Jehovah’s Witness Sexual Abuse in Pennsylvania
Although much of the attention in the past few years has been on sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church, we are increasingly seeing that abuse affects victims in other religious organizations around the United States too.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses have certainly not been immune from accusations. In fact, there have been several high-profile trials involving officials of the organization.
Sexual abuse is never acceptable anywhere. When it happens within a religious institution that is meant to protect its members, it is even more unpalatable. Unfortunately, many instances go unreported.
Recently, however, the adoption of new laws in many states have made the process easier for victims of historical sexual abuse to seek justice.
At Andreozzi & Foote, we are committed to providing the support and legal assistance you need if you have been a victim of Jehovah’s Witness sexual abuse.
UPDATE: HB 963 to extend the statute of limitations on sexual abuse
Sexual abuse coverup within the Jehovah’s Witnesses
Unfortunately, as is the case with other well-documented religious institutions in the country, there appears to be a long history of coverups of sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Rather than addressing such a serious issue and siding with the victim, the institution has been guilty of sidelining or downplaying the issues or pretending that they do not exist, according to multiple sources.
Sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses has been known by the leaders at least since the 1990s, when a letter was sent to over 10,000 US congregations and others worldwide, explaining what to do with known sexual predators. This was a clear attempt to protect the organization from a legal standpoint.
This systemic coverup, together with the Jehovah’s Witness “two witness rule” (read more about this below) has meant that victims have often been left with nowhere to turn.
Even worse, victims are sometimes shamed and told that they invited the abusive behavior or are threatened with being ostracized for speaking out.
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is responsible for overseeing the Jehovah’s Witnesses and has a history of noncompliance with law enforcement and state authorities when it comes to investigating crimes.
Why has sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses not been eradicated?
There are several reasons why more perpetrators of sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses have not been prosecuted – and why it is still seemingly so prevalent today.
Avoiding the reporting of abuse to authorities
There is a loophole in the state laws that aids the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious organizations in withholding information that can lead to criminal investigations.
Religious leaders may withhold information if it was received through a “confidential, spiritual communication.”
The confession in the Catholic Church is one good example of this so-called “clergy-penitent privilege”. The legal department of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society has used this loophole to avoid passing on details of the abuse to the police.
Avoiding investigations with the “two-witness rule”
The notorious “two-witness rule” prohibits elders from investigating allegations of sexual abuse unless another witness was present at the crime.
As most people are aware, sexual abuse cases rarely occur anywhere but behind closed doors, and there are usually no other witnesses present.
This not only discourages victims from reporting their abuse. If they do approach a leader, their claims are unlikely to be investigated.
Avoiding prosecution with the refusal to release the sexual predator database
The letter sent by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society informing congregations of what to do with sexual predators asked them to compile a detailed and confidential report.
In doing so, the Jehovah’s Witnesses likely created one of the world’s largest confidential databases of sexual abusers.
Multiple court orders have been issued in an attempt by authorities to access this database of names and addresses of known sexual predators. However, the organization has failed to release the information on each occasion.
Filing sexual abuse claims against the Jehovah’s Witnesses
Some victims of sexual abuse believe their abuse happened too long ago to receive any measure of justice. Many have had to live with depression, anxiety, PTSD and other conditions since childhood.
Fortunately, changes to the law in most states have lengthened the statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases and made the process easier for reporting historical cases of abuse.
So, despite the attempts by the Jehovah’s Witnesses to draw a cloak around the organization and to insulate itself from prosecution, the courage of victims coming forward is increasingly holding it to account for its misdeeds.
By filing sexual abuse claims, victims are able to achieve some measure of the justice that has eluded them for years, while also presenting a deterrent that may help protect other victims from suffering the same fate in the future.
Recognition of the crimes committed and long-denied justice is often the ultimate reward for victims but they may also be entitled to financial compensation.
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society has already paid out many millions of dollars to victims. We can assist in bringing your case to light and seeking the justice and restitution you deserve.
Start with a free and confidential consultation with a sexual abuse attorney here at Andreozzi & Foote.
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