by Barbara Anderson
2013’s “WATCH TOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY OF BRITAIN and CONGREGATIONS OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES IN THE UNITED KINGDOM AND IRELAND CHILD SAFEGUARDING POLICY” (WTB&TS of Britain’s CSP) document was considered to be the official Watch Tower policy until the release on January 1 of the 2017 “CHILD SAFEGUARDING POLICY OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES IN THE UNITED KINGDOM, etc.,” (CSP of JWs in the UK).”
One of the first things I noted about the newer document is the removal of the name in the title, “WATCH TOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY OF BRITAIN and CONGREGATIONS OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES IN THE UNITED KINGDOM AND IRELAND CHILD SAFEGUARDING POLICY.”
That title was replaced by an abbreviated name: “CHILD SAFEGUARDING POLICY OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES IN THE UNITED KINGDOM AND THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND.”
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Apparently, as of January 1, 2017, the CHILD SAFEGUARDING POLICY under discussion belongs to – and speaks for – the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) and does not belong to – or speak for – the legal entity, WATCH TOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY OF BRITAIN (WTB&TS of Britain), Company No. 3858051, and Registered Charity #1077961. JWs have been affiliated with that entity since its incorporation under the Companies Act 1985 as a Private Limited Company on October 8, 1999.
I can only guess that this CSP of JWs in the UK POLICY document, which is similar to the original one, represents the CSP of JWs in the UK – and not of the WTB&TS of Britain’s CSP – because of legal liability. Otherwise, why would they make this change?
When I compared the 2017 CSP of JWs in the UK (first six pages) with the 2013 WTB&TS of Britain’s CSP document, I found that many of the “Statements” remained the same. Some “Statements” were rephrased but were otherwise quite similar. There are also a few new paragraphs which I do not consider significant. [Link to 2013 CSP Document]
Upon further investigation, it seems obvious that when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable among JWs – their children – no real safeguards have been put into place by the religion to protect them from molestation.
Just as in the 2013 POLICY, most of the 2017 Policy Statements from #’s 2-17 are solely for directing elders about what they should do after a child has been abused, not what they are to do to prevent or protect children from sexual abuse.
Furthermore, another glaring omission is obvious – as was the case in the previous CHILD SAFEGUARDING POLICY. Number 9 states: “…a congregation member who learns of child abuse may choose to report the matter to the secular authorities.” There is no mention of any encouragement by elders to go to the secular authorities. As usual, the wording leaves reporting up to individual Witnesses who learn of child abuse. Again – please note the phrasing “may choose to report the matter to the secular authorities.”
I could not help but remember reading the November 1, 2016 (page 7) Body of Elders letter sent to all congregations. There was a reference to the matter of property damage to Kingdom Halls from “break-ins, thefts, incidents of arson, or other acts of vandalism.” The rule is to “promptly report it to the local authorities.” There is no indication that elders may choose to report the damage to the authorities in those situations.
Apparently, for elders buildings are more important than children.
Whether it is appropriate to investigate allegations of child abuse or not, JW leaders will continue this practice – even going so far as to italicize the word, “every” in Policy Statement #11: “After receiving assistance from the branch office, congregation elders will conduct a Scriptural investigation [underline mine] of every allegation of child sexual abuse.”
Will these stubborn men never learn to instruct elders to bow out of doing an investigation into child abuse allegations and immediately call the authorities?
However, in #13 there is an exception to the rule: “A report to the police or other appropriate authorities will be made immediately by the congregation elders if it is determined that a child is still at risk.” This sentence was also in the 2013 Policy. However, what if the child is “not at risk”? What then? Apparently, in that case, elders do not report the abuse to the police.
How do elders determine that a child is still at risk? Do they get their DNA forensic kit out of the trunk of their cars? And with their lack of training in this regard, wouldn’t it be difficult for them to use a forensic kit properly?
There is another issue raised by critics of JW policies and practices. It relates to the Watch Tower’s refusal to address the issue of “repentant” abusers and how much secrecy is accorded to those members within congregations. That is a big omission! It’s almost as if abusers never repent – which is what most of them do if they confess or are proven guilty. And, we all know, “repentance” leads to elders never revealing the names of “repentant molesters” to members of their congregations. We also know that unrepentant molesters will be disfellowshipped – but other JWs are not informed about why they were removed.
After six pages of negligible, trivial instructions of how to protect children within the CSP, the leaders of this religion attached every article written in their literature about child sexual abuse, as if that was their sole responsibility – instructing everyone else, parents included – about how to protect children within their religion.
They have to believe they have no responsibility other than doing this. If they thought they had a responsibility, they would have included clear-cut information about how they propose to protect children from a JW molester such as many other religions are now doing. For one thing, background checks should be required for anyone in an “appointed position” who will be around children not one’s own. In addition, they should give a flat-out order to all members to report child known or suspected sexual abuse by another member to the authorities. That would serve to prevent other children from being molested by that known perpetrator.
And one other point…
Statement #16 (which was #17 in the old 2013 Policy) has been completely rewritten. It reads: “A person who has engaged in child sexual abuse does not qualify to receive any privileges or to serve in a position of trust or responsibility in the congregation for many years, if ever.”
The 2013 Policy Statement #17 doesn’t state “if ever” and is a bit different: “A person known to have abused a child in the past, and who continues to pose a risk to children or is not irreprehensible, does not qualify [underline mine] to serve in a position of trust or responsibility in the congregation.-1 Timothy 3:1-7, 10; Titus 1:7.”
The only statements in this Policy that touch on the actual subject of the CSP of JWs in the UK are #1-3, 6, 19-22 – and these do not protect children.
Personally, I don’t believe that the Charity Commission should accept whatever the CSP of JWs in the UK offers as their “policy document,” but guidelines should be given to the CSP of JWs in the UK by the Commission. Then, if the CSP of JWs in the UK policies is not in line with Commission regulations, there should be penalties. Most importantly, Commission regulations should be in line with child sexual abuse laws of the country. If needed to keep children safe, the Commission should press the government to change or adjust the laws in this regard.
In the following paragraph, I basically repeat the conclusion I came to and wrote about in my analysis of the 2013 CHILD SAFEGUARDING POLICY OF THE WTB&TS OF BRITAIN. I doubt that I can express my feelings any better on this matter:
“In conclusion, I’m hopeful that the Charity Commission will require the CSP of JWs in the UK Board of Trustees to implement policies that would truly safeguard JW children as they interact socially with JW elders and their assistants, and while adhering to their religious obligations.”