Child Sex Abuse Within the Jehovah’s Witnesses Organization

The NYS Child Victims Act went into effect in August of 2019, opening a one-year period in which survivors of abuse may file lawsuits that would have otherwise been outside of the statute of limitations.

One religious organization headquartered in New York State, The Jehovah’s Witnesses, is expected to have multiple lawsuits filed against it this year. The Church headquarters are in the Orange County town of Warwick.

Reporting Abuse Within the Jehovah’s Witnesses

The Jehovah’s Witness organization is run by a group of Elders who have final say over whether accusations of abuse are brought to the proper authorities. Members who bypass this step when reporting abuse risk being expelled from the church and ostracized by their community of fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The organization has a unique way of dealing with internal complaints of child abuse known as the “Two witness rule” wherein abuse must be sustained by a second witness if the accused denies the charge. Often there is not a second witness who can corroborate a charge and the abuse goes unreported to authorities.

Covering Up Reports of Abuse?

The organization has been aware of the threat their congregants faced for some time according to an article published by The Atlantic last year by Douglas Quenqua:

“In March 1997, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the nonprofit organization that oversees the Jehovah’s Witnesses, sent a letter to each of its 10,883 U.S. congregations, and to many more congregations worldwide. The organization was concerned about the legal risk posed by possible child molesters within its ranks. The letter laid out instructions on how to deal with a known predator: Write a detailed report answering 12 questions—Was this a onetime occurrence, or did the accused have a history of child molestation? How is the accused viewed within the community? Does anyone else know about the abuse? —and mail it to Watchtower’s headquarters in a special blue envelope. Keep a copy of the report in your congregation’s confidential file, the instructions continued, and do not share it with anyone.”

What’s Next for Survivors

It is still unknown whether New York State will extend the August 14, 2020 deadline for survivors of abuse to file lawsuits. NYS Senator Brad Holyman, a sponsor of the NYS Child Victims Act, has proposed the Adult Survivors Act (or ASA) which would allow survivors of abuse another year to file lawsuits related to their claims.