The best way to stop abuse in the Church and every institution is to expose a self-serving culture that protects perpetrators and blames victims

Right now, in Australia, there are public hearings taking place regarding allegations of Jehovah’s Witness (JW) leaders sexually abusing children. Some of the  stunning revelations are that JW leaders destroyed notes taken during meetings about abuse cases so that their wives wouldn’t find out. Church Elder Max Horley told the Royal Commission Inquiry into Institutional Child Sexual abuse two days ago that it was protocol to destroy notes including those he made during meetings between another elder Bill Neill and the teenage girl who accused him of abusing her. Horley explained ‘Well we don’t want our wives knowing our stuff, what sort of things we are dealing with. We don’t want other people in the congregation coming across that information.’

Earlier the Royal Commission heard that certain JW leaders repeatedly promoted paedophiles to positions of authority and never reported any case of child abuse to the police. Even guilty abusers weren’t punished by the Church. One church Elder, who had sexually abused all four of his daughters, was ‘disfellowshipped’ not for his crimes but for ‘unrelated loose conduct and lying’, the commission sitting in Sydney was told.

The Church didn’t do enough to protect children. In fact, they often made it worse. One of his daughters gave evidence that she had to be interviewed by three church Elders together with her father and that instead of being supported, the Elders made her feel to blame. Her father blamed her for seducing him.

The JW Church uses the Two Witness rule. Your account of abuse is only taken seriously if two people say they witnessed it, even though the only other person around is the abuser himself. They only believe victims if the alleged abuser confessed or there were two credible witnesses despite there rarely being witnesses to sex assaults beyond the victim and the perpetrator, [counsel assisting the commission Angus Stewart said.] Over the past 65 years, the requirement that there be two or more witnesses to child sex abuse has prevented at least 125 allegations of sex assault from proceeding to a judicial committee.

It’s unclear what will happen to the Church after the two weeks of public hearings, but at the very least, these stories will finally be out in the open and, as they should be, Church leaders will finally have to answer for their actions.

The views expressed on this page are those of Dr Ree Boddé and do not necessarily represent the views of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne or its program partners Anglicare Victoria and the Brotherhood of St Laurence. While all reasonable care has been taken in the preparation of this page, no liability is assumed for any errors or omissions.