For the record, Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) do not have a public child sexual policy available for anyone to read. There are letters sent to bodies of elders in all congregations which contain child sexual abuse policies but the letters are only for the eyes of the elders. However, religions such as Episcopal, Presbyterian and Catholic, amongst other Christian religions, have published their policies and instructions which are designed to protect children.
The October 1, 2012 Bodies of Elders (BOE) letter from the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses basically consists of “additional points” (or new points) regarding child abuse that are not found in the elder’s Shepherding textbook. The letter isn’t about clarifying that textbook.
In the October 1st letter, elders are told to destroy all previous policy letters on the subject, which statement is not unusual because policies do change. (For research purposes, a synopsis of all the letters to be destroyed can be found at the end of this analysis.)
For instance, the December 6, 2010 BOE letter contains instructions to destroy three other policy BOE letters. However, in the October 1, 2012 letter there’s a sentence found at the end of the first paragraph, right after instructions to destroy all previous nine letters which is unusual. This sentence is italicized demanding that “No one should keep originals or copies of any of those letters.” Upon researching past BOE letters, I found this same italicized sentence in only one other BOE letter, the April 9, 2012 letter. These two letters could rightly be called legal letters because they discuss legal matters or topics.
These “additional points” are to be studied by all the elders. Paragraphs 3-7 of this BOE letter sets forth points regarding legal concerns, and paragraphs 8-20 sets forth congregational concerns. Elders are instructed that anytime a matter involving child abuse occurs, the October 1, 2012 letter is to be consulted.
Breaking down paragraphs 3-7: What additional legal points are of concern and are new?
“Extreme neglect of a minor by parent or guardian”; forms or types of child sexual abuse; “sexting with a minor”; outline of nine situations regarding child abuse that are not included in Shepherding which two elders should call the Legal Department about; instructions requesting elders to send Watchtower’s Legal Dept. the date of birth and baptism of someone accused of molestation; instructions to elders to contact the Service Department for assistance on how to judicially proceed or how to protect children; instructions to call Legal when prison inmates, accused of child abuse, baptized or not, attend Witness meetings in prison.
Paragraphs 8-20 discuss child molestation from a congregational standpoint.
Paragraph 8 adds additional points not found in the Shepherding textbook about sexual perversion in which children are the object of sexual abuse by an adult, not minors who are approaching adulthood having sex with an adult. This paragraph is almost word for word as found in paragraph 3 in the March 14, 1997 BOE letter except for the additional points added that are not especially significant for the protection of JW children but for the protection of the rule-makers.
In paragraph 9 it is stated: “As spiritual shepherds, elders should continue to make every effort to protect all in the congregation, especially children, from the unwholesome practices of the world. One of these is child sexual abuse.” I found this statement unusual. Is child abuse only an “unwholesome practice” of the world? Rather it is a criminal act found everywhere in the world including in the JW organization. The way the sentence is written, it’s as if child abuse is just “unwholesome,” which certainly is an understatement of the seriousness of the problem.
Paragraph 10 tells parents that they have the primary responsibility to protect their children. I ask, how can parents protect their children from molesters if they don’t know that there are such devious and dangerous people worshipping with them?
Paragraph 11 is about elders investigating every allegation of child sexual abuse. It states, “However, in evaluating the evidence for internal congregational purposes” there has to be two credible witnesses.” Almost the entire paragraph is dedicated to elders adhering to the two-witness belief as laid-out by the Watchtower Society. So here again nothing has changed. They do the investigating and determine guilt or innocence. The instructions that they are to contact the circuit overseer about the case and he will appoint an experienced elder from the circuit to serve as chairman of the judicial committee is a new regulation.
When do elders contact the authorities? This subject is not touched upon.
Paragraph 12 is a repetition of rules found in a BOE letter in 1995 that instructs elders to inform molesters not to hug or hold children on their lap. However the October 1st letter adds more regulations such as molesters are never to be alone with a child other than their own, not to allow children to spend the night in their home, or work in field service alone but be accompanied by another adult. (This regulation was not a rule or found in print, but the Watchtower spokesman in 2002 told reporters it was a rule but it wasn’t. There was a recent situation where a molester was going door-to-door and former JWs reported it to the police who contacted the Watchtower and they told the elders not to allow the molester to go out in the field ministry.) The paragraph further states, if the directions from the elders are ignored by a molester, the elders should immediately call the Service Department for assistance. (Calling the Service Department immediately for assistance is a new rule.) This entire paragraph leads elders into paragraph 13 for what is considered a big change in the Watchtower organization’s child abuse policy.
Paragraph 13: Here is something new that has been added to the mix. It’s about what elders are to do if a confirmed molester does not follow their directions causing them to believe that he may be a “predator.” At first glance the new “predator” policy seems to be an improvement, but upon closer examination, it doesn’t offer much protection at all.
When a confessed or convicted molester is seen to be showing undue interest in a child or children, not his own, then the elders are to inform their Watchtower Branch Office. (By this time, there is a good chance that molester has molested again.) It’s then up to the Branch Office to determine if that person should be viewed as a “predator.”
Only then, after a Watchtower Branch Office determines that someone is a “predator” that parents are “discretely” informed. It’s like closing the barn door after the animals get out. This so-called new direction is not in the best interests of children or parents.
The major hole in the “predator” policy as now practiced by JWs is obvious. If a wily, known-to-the-elders-only, molester doesn’t slipup by getting caught showing attention to a child in public, then he/she would never be categorized as a predator by one of the Watchtower’s Branch Offices and can abuse children in private without anybody being the wiser.
Of course, all this “predator” nonsense and writing all those Body Of Elders letters about child sexual abuse would be avoided if only the elders called the police or instructed the one making an accusation to call the police right away. Then the elders should inform the congregation about the situation. After the authorities determine guilt or innocence, then the elders can determine whether they should disfellowship or not disfellowship the accused “sinner” by obeying whatever rules the Watchtower insist they follow.
But no, this doesn’t happen because JW leaders insist elders take the role of magistrates who must adhere to “theocratic” rules and investigate accusations made by congregation members against other members even if the accusation involves crime. And all of this because of their misguided interpretation of the “two-witness” Biblical regulation that has become part of the Witnesses’ belief system which ends up inadvertently protecting pedophiles who molest Witnesses’ kids.
Paragraph 14 is about steps to be taken when elders learn of an adult who has been viewing child pornography (a criminal offense). They are to call the Watchtower’s Legal Dept. to get “legal” direction and then contact the Service Department for “theocratic “direction. Sadly, there isn’t any direction to just call the police.
The rest of the October 1, 2012 BOE letter is self-explanatory, but I’d like to add two other points to this analysis: 1) Elders are instructed to neither encourage nor discourage reporting. 2) If the state where the crime is committed in does not mandate clergy to report, the elders do not report child abuse or child pornography just as they did not do before the October 1, 2012 letter was published.
The following is a list and synopsis of older Watchtower BOE policy letters regarding child abuse that were to be destroyed when elders received the October 1, 2012 letter as per instructions found in that letter:
March 23, 1992: Three-page review of Kingdom Ministry School program that centered on child abuse. If any elder is to assist victims of child abuse, this letter to be reviewed beforehand. Also a copy of the info, “What Elders Can Say to Abuse Victims,” was sent with the BOE letter to be copied for each elder.
Points covered in BOE letter: Treat victims with kindness and show interest by listening. Don’t tell victim to “just forget” what occurred. Offer words of consolation and encouragement. Balance help with other responsibilities. An older sister can help by giving emotional support to victim but should not become involved in an accusation made by victim – leave that for elders to deal with. Select an elder who is best fitted to help an abuse victim, not just any elder. It’s a personal decision to seek professional help as long as the therapy does not conflict with the Bible. Victims can explain to therapists their religious beliefs. Victims should not indiscriminately talk to others about child abuse. Elders are not mental-health professionals, but are spiritual shepherds. Should not conduct group therapy sessions or study worldly psychology, etc. Elders should contact the Society immediately for legal advice if receive a report of abuse of a child. Judicial Committee would meet with the one guilty of molestation. Disfellowshipping results if molester is not repentant over the gross sin. To better protect their children, parents should be encouraged to review June 22, 1982 and December 22, 1986 Awake!.
“What Elders Can Say to Abuse Victims”: Victims are often ashamed, angry and feel guilty. To help, elders should review October 1, 1983 Watchtower and April 1, 1990 Watchtower, pgs. 13-14; October 8, 1991 and April 8, 1992 Awake!. Help victims to see they were not at fault. Remind victims to find joy they need to concentrate on prayer and godly works and other helpful things in the Bible. A depressed person needs to keep busy with field service, meeting attendance and association with the congregation.
February 3, 1993: This one-page BOE letter offers suggestions not found in the March 23, 1992 BOE letter regarding how to help those who claim they have repressed memories. No matter how bizarre these memories were, elders were not to express their disbelief but were to be compassionate and supportive. Elders were to refrain from expressing insensitive remarks. Also, elders were not to disparage a victim’s decision to obtain therapy or to go to the authorities. They were, however, to remind sufferer’s to use discretion when talking to a trusted friend about their memories. In addition, the March 23, 1992 BOE letter was to be reviewed again, and elders were to contact the Society if an allegation was made against a member of the congregation. The February 3, 1993 letter was to be attached to the March 23, 1992 letter and placed in the file.
August 1, 1995: This two-page BOE letter offers guidelines how to protect child abuse victims and how to deal with someone in the congregation who is guilty of child sexual abuse. Elders should contact Legal immediately if a member is accused of child abuse. Some states require elders report molestation to authorities but other states do not. If required, parents, caregivers or the accused can report. This way, ecclesiastical privilege not breached. Whether reported to police or not, elders have to follow the Society’s instructions towards the one guilty of molestation.
Protecting the child from further abuse is important; parents are to take precautions in this regard. Those involved should review the January 22, 1985 and October 8, 1993 Awake!. As shepherds, elders demonstrate protection and care towards the victim if the molester is repentant and continues as a member or if the molester is disfellowshipped and later reinstated.
Elders should bluntly advise a former molester of the risk from hugging or holding a child on his lap and that he cannot be alone with a child unless another adult is there. This protects from temptation and from any baseless allegation. The Bible shows at Matthew 12:31 and 1 Cor. 6:9-11 that any wrongdoer, even a former child abuser can repent and live in accord with God’s commandments. Molesters must live an exemplary life with good reports from others and for many years before being considered, if ever, a privilege of service. His Record Card along with a letter containing all relevant information such as restrictions or concerns are to be sent to a new congregation if molester moves no matter how many years pass. This is done to protect victims or future possible victims and also balancing justice with mercy.
March 14, 1997: This three-page letter was provided so that elders could “apply the spirit of the Scriptural information in the January 1, 1997, Watchtower article, ‘Let Us Abhor What Is Wicked.’” This letter defines the term, “known child molester” as first stated in this article in the January 1, 1997 Watchtower.
The question is asked, “What is child molestation?” Webster’s is quoted. Defines pedophilia as “sexual perversion in which children are preferred sexual object.” Letter points to Feb. 1, 1997, p. 29 Watchtower – “Questions From Readers” where the definition of pedophilia is stated– “An object of sexual abuse by an adult” that is “detestable.” This includes fondling. Not included in this discussion is a “consenting minor,” who is almost an adult that had sex with a young adult, but includes adults that judicial committees determined sexually abused “young children” or were “sexually involved” with a “non-consenting minors” who are near adult age.
Referencing the words “known child molester” as found in the January 1, 1997 article, “Let us Abhor What Is Wicked, this BOE letter states that a known child molester would not qualify for any congregational appointed positions because the word refers to someone who is a former child molester who the community and the congregation perceives is not irreprehensible or free from accusation.
The next three paragraphs in the March 14, 1997 BOE letter are almost word for word as found in the August 1, 1995 BOE letter, paragraphs 3, 4 and 6 where it mentions that parents primarily have the responsibility to protect their children; elders should warn known molesters not be alone with children, nor hold children or show affection which could cause others to worry; and if molesters move, elders are to notify the new congregation by letter which is kept confidential from the congregation. There is additional instructions in this letter from that in the August 1, 1995 BOE letter about elders not extending any service privileges to molesters which points out that some already guilty of molestation are holding responsible positions. Or they had molested before they were baptized. The Watchtower Society instructed elders not to questions individuals about this, but send in a report to the Society regarding those who are known to have molested that contains answers to about 12 personal questions about the man and the circumstances of his molesting a child which information is to be considered by the Society.
This is the BOE letter that first used the term, “Who Is A ‘Known Child Molester?,’” with accompanying explanation that has caused no amount of problems for the Watchtower Society when it was discussed by critics of the organization.
July 20, 1998: This two-page BOE letter is a review of “certain serious matters” presented at the “15-hour supplementary course for elders.” Under consideration was the BOE letter of March 14, 1997 where elders were to supply the Watchtower Society. Many elders misunderstood the direction not to query individuals if they had molested before baptism. They are to notify the branch office about such a circumstance. Correspondence about individuals accused or proven of molestation should be kept indefinitely in congregation files.
May 24, 2002: This is the letter that went out to all congregations just a few days before the Dateline Documentary on JW child abuse aired. In it the letter said the press has focused attention on the way accusations of child abuse are handled by various religious organizations. Such reports may cause some sincere individuals to ask about the procedures followed by JWs.
Letter reviews WT’s position. “We abhor the sexual abuse of children and will not protect any perpetrator of such repugnant acts from the consequences of his gross sin.” Next there is a review of the requirement to consider testimony of two or three witnesses. No congregational action unless there is a confession or there are two credible witnesses. The letter reviews past Watchtower publications about child abuse.
April 1, 2004: If the authorities inform the elders of the address of a known sex offender, the elders should list that address on the appropriate territory card as a “Do Not Call.”
June 5, 2006: Re: Child-maltreatment offenders in prison Elders should call the Legal Department regarding any inmate who may have been accused of child maltreatment in the past and who is now associating with the organization, whether he is baptized or not.
May 24, 2010: Situation: Cases of sexting (sex text messaging) when there are minors involved.
From my point of view, since the October 1, 2012 BOE letter was to replace all the BOE letters listed above, and using it along with the the elder’s handbook, it would certainly make it easier for elders to access the latest instructions from the Watchtower’s Service Department on the problem of child sexual abuse.
In that the old letters were rife with policy statements that were ineffectual in protecting JW kids, and many of these policies ended up inadvertently putting molesters in positions of authority or keeping molesters in these positions who then went on to molest more children, my suspicion is that when Watchtower leaders instructed in the October 1st letter that elders should not keep copies of any of the letters on the above list, they hoped that in time no one would be able to prove from these letters (that will no longer exist), how derelict of duty they were in the area of child protection.
(There are two BOE letters that mention child abuse that were not on the list to be destroyed: the February 15, 2002 BOE letter and the April 9, 2012 BOE letter.)
GOOD NEWS: The October 1, 2012 BOE letter is now in public domain thanks to Steven Unthank getting it legally published on an official government website in Australia in relation to the Child Abuse Inquiry. Here is the link: http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/…/Steven_Unthank_Supp…