Watch Tower’s “Child Safeguarding Policy” (Great Britain, Ireland, UK)


by Barbara Anderson


In 2010 the UK Charity Commission required the WATCH TOWER SOCIETY OF BRITAIN to furnish a CHILD SAFEGUARDING POLICY statement which would be reviewed and updated (if necessary) by the WATCH TOWER SOCIETY OF BRITAIN’S Board of Trustees (made up of three directors of the WATCH TOWER) at least once every three years.

In February 2011 such a document was made available and applied to all Jehovah’s Witnesses charity Trustees (three men in each JW congregation), elders, and other members of the congregation. (See statements # 20, #23 and #24 in the CHILD SAFEGUARDING POLICY.) Subsequently, a few years later, after review by the WATCH TOWER’S Board of Trustees, the same document was approved and dated January 2013.

Leading up to the Commission’s request to the WATCH TOWER for a POLICY document, the Commission received complaints about a JW congregational Trustee, Michael Porter, age 38, an elder who attended the Mill Hill Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the congregation that was, and still is, affiliated with WATCH TOWER headquarters.

UK-commission-guide-1WATCH TOWER removed Porter as an elder and Trustee because of molesting more than thirteen little boys, one an 18-month-old baby. He was criminally tried for molestation in 2007. Meanwhile, Porter continued his personal association with WATCH TOWER directors to the consternation of many JWs. The result of the scandal and the complaints to the Commission was the removal by the Commission of three prominent directors on the WATCH TOWER’S Board of Trustees, who lived and worked at headquarters. By the year 2010, the Commission decided it was time that WATCH TOWER provide a POLICY document because of the Porter case and a number of other molestation cases involving elders in the UK such as George Cockerill, a Trustee in his congregation, arrested in 2010 for 32 offenses that included both rape and child sexual abuse.

In 2014, a British newspaper reported that in the previous four years (starting in 2010), twenty-five Jehovah’s Witness ministers were convicted of child molestation charges in the UK.

General Analysis of the POLICY document

Upon carefully reading the January 2013 POLICY document, it was surprising that it contained only one statement, #18, which  instructed Trustees how to protect children in congregations of JWs “from avoidable harm” – and that was by restricting a repentant abuser “…from being alone in the company of children.” How to make sure the abuser obeyed the rule isn’t discussed. There are no further guidelines found in the other twenty-three statements of policy as to what elders should do to protect children in their congregations.

Some of the statements in the POLICY document appear to show great concern for protecting the most vulnerable of those who are connected with the congregations of JWs and this is certainly noble. However, the majority of the document’s policies are mere summaries of organizational procedure and practices based on the religion’s opinions and distinctive rules built on ancient biblical laws and principles that realistically do not protect children from molestation.

Statement #5 claims congregations do not provide or sponsor programs for children indicating less chance of adult interaction which could lead to child abuse, although there are other ways that a JW pedophile can closely associate with children of JWs.

In statement #6, the WATCH TOWER believes “…maintaining good communication between members of the congregation and congregation elders [is] based on trust.” The children of JWs are often reminded in study material and verbally that elders and their assistants are absolutely trustworthy for the sole reason that “they are appointed by God’s Holy Spirit.” They are also taught to look upon members within the religion as part of a special brotherhood of believers.

As a former JW, I can attest to the fact that there is an over-emphasis placed on trusting other members, especially the elders, which is not a good idea. Elders or their assistants, who perhaps are “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” would use trust to cultivate a relationship that could lead to molestation. In one congregation of JWs in the United States city of Philadelphia, an elder molested forty children and admitted in court that he became a JW so he could molest JWs trusting children.

Another reason children of JWs are at risk from harm is because WATCH TOWER’S leaders are dedicated first and foremost to the preservation of their religious beliefs – even before the welfare of children – and this attitude can come into conflict with “Caesar’s” regulations. (See sub-topic, “Bringing reproach.”)

Finally, the POLICY document under discussion contains some disingenuous and misleading statements. Also, omitted from this document are policies that when adhered to by JW elders can actually result in the protection of JW pedophiles and furtherance of their aims. Whether this POLICY document was designed to deliberately deceive members, or inadvertently happened, is not for me to say. When compared to other religions’ child protection policies, WATCH TOWER’S appears to me to lack up-to-date comprehensive safeguarding regulations which could place children who attend JW Kingdom Halls in harm’s way.

Basic POLICY instructions to elders

Of the 24 statements in the WATCH TOWER POLICY document, the following ten are a synopsis of regulations solely for elders directing them what to do after a child has been abused, not what they are to do to prevent or protect children from sexual abuse.

#10 – Any JW learning of child abuse should advise an elder. Elders must comply with relevant UK laws
#11 – Elders immediately call a “Safeguarding Elder” at the branch office for direction
#12 – If victim talks to elders, he/she is to be treated with compassion and kindness
#13 – An appointed elder is to report abuse to parent or caregiver
#14 – If the victim is at risk of further abuse, the authorities are to be immediately contacted
#15 – Two elders are to talk to a child; the child can choose someone else to be present at hearing
#16 – An unrepentant JW child abuser is expelled from the JW organization
#17 – A JW known as an abuser in the past, and could be a risk, can’t hold a position of trust
#18 – A member known as a repentant abuser is prohibited from being alone with children
#19 – Elders are to record all details of the incident – names, dates, etc.

Two questions regarding WATCH TOWER POLICY

  1. Are the interests of the children paramount? NO – as will be shown
  2. Is the care of children clearly discernible in WATCH TOWER policies? NO, especially in light of #10, #14, #16, #17, and #18.

Examination of these five policy statements

#10: This paragraph instructs members to contact the elders, not the authorities, if they are aware of a case of child abuse. Although the last sentence in #10 sounds like a directive to report accusations of child abuse to the authorities – “Congregation elders will comply with any relevant laws –Romans 13:1,” WATCH TOWER leaders know full well that there is no clergy mandating child abuse reporting law in the UK. Hence, children will continue to be placed at risk because of the instructions to members to report child abuse to the elders.

Of interest, found in paragraph 7 of the July 14, 2002 BOE Letter TO ALL CONGREGATIONS IN THE UNITED KINGDOM, is a directive that elders should contact the Legal Department at headquarters regarding a sexual abuse accusation, and, “When a report is received guidance is given by the Legal Department to ensure that the council is given to report crime to the proper authorities and to comply with any additional legal requirements.” Why does this 2002 BOE letter instruct elders to report crime to the “proper authorities,” yet, the POLICY document, dated February 2011, and the latest POLICY document now in effect, dated January 2013, does not?

How can WATCH TOWER leaders say in #3 of their POLICY document that they do not “…endeavor to shield from the authorities those committing offences” such as child abuse, when they follow a Biblically motivated doctrinal policy demand that there must  be two witnesses to an act of wrongdoing before any further action is taken? If there is only one witness – the victim – and the accused denies the accusation, the investigation goes nowhere; nor is there any warning given to the congregation because the confidentiality policy kicks in (which most JWs are not aware of), which keeps the congregation from being wary of members that have a dark cloud of suspicion hanging over their heads.

And all of this is because of an ancient rule of two witnesses to wrongdoing stated thousands of years ago as recorded in the Old Testament that required EYE witnesses which was the only method of establishing a matter in a primitive culture. By the way, this rule was used by judges to decide guilt or innocence, not priests (or clergy).

In addition, the two-witness belief in the New Testament was only valid for church discipline for “sins” such as gossip, drunkenness, adultery, etc. not for Christian men to sit in judgment over a fellow Christian who committed a crime. That job was for the Roman authorities to do.

Published articles protect children

Further proof that WATCH TOWER doesn’t want members to go to the authorities is found on pg. 1 of the POLICY document under the sub-title, POLICY STATEMENT, where the last sentence of the paragraph refers to “…widely published religious principles of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as reflected in the articles that are set forth at the end of this Policy.” A list of these articles can be found on page 7 of the POLICY document under the heading, NOTES.

Concerning these articles that were published by the WATCH TOWER about child abuse, Richard Cook, solicitor for the WATCH TOWER, stated to the press on July 19, 2015, after losing a civil child abuse lawsuit, “For decades we have warned congregants and parents of the dangers of child abuse and have published information to help parents safeguard their children. We will continue to do so.” (“Jehovah’s Witnesses to compensate woman over sex abuse” – LINK)

On the face of it, Richard Cook’s defense of the WATCH TOWER sounds impressive, but the jury didn’t buy into his claim of WATCH TOWER’S safeguarding children through decades of warning congregants and parents through the publishing of “information.”

What Solicitor Cook neglected to mention is that in all of the articles that contained tens of thousands of words distributed by WATCH TOWER on the subject of child molestation, the most important words – go to the authorities – were omitted if a child was molested. As found in a random survey of other religions’ child protection policies, these words were given prominence.

Please notice that nowhere in the POLICY document is there a stated objection to report child abuse or a strong recommendation to report it to authorities. When speaking to the media, WATCH TOWER’S leaders state they don’t discourage members from reporting child abuse to the authorities, but critics have pointed out that they don’t encourage members to go to the authorities either.

Witnesses understand that the word “discourage” is a euphemism in JW speak for “forbid,” and the word, “encourage,” is a euphemism for “command.” In laymen’s terms, JWS elders do not forbid members from going to the authorities, but they do not command them to do so either.

Before 2002, the year when I went public using the United States media to inform people about the WATCH TOWER organization’s worldwide child abuse problems, elders actively dissuaded members from going to the authorities, even going so far as to disfellowship them if they did. (An instance of such a threat was presented on the NBC Dateline program broadcast in the United States on May 28, 2002.)

Bringing reproach

Another reason JWs are not encouraged to go to the authorities when an accusation of child abuse is made is one that is common to fervent proselytizing religions such as JWs in the belief that sin or wrongdoing committed by members when exposed publically brings reproach or derision from the community upon the church.

JWs are repeatedly reminded that wrongdoing maligns and dishonors God’s name and his organization, and is the underlying reason for JWs not encouraging its members to go the authorities to report an accusation of crime committed by a fellow believer. Certainly, an unfavorable impression about JWs, a religion that actively seeks to convert others, would impede its effectiveness in this regard.

The Commission should be aware that WATCH TOWER’S leaders claim that their policies/rules are scriptural and part of their belief, and not to be tampered with. With regard to their child abuse policies, they are called Bible-based or “religious principles of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Note in paragraph #10 in the POLICY document, as well as after almost every other paragraph, there is one or more references to particular scriptures in the Bible to buttress or shore-up policy. This is done to influence JWs who believe in the literal application of scripture.

Some of the most harmful beliefs of JWs are supported by Bible texts using the convenient method of eisegesis, which is interpreting a text by reading into it one’s own ideas or beliefs such as citing Leviticus 5:1 in #10 of the POLICY document as the basis to support WATCH TOWER policy/belief that JWS have to report wrongdoing by a fellow JW to the elders (and not to the authorities).

I’m not debating beliefs here. I’m debating the use of beliefs/scriptures to induce JWs to follow policies even if their own children are placed in danger, rules that have been around for thousands of years, back to a time when fathers viewed their children as possessions and were permitted to sell them, especially daughters, beat them with a stick, or stone them to death.

“Forgiveness lies in repentance” – Martin Luther

#16: Elders are to expel pedophiles from congregations of JWs if they are not repentant. To expel (disfellowship) an unrepentant JW wrongdoer from the organization of JWs would certainly aid to protect children in the congregation and is a good policy. However, the question needs to be asked, what happens to a repentant child abuser? It can be assumed that a repentant child abuser is not expelled. And this is a much more dangerous situation than disfellowshipping an unrepentant child abuser.

Disfellowshipping acts as a flag in the minds of JWs that something is not quite right although the reason for the disfellowshipping is confidential. By not disfellowshipping a proven or confessed molester because of repentance leaves the congregation without any suspicion about a fellow member who appears to be “good” around children, such as was said by congregation elders in a letter about confessed repentant molester, Jonathan Kendrick, submitted by Plaintiff’s attorney in the United States Candace Conti 2012 civil lawsuit.

So where is the policy statement that informs the congregation and the Commission that one of JWs, who is a repentant child abuser, is not expelled from the local congregation because he’s been forgiven of his “sin”?

My personal experience

I first became aware of the high incidence of child sexual abuse within my religion around December of 1991. This was when the editor of the Awake! magazine told me how disgusted he was that elders who confessed to sexually abusing a child were left in their assignment if they were repentant enough. In the case of child sexual abuse, he vociferously condemned the idea of forgiveness of sin based on repentance because, in too many instances, the “repentant” molester then went on to abuse other children.

Further, the Awake! editor pointed out to me the scriptures cited in WATCH TOWER organizational manuals such as James 2:13 “Mercy triumphs over judgment,” and 2 Cor. 7:10, “Sadness in a godly way makes for repentance to salvation that is not to be regretted” should never be cited to encourage forgiveness in cases of child sexual abuse because the wrongdoing is a crime, not only a sin.

Unrepentant sex abusers are disfellowshipped

When unrepentant sex abusers are disfellowshipped but are not reported to the authorities, children who are not JWs are also at risk if the molester attends another church or institution. LINK to YouTube Video “BlackJack Won’t be Trumped!”

But what if a disfellowshipped sex abuser appears to be repentant and wants to be reinstated back into the WATCH TOWER organization?

In his February 17, 2016 article for Reveal, “How child sex abusers get reinstated as Jehovah’s Witnesses,” award-winning investigative journalist, Trey Bundy pointed out:

“The details of Pople’s story mirror those of other abuse cases involving Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world. Elders failed to report child sexual abuse to secular authorities. The perpetrator was kicked out of the organization, only to be reinstated later.

“Moreover, the story fits a pattern of Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders ejecting members who abuse children, not for the abuse, but for failing to show adequate repentance.

“After Pople admitted to elders in 1997 that he had assaulted one of the boys, he was disfellowshipped – the Witnesses’ version of excommunication – for being ‘insufficiently repentant,’ according to the newspaper’s story. A year later, after Pople requested reinstatement, the congregation welcomed him back.”

How child sex abusers get reinstated as Jehovah’s Witnesses

It’s obvious that if this perpetrator was sufficiently repentant, he would not have been disfellowshipped and then would be free to mingle with members and their children, leading to more children sexually abused. That actually is what happened across the world especially during the 1980s and 90s. For these reasons is why I find policy statement #16 to be insufficient to protect children.

#17: A JW known as an abuser in the past and could still be a risk can’t hold a position of trust. This is a very misleading statement. It should say that a person known to have abused a child in the past will never be appointed to a leadership position.

Please consider in the March 14, 1997 BOE British letter how the WATCH TOWER defined a “known” molester. What was omitted was a huge loophole. The letter stated if the molester was known to the community and the congregation as a sex offender, he wouldn’t be considered for a position of authority in the congregation. Obviously, but not stated, if he wasn’t “known,” he could be considered for a position and that was the way it has been since 1997. In this instance, the care of children was not discernible in this letter which letter, by the way, is accepted as current WATCH TOWER policy. (US attorney, Irwin Zalkin, stated this to me in October 2015.)

#18: A member known as a repentant abuser is prohibited from being alone with children. In these circumstances most of the members don’t know who in the congregation is a repentant abuser, hence they can’t protect their children by warning them about the danger of being alone with such a person.

What is the purpose of the WATCH TOWER’S POLICY document?

Ostensibly or seemingly it was to help safeguard or protect JWs children from molestation by a JW sex abuser. I don’t see how it can when WATCH TOWER leaders have turned their POLICY document into a religious manifesto filled with scriptures cited from an ancient book written during a time when there were no laws to protect children. Also, as I have shown the POLICY document contains only one rule that instructs elders how to protect children, unlike other religions whose child protection policy document can be anywhere from 32 to 70 pages long filled with do’s and don’ts.

In conclusion of the analysis

At the very beginning of the POLICY document, on page 2, #4, the leaders of the WATCH TOWER clearly place the responsibility of protecting JW children squarely on parents. Their claim of assisting parents to fulfil their responsibilities by publishing “abundant information and advice” is a cop-out when they know that trusting children of JWs interact with JW adults much more than in the majority of religions due to many religious meetings and proselytizing activities sponsored by the WATCH TOWER. Also, the WATCH TOWER discourages association with non-JWs, thus encouraging social activities only with JWs who appear to be trustworthy.

If JW parents are legally responsible for their children during religious activities and WATCH TOWER has no legal fiduciary duty, a POLICY document is not needed at all. However, WATCH TOWER Trustees knew better and endeavored to placate the Commission and at the same time build confidence in the minds of JWs that their children are not at risk of harm because the Trustees have a POLICY document in place containing twenty-four policy statements that appear to be impeccable.

My overall impression of the WATCH TOWER’S POLICY document is that it was quickly and sloppily cobbled together to give the appearance of a comprehensive “policy” that has been in place for decades starting with the first article in 1983 in the Awake! magazine “Help for the Victims of Incest.”

Furthermore, the relevant issue is not simply what their “policies” may or may not have been, but what have their actual “practices” been. (It’s not what you say, it’s what you do or don’t do.) There is only one mention of calling the police and proper authorities, and it’s not even positive. As far as I’m concerned, any claims of protecting children are not evidenced with any actual proof.

I don’t believe that the Commission should accept whatever the WATCH TOWER offers as their next POLICY document due this year, but guidelines should be given to the WATCH TOWER by the Commission. Then if the WATCH TOWER’S policies are not in line with Commission regulations, there should be a penalty. And most importantly, Commission regulations should be in line with child sexual abuse laws of the land. If needed, to keep children safe the Commission should press the government to change the laws.

I’m attaching material written by Victor Vieth containing “…ten concrete suggestions for faith institutions that will aid in developing and implementing policies more likely to keep children safe.”

Perhaps at the conclusion of the investigation by the Commission, the WATCH TOWER can be required to provide a new POLICY document based on guidelines provided in Victor Vieth’s article. Of course, not every suggestion in the article will be particularly useful for application by the JW religion. However, I highlighted certain information in the material that in my opinion I believe would be valuable to the Commission in their quest to require the WATCH TOWER Board of Trustees to implement policies that would truly safeguard JWs children as they interact socially with JW elders and their assistants, and while adhering to their religious obligations.

See also: