In an article published on March 25, 2018, The Guardian, a British and UK based news agency, published a scathing report by Sarah Marsh about the treatment of child abuse victims by Jehovah’s Witness communities and leaders throughout the UK.
In its lead paragraphs of the news article titled “Jehovah’s Witnesses accused of silencing victims of child abuse,” The Guardian described the seriousness and expanse of the child abuse problem – with nearly identical issues that were uncovered during the Australian Royal Commission investigations and hearings in 2016 and 2017.
More than 100 people have contacted the Guardian with allegations of child sexual abuse and mistreatment in Jehovah’s Witness communities across the UK.
Former and current members, including 41 alleged victims of child sexual abuse, described a culture of cover-ups and lies. Senior members known as “elders” would discourage victims from coming forward, claiming that to do so would bring “reproach on Jehovah,” resulting in the victims being exiled from the congregation and their families.
A Guardian investigation also heard from 48 people who when they were children experienced other forms of abuse, including physical violence and another 35 who witnessed or heard about others who were also victims of child abuse.
The stories told to the Guardian ranged from events decades ago to more recent, and many of those who came forward have now contacted the police.
The article describes fruitless attempts by Jehovah’s Witnesses – including elders and lifetime members – to urge the Watchtower’s leadership at all levels to actively deal with the problem of child abuse and take action to protect Witness youths of all ages. Instead of going after the pedophiles and criminals preying on their children, the leadership and local elders tended to place the victims on trial, forcing them to sit through embarrassing and abusive cross-examinations and accusations that were directed at them, rather than their abusers.
The Guardian described the situation that “Stephanie,” a victim of domestic violence found herself.
“…that when she reported her own experience of domestic violence she was told by the elders to do nothing.”
Kathleen Hallisey, a senior solicitor in the abuse team at Bolt Burdon Kemp, was quoted as describing why many of these cases are not reported to the police. The “[Two Witness Rule]… causes further trauma to the victim…[and] is undoubtedly the reason that so many victims have never reported it.”
Hallisey was also quoted in The Guardian that “Given the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the UK, and what we know about the pervasiveness of abuse in the organisation, there are likely to be hundreds and probably thousands more victims. This is truly just the tip of the iceberg.”
She said the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse should investigate. “It is absolutely critical that IICSA investigates the Jehovah’s Witnesses … This is actually a public safety issue. The person knocking on your door or handing you literature in the street could be an accused or even admitted paedophile,” she said.