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Two Witness Rule in The Jehovah’s Witness Community: a Hiding Place For Child Abusers

By Principal Lawyer, Abuse and Disease Teams

The public have long known about the abuse scandals within the Catholic Church and the way in which in certain cases abuse of children was ignored, covered up and brushed under the carpet, resulting in further abuse of children as priests were moved from parish to parish and allowed to continue their abuse of children. Until relatively recently, much less was known about the Jehovah’s Witness religious community. 

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Over the past two decades a significant number of abuse cases have emerged in the Jehovah's Witnesses. Clients we act for who allege they have been abused within the organisation describe a culture which is profoundly collusive with child abuse. It's hard enough for abused children to speak out in any setting; in the Jehovah's Witnesses, it's bordering on the impossible.

The organisation is notorious for its "two witness" rule: anyone who accuses an adult of abuse must have a corroborating

It is clear that many abuse survivors found the Jehovah’s Witness practice of disfellowship and shunning a form of extreme emotional and psychological abuse on top of the sexual abuse already suffered.

witness. Since the vast majority of child abuse occurs in secret, the effect of this rule is to silence abuse victims. Moreover, if there is no corroborating witness, the complainant is often treated as having made a false accusation. This leads to the complainant being "disfellowshipped", or ostracised by other Witnesses. A terrifying prospect if, like most children growing up in the Jehovah's Witnesses, your entire family life revolves around them. In this way, victims say, the culture of the Jehovah's Witnesses facilitates and protects abusers.

It is clear that many abuse survivors found the Jehovah’s Witness practice of disfellowship and shunning a form of extreme emotional and psychological abuse on top of the sexual abuse already suffered. 

It is arguable that such a practice breaches a child’s Article 8 rights under the European Convention of Human Rights to a right to private and family life if parents are being ordered by religious elders to shun their own children and cut them off in this way. 

Although the Jehovah’s Witness organisation itself is not a public body it is regulated by the charity commission (who is currently investigating it). In addition all children are owed a duty of care by the local authority they live under to ensure they do not suffer neglect and harm and that includes emotional abuse and so arguably this shunning practice, if done to children within the organisation, should be something the state is actively investigating to ensure they are fulfilling their obligations to children.

Slater and Gordon’s expert team of abuse lawyers are currently representing over 800 survivors of abuse and offer a free consultation for anyone affected by child abuse.

We offer a free and completely confidential consultation to anyone affected by sexual abuse. Call us anytime 24/7 on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online.

Kim Harrison is a principal lawyer specialising in child abuse claims at Slater and Gordon in Manchester.

 

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