The Reclaimed Voices Foundation, an organisation in the Netherlands that supports survivors of child sex abuse inside the Jehovah’s Witnesses, has sent a powerful open letter to the Dutch branch of the religion.
In recent months, the Dutch public and government have become increasingly aware, thanks to the efforts of Reclaimed Voices and media organisations like RTL, of the severity and scale of the child sex abuse scandal inside the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. We covered the issue in a previous JW Survey article that you can read here, but two key issues that both the Dutch Government and Reclaimed Voices identified were:
- That abuse survivors be given access to whatever data Watchtower held about their abuse.
- That Watchtower sit down for a discussion with Reclaimed Voices to talk about how survivors could best be assisted by the religion.
Watchtower gave initial indications that it would move to address both issues. However, as has become typical with Watchtower, it has since become evasive and failed to make meaningful progress.
I spoke to two members of Reclaimed Voices, Raymond Hintjes and Aswin Suierveld. They gave me an update on the situation for these two key issues.
Watchtower: Up to its old tricks?
Firstly we discussed the matter of survivors obtaining the information that Watchtower holds on their abuse. The initial approach was from Reclaimed Voices lawyer, contacting Watchtower’s legal department and requesting the data on behalf of the survivors. Rather than comply, however, Watchtower replied to ask what the legal basis for demanding that data was.
This was very strange, as the onus is on Watchtower to give legal reasons as to why they could not supply the data and not on the survivors to supply legal reasons as to why they should have access.
However, after the Dutch Government applied pressure, Watchtower’s tone appeared to change slightly. They stated that they would supply the data, but that the survivors would have to show ID cards or passports in order to claim their files. This, again, is not a legal requirement but in this case the survivors were happy to show their ID, and so Reclaimed Voices responded that this was acceptable. They asked Watchtower to co-ordinate with them to make arrangements for survivors to visit the local Watchtower branch, show their ID and collect their documents.
Again, here things got rather strange.
Watchtower stated that it wasn’t necessary for the survivors to visit the branch; they should simply send their ID documents to Watchtower in the post, and then Watchtower would post them back their files.
Aswin points out that this is very bizarre; Watchtower’s initial position was that it could not release these files due to privacy and confidentiality reasons, but now it wanted to send these sensitive documents detailing sexual abuse of children through the postal service. She feels that the real reason for this demand is that Watchtower wants to avoid meeting the survivors, that the organisation wants to keep them at a distance.
In my opinion, this is very likely the reason behind Watchtower’s strange response. It would tally with the way the religion demands any who leave be treated by other JW’s – cut off and shunned, not even spoken to. Watchtower has in the past labelled “apostates” as “mentally diseased” and implied that any contact could be dangerous to a Witness. Whilst it might not consider all of the Reclaimed Voices survivors to be “apostates” as such, it clearly views them with suspicion, considering them to be opponents rather than victims. Whilst such attitudes may appear shocking to Dutch citizens, they are sadly commonplace inside the Jehovah’s Witness religion.
On the other matter, a direct sit down meeting between the Reclaimed Voices foundation and Watchtower’s Dutch leadership, there have been similar delays and stalling on the part of Watchtower, despite the Dutch government making it clear that they expect Watchtower to fulfil this duty. Instead, Watchtower organised a further meeting with the Dutch Government without Reclaimed Voices being present, even flying over a US member of the religion’s world headquarters to be part of the discussion on April 17th.
It seems clear that Watchtower is trying to spin a narrative to the government, and does not wish Reclaimed Voices to be present, as the foundation would be able to point out where Watchtower is attempting to mislead the Dutch ministers. It would also be probable that the status of some Reclaimed Voices members as “apostates” in Watchtower’s eyes means that the Netherlands branch of Watchtower may feel religiously unable to share a room with a Reclaimed Voices delegation.
Reclaimed Voices: The open letter.
As a result of Watchtower’s ongoing stalling tactics, and its failure to properly engage with survivors and the Reclaimed Voices foundation, Raymond Hintjes has issued an open letter to Watchtower, which can be read in Dutch here. The letter has also been reported on by the RTV News organisation here.
We have included an English translation below:
On November 24, 2017, we sent you a letter in which we discuss your statement under conditions with us to discuss the subject of sexual abuse within your organization. You sent us a confirmation on December 22nd. You told us to consider our findings and to take the time to consider a few things.
In the meantime, almost four months have passed and we have noticed that you have not heard from you anymore. We seriously question whether you are serious about the problem of sexual abuse within your community. Especially since 276 situations have been shared with us of sexual abuse within Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Netherlands. In addition, worldwide stories of sexual abuse within Jehovah’s Witnesses come to light.
Meanwhile, a number of people through you and our lawyer have requested you to submit (copies of) files that are kept by your organization. It gives us the impression that you are out of contact with us. We are very concerned about this. Is this practice an indication of how you will treat abuse victims who no longer belong to your faith community? Minister Dekker has asked you to enter into discussions with victims who have reported to us. In order to comply with this, you will have to communicate with us.
We therefore ask you to answer the following questions: Are you prepared to meet with us? What is the reason that you have not spoken to us so far? If you are not prepared for an interview, what is the reason for this? Can you confirm that this has to do with how your faith community views people who are no longer members of your organization?
We would like to receive an answer within 14 days.
On behalf of the Reclaimed Voices board,
Raymond Hintjes, chairman.
At this point, it remains to be seen how Watchtower will respond. Reclaimed Voices have another meeting with the Dutch Government scheduled on May 4th, but with pressure from the media and Government on this issue, it appears that Watchtower’s preferred tactic of simply ignoring its child abuse crisis is not going to work in the Netherlands for much longer.
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