Child Abuse - Taboo in Judaism
I do not want to hurt or blame anyone with my observations, rather much more, to direct
attention to this grave problem. The only ones who can make changes, who can intervene and help, are those who are aware.
Imagine that your rabbi or his wife beats their children. Would you do something to help
the children? Would you speak with the rabbi? Call in the youth office or even the police? Most of us would simply do nothing.
After all, it's about our rabbi. Many would think "He has good qualities too that" to find a reason not to get involved. We
also think that it is definitely a case of exception, that the rabbi or his wife feels stressed, that it's not easy to be
a rabbi in Europe, etc., etc. In this way, we have created a taboo. Because we cannot and do not want to imagine at all that
child abuse is wide spread in Judaism.
What is child abuse? The spectrum is nearly endless: it reaches from bodily to psychological
- and from violent to "soft" abuse. For the victim - children, in this case - every form of abuse profoundly undermines his/her
sense of security: it damages body, spirit and/or soul and often brings devastating consequences for further development.
Children who fall victim to abuse are people who are unable to provide for themselves. The are dependent on the help and support
of adults (at first, mainly their parents). The perpetrators are people (chiefly adults), who either consciously or unconsciously
exploit the helplessness of their children to their own advantage. I will deal with sexual abuse of children here as an example,
and with the help of biblical citation, will show that this problem does not only exists in Judaism, but also that it is a
Sexual abuse of children may not be equated with rape - even though when many people want
to believe that. With sexual abuse, the perpetrator uses the child to become sexually aroused and to attain sexual gratification
for hin/herselve. The most difficult situation is the one in which the perpetrator is a member of the child's family (incest).
A father who lets his daughter dance for him and
becomes sexually aroused or masturbates, without telling the child to stop, has already
abused her sexually. A mother who caresses her son's genitals while diapering him, and becomes sexually aroused, or, has an
orgasm, sexually abuses her child. Those are just two examples for more or less unconscious sexual abuse. But what does that
have to do with Judaism? Sexual abuse of children is taboo everywhere. And yet sexual abuse of children is widespread in our
modern society. It is generally assumed that every third girl and every fifth boy is sexually abused, mostly in their own
families. In Israel, the talk is of every fifth girl. Boys are hardly mentioned, and in orthodox cities in Israel, according
to statistics, sexual abuse of children hardly exists. Among the Jews in the Diaspora, the numbers are unclear. Is Israel
really "better" than the rest of the Western world? Are we Jews really spared this problem? Or is sexual abuse of children
so taboo in Judaism that we actually believe it doesn't exist?
How is it that sexual abuse of children is more taboo in Judaism than in other Western
religions and societies? First, we generally characterize the People of Israel, positively, and in so doing tend to cover
up our human weakness. As the "Chosen People", as "Light of the Peoples", we should be an example for all the other nations.
As such, something like sexual abuse of children cannot exist. The Jews are also named "The People of the Book". The Torah
is not only our doctrine, but also our book of law. In it, we find many prohibitions and laws that gove them impression that
sexual abuse of children doesn’t exit and severe punishments that made incest taboo.
Lot and his Daughters
Let us begin with the famous story of Lot and his daughters (Gen. 19.30):
"And Lot went up out of the Zoar, and dwelt in the mountain, and his two daughters with
him; for he feared to dwell in Zoar; and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters. And the first-born said unto the younger:
'Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth. Come let us
make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.' And they made their father
drink wine that night. And the first-born went in, and lay with her father; and he knew not when she lay down, nor when she
arose. And it came to pass on the morrow, that the first-born said unto the younger: 'Behold, I lay yesternight with my father.
Let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.' And
they made their father drink wine that night also. And the younger arose, and lay with him; he knew not when she lay down,
nor when she arose. Thus were both, the daughters of Lot, with child by their father. And the first-born bore a son, and called
his name Moab - the same is the father of the Moabites unto this day. And the younger, she also bore a son, and called his
name Ben-ammi- the same is the father of the children of Ammon unto this day."
At first glance, the story appears to be completely clear: the daughters were desperate
because they believed there were no men in that land, and they outwitted their father into having sex with them. That is also
the usual interpretation. Yet, is the story really so simple? Let's go into it more deeply: Lot, Abraham's nephew, lived with
his wife and two daughters in Gomorra, a city that, together with Sodom, formed the cities of sin that God completely annihilated
(Gen. 19, 24-25). It is not clear exactly what happened in Sodom and Gomorra, only that the citizens of both cities were extremely
evil. But evil in what way? The name of the city Sodom can give us a hint, because sodomy means sex with an animal. In modern
Hebrew, the word means anal rape. This brings us to the assumption that forbidden sexual practices were carried out in Sodom
and Gomorra. Although Lot was represented as the only just man in Gomorra (Gen. 19,1), and together with his wife and daughter,
was the only one to be saved, we must still ask why he had lived for so long in such a city at all. Was Lot perhaps nice only
once to the guests, the messengers of God who had come to the city, but otherwise evil like all the other inhabitants? Verse
29 in the same chapter gives us one indication that Lot was actually not so good: And it came to pass, when God destroyed
the cities of the Plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the destruction, when He destroyed
the cities in the area where Lot dwelt." That means that God saved Lot not because he was the only just man in Sodom and Gomorra,
but because he was related to Abraham!
As we know, Lot's wife froze into a pillar of salt while fleeing out of Gomorra (Gen. 19,
26) and Lot was left alone with his two grown daughters. He was afraid to settle in Zoar and moved with his daughters into
the mountains, where he lived alone with them in a cave (Verse 30). Why was he afraid to live in a city that God had recommended
to him? One has to simply wonder why he could live fearlessly in Sodom and Gomorra, but not in Zoar.
It is not known how long Lot and his daughters lived in the cave. One day, in any case,
the older daughter decided to sleep with her father because there were no men in the land (Verse 31). How did she arrive at
that conclusion? The daughters were certainly not born in the cave, away from civilization. They didn't only know men and
women in Sodom and Gomorra, but they certainly must have also seen and met men in Zoar and on the way into the mountains.
The daughters had their father drink wine until he noticed nothing more (Verse 33). That means, that Lot must have been so
drunk that he lost consciousness. In such a state, he couldn't have been physical capable of having an erection! At the end
of the story, each daughter then brings a son into the world (Verse 37). But that his daughters became pregnant doesn't seem
to have surprised Lot at all. If he really hadn't noticed anything, and if there actually had been no men in the land, he
must indeed have been quite astounded!
This closer look at the story brings us thus to the conclusion that Lot was for some reason
protected, perhaps because he was Abraham's nephew, or perhaps because in Biblical opposed to post-biblical times, as the
family line stemmed from the father, and his children and grandchildren founded two important tribes. (Verse 37).
Prohibition on Incest
Incest was not only hushed up in stories, but also tabooed by laws, bans, commandments
and repetitions. Most of the laws of the Torah are found in the Third. Book of Moses, including the prohibition on incest
(Lev. 18 and 20.) Many of the laws in chapter 20 are repeated from from chapter 18, for example, the prohibition on homosexuality
(Verse 22.) In Israel and in progressive Judaism, (Reform and Liberal Judaism), homosexuality is currently no longer taboo.
Unfortunately, mention of incest still is.
We find the prohibition on incest in greater detail in Lev. 18,6-17. In the following list,
the specific prohibitions on incest are given. The perpetrator is always the one to whom the prohibition applies:
- General prohibition on incest, Verse 2;
- Sex with parents, verse 7, perpetrator: child;
- Sex with the mother, respectively, step-mother, Verse 8, perpetrator, child;
- Sex with the sister, respectively, half-sister, Verse 9, perpetrator: child:
- Sex with the aunt, Verse 12-13, perpetrator: child;
- Sex with the uncle, Verse 14, perpetrator: child.
- Sex with the uncle's wife, Verse 14, perpetrator: child;
- Sex with the sister-in-law, Verse 15; perpetrator: child;
- Sex with the daughter-in-law, Verse 15, perpetrator: child;
- Sex with the granddaughter, Verse 19, perpetrator: grandfather;
- Sex with the step-daughter, Verse 17, perpetrator: step-father;
- Sex with step-granddaughter, Verse 17, perpetrator: step-grandfather.
In most of the cases (7 from 11), the perpetrator is the child, who doesn't have to be
a minor. The first detailed prohibition refers to sex with the parents. There is, however, no prohibition that refers to sex
with the daughter or son. The biological father and biological mother, are not denoted as perpetrators. There is no woman
Unfortunately, I do not have an explanation for these phenomena. Yet, if the incest prohibitions
to do not apply to the parents, it means that they must never have been perpetrators. Parents who sexually abuse their children
are therefore taboo! And if a sexual act occurs with the father or the mother, the child is guilty and not the parents.
After the prohibitions follow the warning, the repulsion and the choosing of the people
of Israel: "Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things; for in all these the nations are defiled, which I cast out from
before you. And the land was defiled, therefore I did visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land vomited out her inhabitants..."
(Lev. 18, 24-25). The punishment was announced at the end: "For whosoever shall do any of these abominations, even the souls
that do them shall be cut off from among their people" (Verse 29). In chapter 20, the punishment for these atrocities is death.
Next to murder and idolatry, incest is one of the three main atrocities in the Torah.
It is often maintained that because of the forceful and repetitive warnings and threats
of death penalty, incest does not exist in Judaism. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
An additional taboo – related to incest may be inferred one of the 10 commandments,
which - like the prohibition on incest - is listed twice in the Torah (Ex. 20,1-17 and Dtn. 5,6-20). The 6th commandment:
"Honor thy father and mother, as the Lord thy God commanded thee..." obligates the child to honor his parents, regardless
of what they have done or do to him. This commandment is further enforced by the obligation to God, in which the child who
is abused by his parents can in no way act against them. A commandment "Honor thy children" doesn't exist.
Abuse by Circumcision
What role does the Torah play in our lives? Which commandments and laws do we keep and
which not? The commandment to keep Shabbat or kashrut is not observed by many. The commandment to circumcise is kept by nearly
all Jews, and in my eyes, that is the greatest taboo related to sexual abuse of children in Judaism. Questioning the commandment
to circumcise is so deeply tabooed in Judaism, that it's neither talked about nor criticized.
Circumcision appears first in Genesis 17, 10-13, where God enters the first covenant with
Abraham: "This is My covenant, which ye shall keep, between Me and you and thy seed after thee: every male among you shall
be circumcised. And ye shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of a covenant betwixt Me
and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every male throughout your generations..."
There is hardly a Jew worldwide who is not circumcised and hardly a circumcision carried
out without religious ritual. There are hardly any Jews who would dare to question (publicly) circumcision or to call it child
abuse. I am not in any way talking about the act of circumcision. Many people think that removing the foreskin is healthier
and more hygienic. That may be. But circumcision because of disease can be carried out at a later point in time, when the
child is already able to understand the necessity of such an operation. In few cases is a circumcision necessary for reasons
of health directly after birth. I refer here to the religious act, that is performed on all Jewish boys at the age of eight
days. It can be debated whether an infant of this age experiences sexual sensation, but the assumption that at eight days
a baby is not as sensitive to pain as is an older child, is simply wrong. A baby cannot speak out "that hurts!".
Circumcision is a violent intervention and a wounding of a child's genitals, which purely
physically is a form of sexual abuse, of sexual maltreatment. Yes, it is very difficult thing for many of us to accept, because
it could mean that all Jews who have their sons circumcised are sexual perpetrators. As mentioned above, it is neither my
intention to blame anyone nor to present all Jews as people who mistreat children. I merely want to break every form of taboo
about child abuse and to stimulate discussions so that we can better deal with the subject. We can do it through attentiveness,
by questioning and by learning.
Biblical citations from: The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, Edited by Dr. J.H. Hertz, C.H.,
Hadass Golandsky, born 1962 in Haifa, studied photography and pedagogic. 1987 she moved
to Vienna, where she works as a secretary at the Institute of Jewish Studies at the university of Vienna. Besides she is a
painter and a singer (under the name Haddi Golan). She teaches "Basic Judaism" at Or-Chadasch in Vienna and leads services.
Translated from German by Madelon Fleminger
Christian perspective 700 Club
Keys to Powerful Living: Overcoming Child Abuse
CBN.com - Breaking Through The Veil Of Shame
Silent, uncontrollable sobbing ... Bruises and beatings ... Shoving and slapping ... Children so traumatized
they're afraid of their own shadows. And the endless string of lies ... "He fell down." "It was an accident." But child abuse
is no accident. It violates God's fundamental purpose for man. And parents and children around the world find themselves ensnared
in its cruel clutches.
From Taboo to Truth
When people hear the term "child abuse" they may think it only occurs in under-educated, poverty-stricken
families. However, this epidemic occurs in all types of families.
In America alone, reported cases of child abuse exceed 1 million each year, and some experts say the actual
number of abuse victims may be far greater.
Types of child abuse include physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. Affected children
often suffer physical injuries, emotional scars, malnutrition, and sadly, even death. Child abuse also spiritually cripples
precious young lives. These children may struggle to accept God as their loving heavenly Father ( Matt. 18:5-6). Other family
members often suffer silently. Even the offender suffers, increasingly bound by the shame and secrecy of the addictive behavior.
But as many have already discovered, there is hope. The vicious cycle of abuse can be broken, especially as
we present our wounds to the Gentle Healer, Jesus Christ.
What Drives the Sin of Abuse?
So what causes child abuse? Often, parents who abuse their children have been victims of abuse themselves.
Driven by years of repressed hatred, these parents continue the cycle.
Sometimes even the most dedicated parents can momentarily lose control -- frustrated by a child's actions
or simply overwhelmed by their own sense of failure or frustration. But an isolated incident or two, left unchecked, can become
a destructive force, tearing apart a family.
God's View of Abuse
The Bible gives much practical advise on the subject of child-rearing. "Train up a child in the way he should
go, even when he is old he will not depart from it," says the writer of Proverbs ( 22:6). Parents are clearly cautioned to
take steps to correct foolishness which "is bound up in the heart of a child" ( Prov. 22:15).
Parental discipline is essential, but some parents view these Scriptures as giving absolute control over their
children. This is not true. God's Word should never be used as a license for abuse. Parents need to discipline their children,
but they must keep their own emotions and actions in check ( Eph. 6:4, Col. 3:21). In God's eyes there simply is no justification
If you are trapped in the unrelenting cycle and sin of child abuse, don't leave this webpage until you have
made a commitment before the Lord to break this destructive pattern. It won't be easy, but it could be a matter of life and
death. Understand that you are not alone. Jesus knows you better that you could ever know yourself (see Psalm 139), and He
is willing and able to help ( Heb. 4:15-16). But you need to ask for His grace to share honestly your struggle with a trusted
brother or sister in Christ, or with your pastor. Follow these steps to get help.
1. Acknowledge the problem. To receive healing, admit that you have a problem. Once you've broken the silence
and confessed your sin of abuse, God's grace and forgiveness can begin to restore you ( Psalm 32:3-7). 2. Acknowledge your
weakness. Allow God to minister in your weakness, for in it He can make you strong ( 2 Cor. 12:9, Heb. 1:32-34). 3. Take action.
Pray with other believers and share your struggles, seeking the help of pastors, or other appropriate counselors ( Prov. 15:22,
If You've Been Abused
If you have been the victim of abuse, you need to know that God has not abandoned you. He is "intimately acquainted"
with all your ways ( Psalm 139:3). He knows your pain, and He has a plan for complete healing and restoration for your life.
Consider these simple steps as you seek the Father's healing.
1. Face the abuse. The shame associated with abuse is unbearable. You can hide the pain for a season, but
eventually, the wounds will surface. But take comfort, for God knows the horror that you have unjustly endured (see Psalm
139, Matt. 10:29-31). Ask God for the strength to face your nightmare of abuse.
2. Forgive and release. As difficult as it may sound, you need to begin by forgiving the perpetrator for his
or her actions against you. It may seem impossible, but the consequences of unforgiveness can produce even further destruction
( 2 Samuel 13:23-29). Instead, ask God to give you the grace you need to forgive ( 1 Samuel 1:15-17, Psalm 42:3-4, Psalm 62:8).
3. Seek shelter. If you are still in an abusive situation, immediately seek shelter. Consider turning to family
members, your church family, or perhaps authorities if necessary. Ultimately, rest in God's shelter. Turn to His Word (the
Psalms offer much encouragement for the downcast).
4. Move on. Once you have taken steps to forgive, ask God to help you pick up the pieces, and seek again the
abundant life in Jesus that He has for you ( John 10:10). Press on and leave the past to God ( Phil. 3:13-14).
As You Pray
If your life has been devastated by child abuse, turn to Jesus right now, and, on bended knee, ask Him to
take control of your life: "Dear Lord. I have never been confronted with a deeper, more urgent need than right now. Please
minister to me and my family members in Your perfect love and compassion. Break the chains which bind us. And restore us to
the joy of Your salvation as we receive forgiveness and healing in Christ Jesus. Amen."
God's Word on Child Abuse
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first
commandment with a promise), that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth. And, fathers, do not provoke
your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." ( Eph. 6:1-4)
Scriptures for Study
Matthew 18:5-6, Mark 13-16 -- Jesus' attitude toward children
Ephesians 6:4, Colossians 3:21 -- Proper attitudes for parents
Psalm 32:3-7 -- Acknowledging the problem
James 5:13-20 -- The church and restoration
Hebrews 12:15 -- How to avoid bitterness
We're Here for You
Through our daily inspirational television program, The 700 Club, and other outreaches, CBN ministers
to millions every day. To learn more about the Christian life send us an e-mail. Or you can call our CBN Prayer Counseling Center at (800) 759-0700. We would love to talk with you and send
you some literature to help you in your walk with the Lord.
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible.
More CBN Teaching Sheets
More from Spiritual Life
Jehovah's Witnesses' Child Abuse Policies
The Watchtower Society, a not-for-profit organization headquartered in New York City is the main legal entity used by Jehovah's
Witnesses religious faith; It is often referred by them as The Society or The Organization. This organization usually holds
copyrights to literature published by Jehovah's Witnesses, which is considered by it members as current doctrine, policy
and 'the direct channel of communication with Jehovah God.'
In recent years, Jehovah's Witnesses have published information on
how to protect children from sexual molestation. This includes articles such as "Protect Your Children" in the October 8, 1993 edition of Awake! magazine, the article Help Your Children to Thrive in Awake! of August 8, 1997 and the series "Keep Your Children Safe" in the November
2007 edition of Awake! magazine and chapter 32 of a book for children entitled Learn from theGreat Teacher.
These articles focus on prevention by helping children understand what sexual abuse is, to say no to molesters and to tell
their parents about attempted abuse. Jehovah's Witnesses' policy does not apply solely to those holding appointed
positions, but to everyone associated with the organization.
Two Eyewitnesses Policy
Jehovah's Witnesses' congregational judicial policies require having the testimony of two eyewitnesses to
establish a perpetrator's guilt in the absence of confession. This requirement is based on a number of Biblical passages (Deut. 17:6; Deut. 19:15; Matt. 18:15; 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Tim.
5:19) that refer to matters being established at the mouth of two or three eyewitnesses. The Watchower public information
department specifies that this two-eyewitness policy concerns only how the congregation handles the sin and not whether the matter is reported to the authorities. The requirement of two eyewitnesses to
establish an accusation is claimed to be a protection against malicious accusations of abuse. Jehovah's Witness spokesmen state that if two persons are eyewitnesses to separate incidents of the same kind of
wrongdoing, their testimony may be deemed sufficient to take action and internal sanctions imposed. To establish proof by two eyewitnesses, it is not necessary that both have been present at the same instance
of child molestation. Starting in 2002, statements by two victims could be accepted.
In cases where there is only one eyewitness,
the victim, to an allegation of child abuse, elders are instructed to 'monitor' the accused very closely. If there
is some valid reason to suspect that the alleged perpetrator is still abusing children, a 'warning' may have to be
given (to the congregation for its protection). Testimony based on one person's repressed memories is not considered reliable enough to form the basis for an internal action. Repressed memories are
not viewed as true or false, simply as insufficient proof. Elders are encouraged to treat persons reporting this type of memory
with kindness and dismiss the case unless further proof is found.
It is important to
note that the two eyewitnesses policy is applied solely to congregational discipline and has no bearing on whether the crime
is reported to the police, which is most often the case. A serious problem with this policy is the fact that elders have no
professional training in child sex abuse investigation or forensic science. Evidence given by forensic experts/police is acceptable as a second "eyewitness".
Three year rule
Crucial to legal actions
taken against the Watchtower Society has been the “Three Year” rule. This allowed for known sex offenders to continue
serving as elders, provided any known offences were committed at least three years prior to confession. The 1972 book Organization
for Kingdom-Preaching and Disciple-Making stated:
“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.”
The term “some years ago” was clarified shortly afterwards in Our Kingdom Ministry October 1972,
p.8, as a time period of three years:
“What was meant by “some years
ago” on page 170, paragraph two, in the “Organization” book? 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.”
This position was re-confirmed at the 1991 two-day Kingdom Ministry Schools. It was not until the 2005 Kingdom Ministry Schools that it was clearly stated that hidden acts of “porneia”
(sexual sins) were to require an internal judicial committee.
Questioning the Victim
Elders have specific direction to follow if a child reports abuse such as not ask probing or intimate questions.
This is very important as it has legal implications. Elders are instructed that however surprising the allegations, the elder
should not indicate disbelief in any way. Nor should he express any criticism of the complainant. In fact, elders are 'spiritual shepherds' and are not qualified to investigate or evaluate an allegation of
child abuse. The Watchtower Society claims that abused victims are not required to face their abuser to make an accusation
and it was only in 1998 that elders were advised that if children are victims of molestation, the victims should not be required
to confront the accused.
Whether to seek help from a counselor or other mental-health professional
is considered to be a personal decision for the victim (or parents) to make but victims are advised to ensure that any counselor
consulted will respect the Jehovah's Witness doctrine. Likewise, elders are instructed that there are times when an emotionally distressed member may seek professional help.
Whether or not a victim pursues treatment from psychiatrists, psychologists or therapists is a personal decision as long as the therapy does not conflict with their religious doctrine.
Jehovah's Witnesses have a disciplinary system that applies to all congregation members who commit child
abuse, not merely to employees. In the UK, elders are now instructed to investigate promptly all allegations of child molestation, although they have
no professional training to do so. Policy states that child sex victims urgently need to be protected from further abuse,
and abusers need to be prevented from finding additional victims. This would involve having two elders investigate allegations of child abuse and, if these are deemed to have a sound
basis, forming an internal judicial committee. At this point, the accused is relieved of all positions of responsibility in
Anyone found to have sexually molested a child and failing
to demonstrate repentance is to be disfellowshipped (excommunicated) from the congregation. Numerous Jehovah's Witnesses who have committed child molestation have been subjected to disfellowshipping, a strong
sanction that is virtually unknown in most other faith-based groups. – See Cases of abuse below.
Those judged repentant by a committee of elders are given 'public reproof'. Their names are announced to
the congregation, although their crime is not announced. Some time later, a talk is given to the congregation, discussing the type of sin and the need to be on guard against
it, although this time nothing is said to connect the person to the type of sin committed.; This sidesteps the acknowledgment that child sex abuse sins are crimes. For a considerable period of time those reproved in this way are not permitted to
participate in meetings by commenting in group discussions or making presentations from the platform. They are immediately debarred from serving in any appointed position in the congregation, usually for life (see below
Restrictions to Child Molesters
Former child molesters, including those who molested children before becoming Jehovah's Witnesses, those eventually
reinstated into the congregation after being disfellowshipped and those who were deemed repentant are subject to a number
of symbolic restrictions, which normally remain in place permanently. The policy is rehashed in this 1997 Watchtower
article: "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." According to an internal document sent out in 2002, former sex offenders are not assigned to read paragraphs during
congregation studies, and are not assigned even minor responsibilities in the congregation, such as practical duties in the
Kingdom Hall (looking after microphones, supplying members with books or magazines) and not offering public prayer.
The person's home may not usually be used for congregation meetings. Those known to have engaged in child molestation in the past are not permitted to participate in the congregation's
house-to-house preaching, unless accompanied by a responsible adult. According to the Watchtower Society spokesman J. R. Brown,
sex offenders are restricted from working with minors and must also be with a well-respected church member when they go door
to door. Commenting on the effect of these symbolic restrictions, Jehovah's Witness legal representative, Mario Moreno is
quoted as saying that because of the church's structure, the fact that a sex offender, who would have fewer rights in
the congregation, would alert members that 'he obviously lacks spiritual maturity.' A fax sent by the Jehovah's Witnesses' Office of Public Information to the producers of the BBC's Panorama TV program stated that at least twenty years must have passed before an individual who committed an act
of child sex abuse could even be considered for appointment to a responsible position in the congregation, if ever.
If a former child abuser moves to another congregation, elders from the
previous congregation must send a letter to the new congregation's elders, outlining his background and providing needed
cautions, but only if that abuser currently is still under the symbolic 'restricted privileges'. Also, under no circumstances
are previous communications from the organization's Branch Office regarding the abuser to be forwarded and except for the elders, the new congregation members remain unaware to the abuser's criminal past.
Since in recent years
the Jehovah's Witnesses religion has been exposed for numerous child sex abuse scandals and their headquarter, the Watchtower
Society, was forced to develop detailed child abuse policies to be released to the public media and to their congregations;
As an example here is a press release from 2003: "The elders may be required by law to report even uncorroborated or
unsubstantiated allegations to the authorities. If so, we expect the elders to comply." The Watchtower magazine has outlined the following policy: "Depending on the law of the land where he
lives, the molester may well have to serve a prison term or face other sanctions from the State. The congregation will not
protect him from this." The policy followed is, as stated in a 2002 memo to their congregations: "Our position is that secular authorities
deal with crime while elders deal with sin." If there is no mandatory reporting requirement, the victim or anyone else must not be discouraged from reporting it.
In Great Britain, elders have now been instructed that "all in the Christian congregation will want to consider
their personal and moral responsibility to alert the appropriate authorities in cases where a serious criminal offense of
this type has been committed, or there exists a risk that one may be committed."
In Canada, the following advice is provided to elders: "There is a duty to report when one has reasonable
and probable grounds to believe that there is abuse or a substantial risk of abuse and parents have failed to protect the
child. The report shall be made forthwith to the local child welfare authorities. […] Elders must be aware, however,
that once they have knowledge, they have an obligation. They cannot just hope that someone else will report. They must follow
through quickly, and be sure that it is done."
In 2000, elders in Great Britain were instructed: "The elder approached
must encourage the complainant to consider his or her responsibility to report the matter to the authorities without delay
and should also explain that he himself might have a duty to report the matter to the proper authorities." The Elders' Manual states: "Though it is not the responsibility of the Christian congregation to
enforce Caesar's laws, the very nature of some crimes demands that they be reported to secular authorities." A 1995 memo to elders stated: "When a member of the congregation is accused of child molestation, the elders should
contact the Society's Legal Department immediately. Many states make it mandatory that elders report an accusation to
the proper authorities but other states do not. In those states where such is required, oftentimes the parent, the guardian,
or the accused person himself can do the reporting."
The New York Times, though, has commented: "The shape of
the scandal [in Jehovah's Witnesses] is far different than in the Catholic church, where most of the people accused of
abuse are priests and a vast majority of the victims were boys and young men. In the Jehovah's Witnesses, where congregations
are often collections of extended families and church elders are chosen from among the laypeople, some of those accused are
elders, but most are congregation members. The victims who have stepped forward are mostly girls and young women, and many
accusations involve incest."
Reporting to Civil Authorities
The effective direction given to congregation elders may be summed up as follows: child abuse is reported only if
required by law. Therefore, reporting sexual abuse is often difficult for members, who weigh their loyalty to their religion
against that of law enforcement. The Biblical injunction against taking fellow believers to court (1 Corinthians 6:1-6) has
consistently been explained in the Watchtower magazine publications as having to do with civil or business disputes, but there are numerous claims
and lawsuits stating that it has been applied to criminal cases, which prevented reporting child molestation to civil authorities.
The Biblical injunction against taking fellow believers to court (1 Corinthians 6:1-6) has consistently been been used during
civil or business disputes, but there are numerous claims and lawsuits stating that it has been applied to victims of child
In an attempt to draw the least attention possible from the media,
congregation elders are now required to first contact the organization's legal department in such cases to establish whether
there is a legal duty to report the sex crime to the civil authorities or not. In recent law suits where it was claimed the
Watchtower Society failed to report child sex abuses, the Watchtower Society's defense lawyers argued that it is a confidentiality
protected by ecclesiastical privilege. This “ecclesiastical privilege” means that the Jehovah's Witness
going from door-to-door to talk about the Bible may in fact be a known sex offender among his elders, but has never been prosecuted
by the law.
Even where there is no statutory requirement for elders to report a crime,
they are now instructed to not discourage the victim (or their relatives) from reporting it, but the elders are still not
required to report the crime themselves, as The Watchtower stated in 2005: "The victim has every right to report
the matter to the police. In this way the proper authorities can punish the offender. And if the victim is a minor, the parents
may want to initiate these actions."
By doctrine, the Jehovah's Witnesses handle all matters internally,
which in recent years prompted accusations and lawsuits of a systematic sex offender cover-up. Therefore recent policies sent
to elders in 2002 state: "Child abuse is a crime. 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.
That is, no elder will criticize anyone who reports such an allegation to the authorities". This has been the Watchtower Society's position since at least 1993, when a memo to elders stated: "It is
also a personal decision if the alleged victim chooses to report such accusations to the secular authorities."
Particularly since around 2000, the Jehovah's Witnesses organization
has been accused of covering up cases of child molestation committed by their members. In February 2001, Christianity Today – an evangelical journal that also disagrees with the theological perspective of Jehovah's
Witnesses - printed an article reporting allegations that Jehovah's Witness policies made reporting sexual abuse difficult
for members, and did not follow legal norms on the issue. The article also included a response by Jehovah's Witness representatives.
The BBC reported on the controversy around Jehovah's Witnesses child abuse in July 2002, in the Panorama
(TV series)|Panorama program "Suffer the Little Children" Jehovah's Witnesses headquarters published their response to many of the allegations made in the program, the substance
of which is found in the article Jehovah's Witnesses and Child Protection on their official website.
According to Witness spokesman
J. R. Brown, "Jehovah's Witnesses are not required to report crimes to elders before calling civil authorities. Victims
and their families are free to call police at will, he said, although some don't choose to." It is apparent that victims or their relatives must report the abuse, rather than the elders doing so. A circular sent
to elders in the USA stated: "In those states where such is required, oftentimes the parent, the guardian, or the accused
person himself can do the reporting. In this way the confidentiality protected by ecclesiastical privilege is not violated."
The Watchtower Society still refuses to change their policy and report
all child abuse cases to the authorities automatically. Elders are instructed that reports should be made to the
police only if required by law.
Current Watchower's policy requires that the elders first contact
their legal department for instructions on child abuse. Resistance to contact police stems from their position that an automatic
reporting policy to the police would entail reporting abuse that took place decades ago, even when the molester is repentant
or rehabilitated. The current policy also prevents an automatic reporting to police claiming to avoid overriding the objections
of the victim over confidentiality. When in court, the Watchtower Society's legal defense effectively has claimed that
such reporting to the authorities violates the confidentiality of confessions made to the elders and violates their freedom
Another common criticism is the policy on having the testimony
of two eyewitnesses to establish a perpetrator's guilt. This requirement is allegedly based on a number of Biblical passages
that refer to matters being established at the mouth of two or three eyewitnesses. The Watchower public information department
claims that the two-eyewitness policy concerns only how the congregation handles the sin and not whether the matter is reported
to the authorities. This policy is felt to be a protection against malicious accusation of sexual assault. A serious problem
with this policy is the fact that elders have no professional training in child sex abuse investigation or forensic science,
and even if found guilty, there is no guarantee the elders will report the crime to the authorities, only to the Watchtower
Jehovah's Witness Sex Offender Database
The Jehovah's Witness headquarters, the Watchtower Society , requires all local congregations to submit details
of child abuse allegations and maintains a database on all cases of child abuse reported to them. Watchtower Society representative
J. R. Brown stated in May 2002:
- "We do not apologize for keeping such
records here in the United States. Apart from being legally needed, they have been very helpful to us in our efforts to protect
the flock from harm. Christian parents can rightly feel secure in the knowledge that such efforts are made to screen out possible
child abusers from appointment to responsible positions within the congregation."
The Watchtower Society has repeatedly refused to submit this sex
offender database to authorities, claiming confidentiality based on ecclesiastical privilege. The American victim
rights organization known as Silent Lambs figures this secret sex offender database names 23,720 Jehovah's Witnesses.
- ^ Press Release
- ^ Letter to All Congregations in Britain, July 11, 2002
- ^ 'The Watchtower is the direct channel of communication with Jehovah God':
- ^ A letter about child abuse to Jehovah's Witness congregations stated: "Everyone in the organization is expected
to meet the same requirements, namely, to be clean physically, mentally, morally and spiritually." Letter to all congregations
in Britain, July 11, 2002
- ^ Position on child molestation
- ^ Letter to All Congregations in Britain, July 11, 2002
- ^ Jehovah's Witnesses Office of Public Information, Press Release "Jehovah's Witnesses and Child Protection,"
2003. Elders' 1991 textbook: "If there are two or three eyewitnesses to the same kind of wrongdoing but each one
is eyewitness to a separate incident, their testimony can be considered. Such evidence may be used to establish guilt".
Pay Attention to Yourselves, page 111
- ^ The Watchtower, November 1, 1995, page 28
- ^ The Watchtower, November 1, 1995, page 28
- ^ Letter to All Bodies of Elders in Britain, December 1, 2001
- ^ Victims may make their accusation by letter or telephone if they prefer.The Watchtower, November 1, 1995, page 28
- ^ Pay Attention to Yourselves, page 118-19
- ^ Awake!, October 8, 1991, page 9; The Watchtower, September 1, 1996
- ^ Letter to All Bodies of Elders, March 23, 1992
- ^ Child Protection Policy in the UK
- ^ Letter to all Bodies of Elders in Britain, December 1, 2000
- ^ Organized to do Jehovah's Will, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2005, page 153
- ^ Organized to do Jehovah's Will, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2005, page 152-3
- ^ The Watchtower, December 1, 1976, page 735
- ^ The Watchtower, September 1, 1981, page 27
- ^ The Watchtower, January 1, 1997, page 29
- ^ Jehovah's Witnesses Child Abuse Policy -- Dispelling the Myths
- ^ Louisville Courier-Journal, 1-4-01.
- ^ Paducah Sun, January 28, 2001
- ^ Fax sent to Betsan Powys, BBC Panorama, May 9, 2002
- ^ Our Kingdom Ministry, October 1999, page 7
- ^ "Letters of Introduction", to All Bodies of Elders, July 1, 2006
- ^ Jehovah's Witnesses Office of Public Information, press release "Jehovah's Witnesses and Child Protection,"
- ^ The Watchtower, January 1, 1997, page 29
- ^ Letter to All Congregations in Britain, July 11, 2002
- ^ To All Bodies of Elders in Britain, December 1, 2000
- ^ To All Bodies of Elders in Canada, July 29, 1988
- ^ Letter to All Bodies of Elders, December 1, 2000
- ^ Pay Attention to Yourselves, page 138
- ^ To all Bodies of Elders in the United States, August 1, 1995
- ^ Laurie Goodstein, Ousted Members Say Jehovah's Witnesses' Policy on Abuse Hides Offenses, The New York Times, August 11, 2002.
- ^ Non-disclosure, an ecclesiastical privilege: 
- ^ The Watchtower, August 1, 2005, page 14
- ^ Letter To All Bodies of Elders in the United States, February 15, 2002
- ^ Letter To All Bodies of Elders in the United States, February 3, 1993
- ^ Powys, Betsan (July 14, 2002). Suffer the Little Children.
- ^ Tubbs, Sharon (Aug. 22, 2002), "Spiritual shunning", St. Petersburg Times.
- ^ To all Bodies of Elders in the United States, August 1, 1995
- ^ On one occasion, Witness elders encouraged a perpetrator to hand himself in to the police:"A clergyman from the Jehovah's Witness church urged him to go to the police."; "Advised sensibly" by the elders to go to the police.
- ^ Fax from J. R. Brown, Office of Public Information, to Betsan Powys, dated May 9, 2002.
- ^ Silent Lambs.Database names 23,720 men: Panorama documentary: "Suffer the Little Children".
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