchtower dealt with child abuse in this way?
  • Do you think an organisation that treats perpetrators and survivors of sexual assault in this way can have the approval of a loving God?

 

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180 Responses to Royal Commission findings: Watchtower policies place JW children “at significant risk of sexual abuse”

  1. Ruthlee says:

    Well you can’t put the mockers on god! Just a little verse from their silver sword “Do not be misled:God is not one to be mocked.For whatever a person is sowing,this he will also reap,”If the gb in their delusion think that their god is pleased with just one, just one person , a sheep, a little sheep at that being thrown on the scrap heap for policy and saving face then they will get ALL they deserve, because their god is very vengefull and gets angry with hypocrites. They can sneer and smarm all day but wont cut ice with the big fella in the sky.I reckon that denunciation that’s coming is not on Christendom but on the claimed spirit directed self appointed demigods in Brooklyn. Maybe we should send them on their merry way to the toxic dump. A fitting resting place no vine or fig tree for them. Maybe chuck in a few vile mags for them to peruse at their leisure to actually let them see what the kids had to endure because they fail to comprehend the damage rape has on a child it breaks the soul so a ‘sorry’ would be just a little step in the right direction.Ruthless/ruthlee

    • Simon Kestral says:

      Put the mockers on? I had to look it up:

      Australian, meaning to thwart someone’s efforts or cause them to have bad luck.

      As for mocking God,

      Question: “What does it mean that God is not mocked?”

      Answer: To mock God is to disrespect, dishonor, or ignore Him. It is a serious offense committed by those who have no fear of God or who deny His existence. The most easily recognized form of mockery is disrespect typified by verbal insults or other acts of disdain. It is associated with ridicule, scoffing, and defiance. Mockery is a dishonoring attitude that shows low estimation, contempt, or even open hostility.

      http://www.gotquestions.org/God-is-not-mocked.html

  2. rob says:

    I am amazed at the fact that witnesses will toil for this religion, give up family ties, ignore newspaper articles and TV programs exposing the watchtower for its many sins, shun their own children, miss opportunities to get a good education and also miss out on so many other wonderful things, just to be a number, a faceless and nameless statistic in the yearbook.

    In my opinion, the watchtower corporation does not recognize any individuals, does not protect any individuals, does not care about any individuals. Children who were molested do not matter, because what really matters is the corporation and its existence. Money and power are what drive this corporation. They have the money and unfortunately they still exert very much power and control over the 8 million or so that still form part of the statistics.

    Children will be thrown away and abuse has been covered up just to protect the reputation of this corporation.

    My hope is that one day the children who were abused will see justice and I do believe that God will one day give them justice.

  3. Christopher says:

    All this talk about Jehovahs witnesses being permissive as to pepedophiles is just a bunch of “apostate lies” if you don’t believe it just read the report from the ARC. LOL wake up people, and the part about there being no way to leave gracefully very telling and a true identifying mark of a dangerous cult.

    • Pow says:

      Add that to these other apostate lies;
      The earth is not flat….lie,
      Earth is not center of universe,..huge lie….
      Pope is fallible. ..unbelievable. …
      Jehovah’s witnesses relegate protection of children as less important than internal policies and reputation of org…..who could possibly believe that lie?
      Now let’s talk about the latest lie, that were having money problems. …

  4. anonymous4 says:

    @ Tara

    “Bobble heads” — Love it! LMAO

  5. anonymous4 says:

    I suppose the GB will start referring to the ARC as the “Apostate Royal Commission”. lol

  6. anonymous4 says:

    So, JW’s, looks like your “Sky Pilots” are becoming a little disorientated. Going into a bit of downward spiral. You can still bail out though. This is what happens when you follow men. I seem to recall a biblical passage: ‘It does not belong to MAN to direct his own step’ / ‘There is a way that seems wise to a MAN, but the ways of death are what it leads to’. This is from YOUR bible, not mine. No “apostate lies” to blame here. Be advised that your “Governing Body” is just 7 deluded old Farts with overinflated egos. And their cronies, the “overseers” and “elders” are nothing but a rabid pack of GASholes. These Farts and Gasholes are ‘directing YOUR step’. Where do YOU think they’re taking you? Remember, it’s YOUR future!
    P.S.: A Special Memo to the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses:
    Get over yourselves. You are NOT “Spirit-anointed”. You are NOT “Spirit-directed”. And you bloody well know it. If you STOP this sh*t now, you may still have a chance. If not, the Devil with you. Your Jehovah — Yahweh — is nothing but the ancient god of an Iron Age, scientifically illiterate, misogynistic, genocidal, desert-wandering tribe of goat-herders. You may as well call upon the name of Molech, Dagon, or Baal!! Remember, it’s YOUR future!

    • Caroline says:

      anonymous4, according to Acts 7:43, Stephen said that all during the 40 years the Israelites were in the wilderness, they were worshiping at the tent of Moloch and the star of the god Rephan so the two witness rule (recorded during the 40 year wildness journey) came from the pagan gods that the Israelites were worshiping so what you said about Jehovah being “nothing but the ancient god of an Iron Age, scientifically illiterate, misogynistic, genocidal, desert-wandering tribe of goat-herders and they may as well call upon the name of Molech, Dagon, or Baal,” can be proved from the New World Translation in Acts, to be what
      Witnesses are worshiping at this very moment.

  7. minion says:

    @ Covert ops,

    Great commentary,

    The 7 little men (GB) may convince themselves they are ‘Guardians-of-Doctrine, however, JWSurvey is ‘Guardians-of-Scripture’.

    I have taken the liberty to properly explain the trueness of 1 of the 4 scriptures you quoted. On the 2 witness rule. – assignment #2 (TMS) Deut.19:15.

    The dessert god Jehovah, was powerful in the liberation of his chosen people the isrealites. He also allowed Egyptians to escape along with his people. Perhaps they didn’t have the proper motive departing the most powerful nation and beautiful city – Egypt.

    One thing we would all agree, the dessert god is a very jealous and demanding god. He wants your undivided and equivocal devotion.

    I have just explained the accuracy of the passage on the 1 or 2 witness rule. Did you get the meaning?
    The passage is in reference to the exclusivsivity and devotion to god. It’s only “logical” if they would find someone slipping back to the worship of old Egypt and to the nearby cities, god was warning them not to sin against him, or there fellow man in false worship Should they be found guilt by 1 or 2 witnesses then things could go bad.

    In summary the logic in finding someone (1 or 2) persons slipping back in worshipping there former gods was a sin in gods eye, must have been great. This god was ready to wipe them out, within 40 days from there departure from Egypt.

    JWSurvey = Guardians-of-Scripture

    Peace out,

    I

    • Tara says:

      Er… Desert means arid land or to abandon. Dessert is the sweet course at the end of a meal.

      But it’s ok! totally understood what you meant 😉

    • dee says:

      @minion

      “The dessert god”…………hmmm……..are you sure it wasn’t the dinner god? Or maybe it was the breakfast god or the lunch god or the brunch god? LOL!

      I will take any of these gods any day over the genocide god. Betchya the dessert god is the sweetest of them all! LOL!

      • Tara says:

        Is there a second breakfast in there? Or a second lunch? If so I am beginning to wonder if there could be Hobbits lurking….

  8. Bad Penny says:

    Excellent article Covert Fade.
    I find it amazing that the WT should try to contest the findings. They WILL NOT admit their guilt will they?
    It seems clear that they will try to protect their assets in Australia by whatever cunning is necessary. Protecting their own backsides is of prime importance.
    Any empathy or apologies for the poor victims of abuse is sadly lacking.
    Looking forward to your next article.

  9. anonymous4 says:

    The Watchtower Society is well known for b*tching about religious freedom. But do they afford the same courtesy to, say, their children? Do they even give them a chance to choose their own LIFESTYLE, instead of shoving the idea of “pioneering” or “Bethel service” down their throats from a tender age? Religious freedom my a**!

  10. anonymous4 says:

    Bible characters like Joshua and David are revered in a number of religions. We’ve all read the stories. Ironically, in today’s world, they, and other Old Testament “heroes”, would be tried as War Criminals for some of the things they did. Is it any wonder that the “Faithful” behave in such barbaric ways? “God save us from Your followers”!!

  11. Grace says:

    I hope that Spynx, Toole & O’brien realise that they will be the fall guys for this organisation. I wonder what would happen if one of them were to get upset enough to start talking.

    When we were watching Angus v Geoffrey at the ARC, you could see that Angus was letting Geoffrey talk his bs. I actually thought that he was just giving him “enough rope” as the saying goes.

  12. tiger123 says:

    Well it looks like Watchtower will have to spin this. They will make the adjustments and say that they received new light from Jehovah, when in fact it was the governments that gave them a “public reproof”.

    Nice article.

    • Robert67 says:

      They should be made publish everyone’s testimony in their magazines and study the article for a few months in the congregation. Perhaps they’ll have a dozen or so old timers per congregation still showing up by the end of the series.

  13. tiger123 says:

    Well it looks like Watchtower will have to spin this. They will make the adjustments and say that they received new light from Jehovah, when in fact it was the governments that gave them a “public reproof”.

    Nice article.

  14. 'Let it die' says:

    Fantastic article and coverage of the material. Absolutely spot on. . . And truthful.

  15. Truth sets free says:

    Thank you, all that contribute to this site! After watching the Royal Commision hearings , Then sitting and watching Governing body member Jackson LIE! DODGE! WEAVE AND DECEIVE!!!! I FINALLY felt set free!!!!! You wil know the TRUTH and the TRUTH will set you FREE!!! I have been set FREE! No longer a slave of the WT!

  16. 'Let it die' says:

    A song towards all who gave testimony at the Royal commission on behalf of the Watchtower, Paranoid eyes Pink Floyd, and towards those that agree with them.

  17. Is it dead? says:

    Apparently a concubine was raped in Isreal. Body parts were sent to the tribes. Explain how 1000’s of children were abused in your care and not one of the perpeTRAORS happened not to be be reported?

  18. Disgusted says:

    By your actions you are complicit they said about Babylon the great.

  19. Disgusted says:

    Is it not correct that, according to your beliefs, that the house of God is to be judged 1st?
    Is it not correct that you claim to be Gods house?
    Is it not correct that you (as a religion) teach that it’s taught that the denunciation belongs to those who claim to be Gods house?
    See above.

  20. david says:

    I made reports about abuse some time back that were ignored.fact is that reason most victims did not come forward at the time was that there was a statute of limitation in place now in state of victoria there is no statutes on child abuse

  21. dee says:

    @Scrubmaster

    Don’t feel bad Scrubmaster, even Jesus could not explain the overlapping generations doctrine. In fact Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ explanation was: “WT*! I’m in way over my head. I think I had better go back to fishing”. LOL!

    Overlapping Generations Math 101:
    http://ad1914.com/2015/09/19/generation-x1x2generation-why-already-bringing-great-tribulation-on-watchtower-readers/

    Overlapping Generations for dummies:
    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3T67UEl-nZs

    ROFLOL!

  22. Wanderer says:

    Remember the magazine with photographs of the poor children who died rather than having life saving blood on the front cover? Maybe they could do the same with some of the worst child abusers who have served prison time, they could offer a full apology to all of their cover ups and admit their protection of these monsters.

    I know of an elder and a MS who both had 2 seperate adults who were abused by them as children come forward. What did the local elders do about them? Report them to the authorities as they had 2 witnesses? No, they moved them over a couple of congregations and told no one. They both served prison time, 1 is still in, the other is out and back in a congregation.

    I can remember from a very young age their saying “don’t bring reproach on Jehovahs name”. I think they can cover up anything with that saying!

  23. Robert67 says:

    If your visiting this site, please share these findings with as many people as you can. Bring it up at work, school, social events. You may literally be saving lives by doing so.

    • Covert Fade says:

      Hi there.
      Thanks for mentioning this. Watchtower’s response is indeed something I would encourage everyone to read in detail to understand how truly feeble it really is.

      Investigative Reporter Trey Bundy did a fantastic report on Watchtower’s repose for Reveal News here, highlighting some of the areas in which Watchtower ignore serious problems, or made ludicrous statements like dismissing the worth of trained professionals when dealing with child abuse.

      https://www.revealnews.org/blog/24232/

  24. controlen says:

    Why you call “findings” the report of Senior Counsel of the commission? In this link you can read the “findings” and I don’t see the report about the case n. 29 concerning Jehovah’s Witnesses. You are not able to distinguish a partial relation from a conclusion?

      • Covert Fade says:

        So, if you read the article, which I’m sure you have, you will see that we are discussing the Submissions of Senior Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission, which will become the findings in due course, pending revisions.

        These submission will become the findings in due course, as the article states, once the usual process of review against other submissions has been completed.

        I’m quite happy for you to point out where you think the senior council’s conclusions are in error, and we can debate the issue

        So, I am awaiting your response, controlen. Do you dispute the submission, and on what grounds?

  25. Isobel Fury says:

    Why are people verbally abusive to the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses upholding to the scriptural guide lines of needing two witnesses before disciplinary procedures can be instigated when the laws of the land emerged from the original God’s Laws where even the police and courts are bound to the requirement of 2 witnesses before procedures of arresting, charging anyone as a criminal?

    • Covert Fade says:

      Actually, the police in Australia are not bound by the two witness rule. For example in Australia, it is possible for legal professionals and child psychologists to examine the testimony of a child victim and successfully prosecute an abuser on the testimony of one child alone. Which is why Watchtower should just report accusations of abuse to the police and let the professionals handle it. And even if the police in a certain country DO operate a two witness rule, if Watchtower are only aware of the one victim, the police might be aware of a second, thus reporting to the police allows prosecution, where as not reporting would not.

      Just FYI 🙂

  26. vicent says:

    Good job Cedars I like the seccion 11;69 of Submission of R C of Australia.. Where MR ..Loved Jackson said,, I don.t care for the victims only for my fhater. ,,yea ,yea Jesus will… give the heavens to this guy…..

  27. CJM says:

    Thank you for this good overview. I’m ploughing through the response document of Watchtower Australia (have read 100 of the 141 pages so far). I don’t entirely agree that its proposed amendments and deletions to the 77 findings are all ‘feeble’; I suspect some of them are fair in legal terms; however what disturbs me is Watchtower’s stubbornness over the two-witness rule and the failure to acknowledge the flaws in its pseudo-legal judicial hearing processes, things that historically have left children exposed to sexual grooming, sexual abuse, and their associated traumas. The real problem with JWs as an organization is that it has no real humility. The Governing Body believes it is the only spokesperson for God on earth today and explicitly demands loyalty. Congregational elders feel completely obliged to follow its dictates, and those of its immediate representatives, i.e. national branch offices, on handling sexual abuse cases. The response document repeatedly claims that JWs do not purport to offer an alternative legal system but this is disingenuous at best. 1006 files of reported sexual abuse since 1950 and not a single one if these was ever reported to the authorities. Not one! It speaks for itself. JW judicial hearings and their subservience to branch authority and ultimately the Governing Body have historically proven to be substitute courts for trialing crimes. And that is the danger. Unqualified men with little to no training in understanding profiles of sexual predators and prevention measures ruling over whether an accused child abuser should be allowed to continue in the congregation. The tone of the Watchtower response was also informative: it repeatedly defended JW protocol and practice by implying historical cases were somehow invalid as evidence (the ‘Oh, that all happened a long time ago’ attitude is shameless) and references to secular authorities’ less than perfect records of dealing with sexual abuse cases. In effect: we’re doing no worse a job than the police, prosecution services, psychiatrists, counsellors and courts; get off our backs, will you! Well the Australian Royal Commission into the handling of sexual abuse cases will not get off the backs of Watchtower Australia. They will justifiably hold them to account.