An Australian Royal Commission held formal public hearings to examine evidence about child sexual abuse within religious and charitable organizations in that country. There were over thirty of these ongoing investigations involving a large number of religions and charities. Each public hearing examined a number of individual case studies involving different public and private organizations. Jehovah’s Witnesses were among the religious organizations being investigated.
The Commission wanted to know specifically how Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watchtower Society responded to allegations of child abuse involving members of their congregations.
The Royal Commission’s public hearings involving Jehovah’s Witnesses were scheduled and heard in Sydney starting Monday, July 27 and continued through August 14, 2015. The intent of the hearings was to investigate the actual practices and policies of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia Ltd. in situations of reported and suspected child abuse or endangerment.
Follow-up hearings were scheduled for Spring 2017 to review the Watchtower of Australia’s policy changes and plans for corrective action.
On March 10, 2017, the Commission held follow-up hearings to hear the Watchtower representatives’ descriptions of any corrective actions taken by the Australian Branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses over the past 18 months. More than 5 hours of sessions, the Commission was not satisfied and clearly disappointed with the testimony and voiced their displeasure with the efforts and official responses offered by Watchtower Branch representatives.
The scope and purpose of the hearings were to inquire into:
- The experience of survivors of child sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses Church in Australia.
- The response of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Church and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia Ltd to allegations, reports or complaints of child sexual abuse within the Church.
- The systems, policies and procedures in place within the Jehovah’s Witnesses Church and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia Ltd for raising and responding to allegations of or concerns about child sexual abuse within the Church.
- The systems, policies and procedures in place within the Jehovah’s Witnesses Church and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia Ltd to prevent child sexual abuse within the Church.
During and after the hearings the Commission provided witness lists, transcripts, exhibits, images and associated submissions for each case study and makes them publicly available on the Commission’s website.
After the hearing, the Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission will provide witnesses, and other people who were granted Leave to Appear at the hearing, a written submission detailing what was discovered during the case study.
The submission will outline key findings based on the hearing’s evidence and the recommendations likely to come from them. The recipients of the submission may then provide their own written submissions in reply. The Commissioners then consider this information when they form their final recommendations during the course of the Royal Commission.
In the articles below you will find videos of the live streams of the public hearings, transcripts of those hearings, and complete sets of the exhibits used by the Commission that were provided by those involved in the case. Many of these exhibits have never been publicly available before.
Published September 3, 2015 / Barbara Amderson