2015 saw one of the most memorable and revealing moments in recent Watchtower history when The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse held live hearings into Case Study 29.
The subjects of the case study were the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and their parent organisation, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society
What was uncovered shocked even the legal experts. Over a thousand unreported child molesters in Australia alone since the 1950’s. Practices of forcing an abuse survivor to confront their abuser. Institutional dismissal of any abuse claim, no matter how credible, unless there had been two witnesses to the act.
And not to forget: The systematic destruction by Elders of documents relevant to the accusations of abuse, including notes taken during their judicial investigations and judicial committees, and related congregation records, all under the direct orders of Watchtower.
This process rendered such information useless to any law enforcement investigation that may follow, and made headlines around the world due to its obviously negative implications for Watchtower’s handling of child abuse.
Has Watchtower learned lessons from the painful and damaging revelations made at the Royal Commission?
It would appear not.
In fact, in the area of records retention, they may have just committed a terrible legal error that may result in criminal charges being brought in the UK.
BBC: Watchtower in UK illegally destroying records
Following in the steps of Australia, the UK is launching its own far reaching enquiry in to child sexual abuse. Known as the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (more commently referred to as the Goddard Enquiry, after Hon. Dame Lowell Goddard DNZM who is charge of the process), one of the first tasks the Enquiry undertook when set up in 2015 was to send a letter to all organisations that it intended to investigate, ordering them not to destroy any records.
Watchtower was among the organisations on that list.
However, just a few months later, Watchtower sent a letter to all its UK congregations ordering them to do exactly what Hon. Dame Lowell Goddard DNZM had instructed them not to do:
This letter soon leaked online, coming to the attention of human rights activists who then brought the matter to the attention of the media. Concern quickly grew over this apparent attempt to destroy the evidence before the Goddard Enquiry could see it, so much so that the much respected UK Broadcasting organisation BBC 4 covered the story in its flagship Sunday program.
The report is available to listen to here, but here are two points of note taken from the report:
- Watchtower has often cited the Data Protection Act as the reason for this destruction, yet a legal expert interviewed for the program states that such a destruction process is demanded nowhere in the act. Indeed, the act is intended to protect such data, not force its destruction. When Watchtower cites the act as an excuse for such a policy, they are therefore presumably either mistaken, or are attempting to mislead.
- For Watchtower to order its congregations to destroy such data, after a legal body such as the Goddard Enquiry has explicitly ordered them not to, could result in criminal charges.
What you can do to help
The Goddard Enquiry has only just began, and already Watchtower has fallen upon the wrong side of it, demonstrating that the Governing Body and senior leadership of the organisation appear to have learned nothing from the debacle of their appearance before the Australian Royal Commission into Childhood Sexual Abuse.
Indeed, it is hard to think that Justice Lowell Goddard and her team will not have paid attention to the work of the Australian Commission and be well aware of Watchtower’s failings. If the Governing Body were hoping to use the UK enquiry as a chance to put things right, they are certainly off to a less than successful start.
But this is where you come in.
If you live in the United Kingdom, you have a chance to help the enquiry, to help the abuse survivors desperate for justice, and also to help the unaware local elders whom Watchtower has just thrown into the firing line by giving them illegal instructions.
Human Rights and Cult Awareness Activist Louise Goode is running a campaign. The objective of the campaign is to notify local UK members of parliament of Watchtower’s illegal activity in this matter and, crucially, to notify the local congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses that they have just been given illegal instructions that have criminal sanctions if followed.
Please see the video below for information as to how to get involved. (Note that it is possible to become involved without disclosing your identity to Jehovah’s Witnesses, though you must be prepared to disclose your identity to your local MP)
Not only will this campaign further bring to light The Governing Body’s immoral and illegal response to the Goddard Enquiry, and possibly preserve data vital to the enquiry that might otherwise be lost….
…it will also help the local UK Elders.
Most Elders know nothing of the Goddard Enquiry or the instructions given to Watchtower, forbidden as they are from viewing news reports “hostile” to the organisation. They only know they have orders from Watchtower, and have no idea these orders are illegal.
They have no idea that they might be facing criminal charges.
If you are an active Jehovah’s Witnesses, and are reading this, please seriously consider making your body of elders aware of the Goddard Enquiry’s orders. At least then they will be able to make a fully informed decision as to whether they will comply with Watchtower’s illegal and arguably immoral order, or whether they will make a conscience based stand, and refuse.
Far more importantly, you will be helping the brave abuse survivors obtain justice, and will be helping to increase pressure upon the Governing Body stop placing the reputation of their organisation above the safety of the children inside it.