Angus Stewart, counsel for The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, told the inquiry that Jehovah’s Witnesses’ rules were designed to prevent the reporting of sexual abuse
The Jehovah’s Witnesses Church failed to report more than 1,000 allegations of child sex abuse to police dating back more than 60 years, an Australian inquiry has heard.
A national inquiry was set up into child abuse in the country in 2013 after reports emerged of serial child abuse inside the country’s Catholic Church.
Members of Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which has a mandate to examine religious and secular organisations, has heard how the Jehovah’s Witnesses were an insular sect with rules designed to prevent reporting sexual abuse.
In the case of the alleged 1,006 perpetrators of child sex abuse in the church since 1950, not one was reported to the police.
The hearing was told the church itself handled all of the cases.
Angus Stewart, senior counsel for the commission, said: “This suggests that it is the practice of the Jehovah’s Witness church to retain information regarding child sexual abuse offences but not to report allegations of child sexual abuse to the police or other relevant authorities.“
One church member, identified only as BCB, told the commission that she was sexually assaulted by an elder as a teenager, leaving her with depression, the BBC reports.
“The abuse changed who I was,” she said.
“It destroyed my confidence and my self-esteem.”
Her father responded by blaming her for “seducing him”, Mr Stewart said.
One Jehovah’s Witnesses elder who handled BCB’s complaint, Max Horley, admitted he destroyed notes about her allegations so they did not fall into the “wrong hands”, according to the BBC.
“We do not want our wives knowing our stuff – what sort of things we are dealing with,” Mr Horley told the hearing.
The church would not report allegations of abuse to the police, but would encourage the victims to report it, Mr Horley added.
No hype, just the advice and analysis you needContinue
Mr Stewart told the hearing of a doctrine the church had which released church elders from their responsibility to report abuse where they were not required to do so legally.
Although the church expelled 401 members after internal abuse hearings, it allowed 230 of them to return.
The church also made its internal process to consider allegations more robust, with two or more witnesses needing to be produced before proceeding to a church “judicial committee”.
This blocked 125 allegations from being heard, Mr Stewart said.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses, based in America, have eight million members worldwide and are known for their foreign ministries and door-to-door campaigns.
There are about 68,000 members of the church in Australia.
The Royal Commission has said that more than 4,000 victims have come forward as part of the inquiry.
It has heard allegations of abuse within the Orthodox Jewish community, Catholic Church, schools and children’s homes.