Former Jehovah’s Witnesses sue over historic sex abuse

Group’s controversial ‘two witnesses’ policy has come under fire

(Image credit: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images)

At least 20 former Jehovah’s Witnesses are suing the religious group over alleged historical sexual abuse.

The BBC reports that the religious organisation “has a policy of not punishing alleged child sex abuse unless a second person, alongside the accuser, has witnessed it - or an abuser confesses”.

However, a former elder has disputed the group’s claims that senior figures always tell police if a child is in danger “even if there is only one witness”.

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John Viney, who alleges that he was abused between the ages of nine and 13 by “an active Jehovah’s Witness”, claims children are still being abused.

He told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme: “The way that Jehovah’s Witnesses handle matters within the congregation, it’s a closed shop.

“I know for a fact now that there are parents that haven't done anything about the abuse of their children by others because they don't want to bring reproach on Jehovah’s name.”

A Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesperson said in a statement: “The only way that a child abuser can gain access to children in a religious organisation like ours, which does not have any programmes that separate children from their parents, is through parents themselves.”

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But, the Daily Mail reports, a High Court judge has raised concerns after hearing that ministers in a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses waited more than two and a half years before telling police that a girl had made sexual abuse allegations against her father.

The judge said the evidence pointed to the fact that elders knew about the allegations in December 2016, when the girl was nine, but had not reported the issue to police until July 2019, the paper adds.

A separate case was resolved in January this year, when leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses were told to pay £62,000 in damages to a former member who was raped after attending door-to-door visits 30 years ago.

Although a “judicial committee” of the group’s elders found the allegations against Mark Sewell to be “not proven” in an internal inquiry in 1991, a High Court judge ruled in her favour last month.

In 2018, an independent inquiry into child sexual abuse said there had been “a considerable number” of complaints against the religious group.

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