Silent Lambs

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I was reading an article today that disturbed me greatly. It would appear that Jehovah's Witnesses tend to hide sexual and physical abuse within their congregations. The stories I'm reading make the abuse and cover-up within the Catholic church look like, well, .... child's play.

In one case, Sara Poisson of Claremont, NH reported to the elders that her then-husband, Paul Berry, had physically abused some of her children. The elders allegedly told her that she "needed to be a better wife" and "needed to pray more." Poisson said that "Each time I spoke to the elders I was sanctioned in some way...Some privilege was removed because I had dared to usurp the authority of my husband." When her son was discovered at school with marks of abuse on his skin, she was told by a social worker to either have her husband leave the home or lose custody of her children. She did the former and was then shunned by the congregation. She finally went to police after discovering that her former husband had sexually abused her daughter from the age of 4 to 10. Stories of aggravated sexual abuse and torture were revealed in court. At Berry's trial, 29 fellow members of his congregation testified favorably about his character.

Officially, the Jehovah's Witness Church's stance is that "If there is a law that mandates reporting, that takes precedent over any confidentiality, whether in church policy or statute....The laws of this country, as well as people's moral values, tell you there are some things that should be kept private. That's why laws protect confidential communications between clergy and their flock....Parents are encouraged to do whatever they need to do to protect their child."

Unofficially, they allow sexual and physical abusers to go unreported to the police, with only stern warnings and minor sanctions. In 2001, a group was formed to stop this abuse. Silent Lambs is an organization aimed at prosecuting Jehovah's Witnesses who sexually and/or physically abuse children. Read the "Personal Experiences" section if you dare.

William H. Bowen, has been a Jehovah’s Witness for over 43 years, including serving as a ministerial servant, elder, educator, served on well over 100 judicial committees, worked in many administrative and managerial positions, and has given talks at circuit and district conventions. In 2000 he discovered information that proved a fellow elder had molested a child multiple times. When he reported the abuse, he was told to cover it up, from the local level all the way up to the headquarters of the Watchtower Society. The only move the Society was willing to make was to removing the offender as an elder, but specifically prohibited him from reporting it to the police. Instead, Mr. Bowen resigned, and went public with his experiences.

It sickens me to think that a religious organization would hide pedophiles and abusers in such an obvious and cruel way. Perhaps if we drew more attention to the problems within the Jehovah's Witnesses, as it has been done with the Catholic Church, these abuses would stop- or at least be taken to the police and dealt with properly.
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