In 1991, the Awake! magazine included an article on surviving child abuse, which triggered a stunning response: Thousands of abuse survivors contacted the Watchtower. Some claimed they had been molested by elders, others by friends and family members. “It was awful,” said Anderson, who personally fielded phone calls from some victims.
She discovered the governing body had specific protocols for dealing with molestation. Elders were supposed to notify the Witnesses’ legal department if they learned of abuse by sending the information to New York in a special blue envelope. Victims were required to recount their allegations in front of their abusers, and produce two eyewitnesses who could support their claims. Discipline was handled internally.
“By their policies, they were inadvertently protecting pedophiles,” Anderson said.
Barbara Anderson, meanwhile, decided to go public with her knowledge about the Witnesses’ untold abuse stories, and appeared on an episode of the NBC show Dateline in 2002. She and her husband were condemned by the Witnesses’ leaders and disfellowshipped.
“I’d had enough,” she said. “I thought: ‘What kind of people are you? How can you be God’s organization?’ “
Photo by MARK HUMPHREY / AP file photo “Barbara and Joe Anderson, shown at their Tullahoma, Tenn., home in 2002, were disfellowshipped by Witness leaders after they spoke publicly about the religion’s systemic child sex abuse problems.”