The Jehovah’s Witnesses are once again in the news in relation to sexual abuse that is alleged to have been perpetuated by its members and elders.
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The BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme recently spoke with a former elder, Mr Viney, who says he not only suffered childhood abuse at the hands of a Jehovah’s Witness himself, but, when his daughter was abused and left the organisation he disowned her. This illustrates the extraordinarily level of control that the organisation has over every element of the lives of its members.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses have faced repeated criticism over their alleged protection of abusers which stems from their policy of not condemning someone on the testimony of one witness. Mr Viney told the BBC that this meant that organisation was inadvertently protecting child abusers.
Given the level of control the organisation has over its members, the courts have said that it can be considered akin to a relationship. This means that in many circumstances the organisation itself can be held liable for abuse perpetuated by its members.
Elizabeth Duncan, one of our specialist abuse lawyers, commented:
“I am involved in a number of claims against the Jehovah’s Witnesses involving abuse and am struck by the high level of control that the organisation exerts over every element of its members’ lives. This creates an environment where the abuse of children can flourish. From early childhood the fear of hell is instilled in the members and this can then be used as a means of control. Members are isolated from the wider community and the threat of being disfellowshipped and therefore shunned by their families and friends is very real. This makes it even more difficult for those who have suffered abuse to speak out about what they have been through. Even when people are able to disclose what has happened to them the organisation has failed to help victims seek treatment or justice. My clients tell me that, particularly where a criminal prosecution was impossible, the recognition that they have been wronged that a civil settlement represents has been invaluable”