SILENT LAMBS
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INTRODUCTION

On May 28, 2002, a national news story which was aired by Dateline (NBC) brought a horrifying fact to public: The Watchtower Society had, for many years, mishandled complaints of child sexual abuse committed by others in the Jehovah's Witness membership. And, because these cases were so badly mismanaged, children were left vulnerable to further abuse by these sexual predators. The problem was that, at the time, the Watchtower Society's system of handling these cases unwittingly advocated for the accused instead of the child victims. This broken system was uncovered by Barbara Anderson and Bill Bowen -- two Jehovah's Witnesses who discovered the truth on this matter and exposed it at great personal expense. Anderson and Bowen initially tried to bring this issue to the attention of the Watchtower Society to correct this situation, to no avail. The pair felt they no choice but to make the issue public for the protection of the children. The Watchtower Society became very unhappy with Anderson and Bowen's public disclosure of these matters and responded by disfellowshipping* Anderson and Bowen days before the news report aired. Such action against them only added fuel to the public's outrage, causing the affair blow up into an ugly and public mess, resulting in complete embarrassment to the Watchtower Society. And, not only did this turn into a huge public relations problem for the Watchtower Society, but it also created a montrous legal nightmare for them as they were suddenly finding themselves faced with legal action by victims who found the strength to come forward once the whistle was blown. Although the Watchtower Society struggled to block these court actions and the subpeona of internal documents, they failed in their endeavors and lost miserably in court. In the end, the Watchtower Society quietly paid out millions of dollars in out-of-court settlements in an attempt to make the problem finally go away.

*"Disfellowshipping" is a process in which a member is deemed to be unrepentant after committing a major sin, and thus no other Jehovah's Witness will have any unnecessary association with such a member, including close family members. It is a form of shunning.

 

WATCHTOWER SOCIETY POLICY: THEN AND NOW

When accusations of child sexual abuse occur the local congregation's elders handle these cases based on the directions they receive from the Watchtower Society. At the time this news story first aired, the elders were acting according to the instruction written in their manual titled "Pay Attention To Yourselves and to All the Flock" (published in 1991, replaced in 2010 with this book). According to this manual, the only official direction given to elders in the book was as follows (underline and emphasis ours ):

(pp. 92-93) Wrongdoing is increasing in frequency and in depravity; such can infiltrate and affect the Christian congregation. The Scriptures clearly show that Jehovah forbids certain conduct among his clean people; brothers need to uphold Jehovah's righteous standards regarding the following:... Sexual misconduct, including; adultery, fornication, and other forms of "por.ne'a.. Also included are sexual abuse of children, including practices involving a catamite (a boy kept for purposes of sexual perversion). Victims of sexual abuse need to be treated with extreme thoughtfulness and kindness. Elders should always do what they reasonably can to protect children from further abuse; follow the Society's directives on such matters.

This manual doesn't give further instruction regarding the handling of child molestation cases. Noting that this manual instructs the elders to "follow the Society's directives on such matters." one questions what the Society's directives were at that time. Basically, the directives were these: If there was only one eye-witness to the occurrence, or if the time lapsed since the occurrence had been longer than three years, then the accusation would normally be dismissed. These directives can be seen in their publications:

Organization for Kingdom-Preaching and Disciple Making, 1972, p.170, para.2
"If a person was serving as an elder or a ministerial servant when he committed a serious wrong, even though it was some years ago, he bears a degree of reprehensibility, for he continued to serve in that position though knowing that he had, for the time at least, disqualified himself, not being then free from accusation. (1 Tim. 3:2, 10; Titus 1:6,7) He should have informed the judicial committee that he did not adhere to the requirements and should have stepped down from his position. In view of his failure to do this at that time, he would now be removed from that position."

in tandem with the following quote:

Our Kingdom Ministry, October 1972, p.8
[Reader's Question] What was meant by "some years ago" on page 170, paragraph two, in the Organization book?
[Watchtower Society's Answer] This indicates more than a year or two. It may be noted that it did not say many years ago. So it is not the exact number of years, but more like two or three years. It was not intended to have a brother go back into the distant past to bring up wrongs of which he repented years ago and that have evidently been forgiven by Jehovah and are not practiced now."

It was also directed that the victim face the accused with the allegation, the idea being that if the accused denied the allegation then nothing more could be done, thus the accused would continue to be viewed as innocent (underline ours):

The Watchtower, November 1, 1995, pp.28-29
[In an article discussing child abuse and repressed memories]
The elders’ primary task is to act as shepherds... What if the sufferer decides that he wants to make an accusation? Then the two elders can advise him that, in line with the principle at Matthew 18:15, he should personally approach the accused about the matter. If the accuser is not emotionally able to do this face-to-face, it can be done by telephone or perhaps by writing a letter. In this way the one accused is given the opportunity to go on record before Jehovah with his answer to the accusation. He may even be able to present evidence that he could not have committed the abuse... If the accusation is denied, the elders should explain to the accuser that nothing more can be done in a judicial way. And the congregation will continue to view the one accused as an innocent person. The Bible says that there must be two or three witnesses before judicial action can be taken. (2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19) Even if more than one person “remembers” abuse by the same individual, the nature of these recalls is just too uncertain to base judicial decisions on them without other supporting evidence. This does not mean that such “memories” are viewed as false (or that they are viewed as true). But Bible principles must be followed in establishing a matter judicially.

As you can see, this kind of instruction, though striving to be Bible based, strongly advocated for abusers and left child victims in the cold. It is notable in the above quote that the word of several victims was not enough because there needed to be two eye-witnesses to each separate incident of abuse. Clearly it is unreasonable to expect two witnesses for each incident because sexual predators don't commit their crimes in the presence of other eye-witnesses. It is also unreasonable to expect a child to confront his or her abuser in this matter, especially since sexual predators are known for making threats to their child victims. This policy was severely in need of an overhaul.

Compounding matters was the fact that the Watchtower Society had, at that time, discouraged elders from reporting criminal matters to local police, preferring that such matters be handled by the congregation instead:

The Watchtower, October 1, 1986, p.31
Elders in the Christian congregation are responsible to handle violations of divine law, such as stealing, murder, and immorality. But God did not require congregation elders to enforce Caesar’s laws and codes. Hence, Paul did not feel compelled to turn over to Roman authorities Onesimus, who was a fugitive under Roman law. (Philemon 10, 15) Of course, if someone flagrantly violates secular law, gaining the reputation of being a lawbreaker, he would not be a good example and might even be disfellowshipped. (1 Timothy 3:2, 7, 10) If lawbreaking was involved in causing another’s death, bloodguilt requiring congregation investigation might result.

In other words, criminal events were viewed as matters to be handled by the congregation, not the legal system. However, if a person was already known to be a child molester, then that one was to be barred from positions of authority in the congregation:

The Watchtower, January 1, 1997, p.29
For the protection of our children, a man known to have been a child molester does not qualify for a responsible position in the congregation. Moreover, he cannot be a pioneer or serve in any other special, full-time service... If, for example, an individual makes immoral advances to another adult, the adult should be able to resist his or her advances. Children are much easier to deceive, confuse, or terrorize. The Bible speaks of a child’s lack of wisdom. (Proverbs 22:15; 1 Corinthians 13:11) Jesus used children as an example of humble innocence. (Matthew 18:4; Luke 18:16, 17) The innocence of a child includes a complete lack of experience. Most children are open, eager to please, and thus vulnerable to abuse by a scheming adult whom they know and trust. Therefore, the congregation has a responsibility before Jehovah to protect its children.

Although this is good policy it should be noted that this is only in reference to one who is already known to be a child molester . This means that a member who is newly accused, but is not found guilty by the congregation, could continue to enjoy positions of authority in the congregation, essentially giving them continued access to children. This idea of being an already-known molester was specified in a letter to the body of elders dated March 14, 1997, which stated in part:

“An individual ‘known’ to be a former child molester has reference to the perception of that one in the community and in the Christian congregation.”

What's more, men who are appointed as elders don't generally undergo background checks before their appointment -- this means that man who already has a history of being a child molester could be appointed as an elder because the background check isn't performed. What a mess!

And that is what Anderson and Bowen had issues with: The fact that accused child molesters were spared from legal investigations, allowing them continued free access to children. As a result, the common members of the congregations usually remained unaware of the danger because accusations of wrongdoing are not usually communicated to them. Interestingly though, just before the news piece aired in 2002, word of the upcoming news piece trickled through the congregations causing many elders to question the aforementioned instruction regarding the "two eye-witnesses" rule. In response the Watchtower Society wrote a letter to the body of elders dated May 24, 2002, which states in part (emphasis ours):

"In recent weeks, the press in this country has focused attention on the way accusations of child abuse are handled by various religious organizations. Such reports may cause some sincere individuals to ask about the procedures followed by Jehovah's Witnesses.
We expect the elders to investigate every allegation of child abuse. Even one abused child is one too many. However, in evaluating the evidence, they must bear in mind the Bible's clear direction: "No single witness should rise up against a man respecting any error or any sin. At the mouth of two witnesses or at the mouth of three witnesses the matter should stand good." (Deuteronomy 19:15) Later, this requirement to consider testimony of two or three witnesses was confirmed by Jesus. (Matthew 18:16) Thus, although they investigate every allegation, the elders are not authorized by the Scriptures to take congregational action unless there is a confession or there are two credible witnesses. However, if two persons are witnesses to separate incidents of the same kind of wrongdoing, their testimony can be deemed sufficient to take action.

It wasn't until eight years after this news piece aired that the Watchtower Society officially published an updated and more detailed policy on the matter. According to the 2010 elders' manual "Shepherd the Flock of God" it is stated (all brackets and parentheses theirs):

(p.38) "If it comes to light, or an appointed brother [elder] confesses that he has committed a disfellowshipping offense years in the past...the nature of the sin may reflect greatly on his qualifications to serve. For example, the sin may involve past child abuse, and this would likely disqualify him for many years.

(pp.53-55) "Those who as children were abused, sexually or otherwise, many times grow up to be adults with emotional scars...Thus you will want to be conscious of treating such ones with thoughtfulness, tenderness, and kindness...It must be recognized that elders as such are not mental-health professionals or therapists but are spiritual shepherds. Consequently, you should not conduct sessions for what some may view as group therapy...someone who has serious mental or emotional illness may need professional help...Though you may need to ask tactful questions to help an afflicted one express himself, avoid probing unnecessarily or repeatedly into the details of the abuse... Whether a Christian or his family pursues treatment from psychiatrists, psychologists, or therapists, is a personal decision.

(pp.71-72) If there are two or three witnesses to the same kind of wrongdoing, but each one is witness to a separate incident, the elders can consider their testimony. While such evidence is acceptable to establish guilt, it is preferable to have two witnesses to the same occurrence of wrongdoing. The testimony of youths may be considered; it is up to the elders to determine whether the testimony has the ring of truth... If the wrongdoing has not been established but serious questions have been raised, the body of elders should appoint two elders to investigate the matter promptly... For the [eye]witness by himself to confront the accused may not be advisable in all cases -- for example, if the witness and the accused were involved in sexual immorality together or if the [eye]witness was a victim of incest or rape by the accused, or is a child and the victim of sexual abuse... If the accused denies the accusation, the investigating elders should try to arrange a meeting with him and the accuser together (Note: If the accusation involves child sexual abuse and the victim is currently a minor, the elders should contact the branch office before arranging a meeting with the child and the alleged abuser. )

(pp.131-132) You should immediately call the branch office for direction if you learn of an accusation of child abuse, regardless of the age of the victim now, or at the time of the alleged abuse, even if it occurred before the alleged perpetrator's baptism. The branch office will then give direction based on the circumstances involved in each situation... Never suggest to anyone that they should not report an allegation of child abuse to the police or other authorities. If you are asked, make it clear that whether to report the matter to the authorities or not is a personal decision for each individual to make and that there are no congregation sanctions for either decision. Elders will not criticize anyone who reports such an allegation to the authorities. If the victim wishes to make a report, it is his or her absolute right to do so.... When a known child molester moves to another congregation, the Congregation Service Committee should send a letter of introduction with full and complete information about his background and current situation. Any letter from the branch office concerning the child molester should not be photocopied or sent to the new congregation. However, the new congregation should be clearly informed of any restrictions imposed by the branch office. A copy of the letter of introduction should be sent to the branch office.. In a case in which a brother denies an allegation of child abuse and he has been accused by only one witness... the elders should consult the branch office before sending any information regarding the accusation to the elders in the new congregation... With regard to the accused, the following questions should be answered: 1) What is his interaction with children? 2) Does he admit to any activity with the accuser that could have been misinterpreted by the accuser as sexual abuse, or does he claim to have a poor memory of the accusation? 3) What is his response to why the accuser made the allegation? 4) Has he had to be counseled for any other matters of a sexual nature?... 5) What is the level of his spirituality? 6) Do all the elders on the body believe that he can be trusted with children? The following questions should be answered with regard to the accuser: 1) What is the level of maturity of the child or youth? 2) Is he (or she) describing conduct that one his age would not normally know about? 3) Is the child, or his parents, known to be serious and mature? 4) Is his memory consistent, or is it intermittent, or does it involve repressed memories? 5) What is the reputation of the parents? 6) Are they spiritually and emotionally mature? After carefully considering the matter, the branch office will then give you direction as to what information about the allegation should be shared, if any, with the elders of the new congregation.

Interestingly, even though the Watchtower Society now has a better, and more detailed, policy on the matter it is notable that they never instruct for the entire congregation to be informed of the presence of an accused child molester, it is only the elders in the congregation who are informed, if at all. In effect, the common members of the congregation remain vulnerable to the predator because they remain unaware of the potential danger. Many times, due to a misplaced sense of loyalty, the parents of the child victim refrain from contacting the legal authorities because they do not want to bring reproach on Jehovah's name with the accusation. This fear of bringing reproach reaches to the extent that members are taught to think twice before bringing matters to the legal system:

Loyalty to Jehovah God will also keep us from doing anything that would bring reproach upon his name and Kingdom. For example, two Christians once got into such difficulty with each other that they improperly resorted to a worldly law court. The judge asked, ‘Are both of you Jehovah’s Witnesses?’ Evidently he could not understand what they were doing in court. What a reproach that was! Loyalty to Jehovah God would have caused those brothers to heed the counsel of the apostle Paul: “Really, then, it means altogether a defeat for you that you are having lawsuits with one another. Why do you not rather let yourselves be wronged? Why do you not rather let yourselves be defrauded?” (1 Corinthians 6:7) Certainly, the course of loyalty to Jehovah God is to suffer personal loss rather than bring reproach upon Jehovah and his organization. (The Watchtower, March 15, 1996, p.15, para.4)

Jehovah's Witnesses are taught to be extremely wary of any conduct that could remotely be viewed as reproach upon Jehovah's Name. The following link gives the Watchtower Society's current position towards child molesting as posted on their authorized site as of
February 28, 2012: http://www.jw-media.org/aboutjw/article23.htm

 

ANDERSON AND BOWEN

It is due to the investigations by Barbara Anderson and Bill Bowen that those dangerous flaws in Watchtower Society policy became public, forcing a change for the better (though still left wanting)... but who are Barbara Anderson and Bill Bowen?

Barbara Anderson

Barbara Anderson became a Jehovah's Witness when she was a teenager and remained a Jehovah's Witness for about 43 years. Through the years she remained a faithful member of the denomination and eventually became a member of the Bethel family (Those who work at the Watchtower Society headquarters and their world wide branch offices) for ten years. During her time at the Watchtower Society headquarters she first became aware of the sexual abuse situation. Eventually she and her husband resigned from their jobs at headquarters in order to care for her ailing parents. Upon her return home she continued to do work for the Writing Department of the headquarters and continued her personal investigation into the abuse issue. She became increasingly disillusioned over the information she was finding and began to "fade out" from the denomination ("Fading out" is preferrable to disfellowshipping. A member who "fades out" is one who gradually and continually reduces his or her association with the Jehovah's Witness denomination over time. Those who "fade out" don't tend to be shunned). During her personal investigation she came into contact with Bill Bowen, a Jehovah's Witness elder who had begun conducting his own investigation into the matter. You can read the details of Anderson's story on her own website by clicking here.

A few years after going public with the information Anderson published a CD titled "Secrets of Pedophilia in an American Religion". This CD contains a lot of interesting information and scanned documents recording the various lawsuits which cropped up after this tragedy became public and the secret out-of-court settlements that resulted. It also describes the ways in which the Watchtower Society's methods were designed to hamper cooperation with law enforcement and give protection to the pedophiles. You can read this CD online at: http://www.watchtowernews.org/Secrets_Commentary_Version_2.pdf

 

Bill Bowen

Bill Bowen was a Jehovah's Witnesse elder for a congregation in the state of Kentucky, the United States. Bowen had discovered that the Presiding Overseer of his congregation (the "head" elder) had admitted to child molestation some years before and yet retained his position in the congregation. When Bowen questioned the other elders in his congregation about this, they referred him to the 1972 Kingdom Ministry instructions (quoted earlier on this webpage) and stated that it had been many years since this sin, and the man had since lived a seemingly spotless life, thus he was not removed from his position in the congregation. This did not sit well with Bowen as he then began to fear for the safety of the children in his congregation. Not sure what to do, he posted a message on an online Jehovah's Witness discussion forum, asking if anyone other elders on the forum encountered similar experiences in their congregations. One of the members of the forum happened to be acquainted with Barbara Anderson and thus facilitated communication between Anderson and Bowen. Once connected, Anderson and Bowen joined together to "out" this shameful situation, resulting in their disfellowshippings. You can read Bowen's own account of his disfellowshipping here.

Bowen has created a website, named "Silent Lambs", designed to help victims of Jehovah's Witness pedophiles. You can access this website through the following link:
http://www.silentlambs.com/

 

Additional Information

Chain of correspondence regarding the Watchtower Society's abuse policies. (Names and dates are removed)
http://www.watchtowerdocuments.com/documents/Child_Abuse_in_Canada.pdf

Press release regarding ones disfellowshipped for publicizing sexual abuse; Bowen's appeal letter; Watchtower Society definition of "disfellowshipping"
http://www.watchtowernews.org/press073102.htm

Nashville Tennessee news reporting abuse case settlements
http://www.newschannel5.com/Global/story.asp?S=6499357

News Transcript from BBC program "Panorama", titled "Suffer the Little Children", regarding Jehovah's Witness sexual abuse of children
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/audio_video/programmes/panorama/transcripts/transcript_14_07_02.txt

Another NBC news story regarding Jehovah's Witness pedophiles (from 2007)
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21917798/#.T02SVnlHvAE

News video clip describing the problem of Jehovah's Witness pedophiles (about 3 1/2 minutes long)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QLAC9kS_EqM

Site for Jehovah's Witness abuse issues, Victoria State, Australia
http://www.jwnews.net/

In 2012 the Watchtower Society lost a landmark case in which they were ordered to pay out $28 million dollars to a former member who victimized by the Watchtower Society's policy of protecting molesters. For details on this situation, please click HERE.