Religion and state have existed in a tenuous form for as long as each has existed. In the United States, the law states that the essential rules come from those decreed by government officials, but in some religions, they have their own set of creeds and codes. One such group is the Jehovah’s Witnesses. When it comes to reporting crimes, such as those of an abusive or sexual nature, becomes incredibly hard for Jehovah’s Witnesses — as the members of the religion try their best not to interact with the secular world and, survivors of sexual abuse who are Jehovah’s Witnesses are often left feeling as though they have nowhere to turn. Here’s why.
Roadblocks to Justice
Within the Jehovah’s Witness laws, a number impede or even prevent a survivor within the community from obtaining justice. One of the most significant obstacles is the concept of the ‘two witness rule.’ Their congregational policies require a minimum of two witnesses to establish a ‘serious sin’ if the perpetrator does not confess. In many cases, such witnesses simply do not exist. Due to this, many congregation elders do not think of the abuser as a guilty party and will not hear the testimony of survivors of sexual abuse. Also, elders expect those who report the abuse to explain every detail. As they are not mental health professionals, they may end up retraumatizing any survivors subjected to this ordeal. Even after all this, survivors may find that the ‘justice’ they receive is insufficient.
The Punishments are Not Severe
Many who emerge from this process think they will see justice meted out. Real punishments are, sadly, not often the case. The elders will decree that a person is ‘reproved’ and has certain privileges taken away. They are not locked up, not fined, and simply not allowed to perform certain public functions. There is no restriction for abusers regarding missionary work, meaning those who have willfully preyed on children can still go house to house. Even then, after this ‘punishment’ is delivered, they may still return to the community in full standing as long as the elders decide that the abuser has returned to ‘spiritual maturity.
Victims are Revictimized
Victim-blaming is far too common for those members who come forward about their experience with sexual abuse. In some cases, this can lead to more substantial consequences than for the abusers themselves. In one case, a woman’s hearing was presided over by her abuser. The council then exiled her, her abuser directly removing her from the community she was trying to help by sharing her trauma.
Reaching Out For Help
For many Witnesses, the concept of getting help is a daunting one. They are taught not to respect the outside world’s laws and instead look to their elders for guidance. What happens, then, when the elders fail them? What happens when the abuser suffers no meaningful consequences, or worse if the survivor becomes blamed for their trauma?
We’re Here For You
If you or a loved one is a Jehovah’s Witness survivor of sexual abuse, we can help. We understand that sexual abuse can be a profoundly isolating experience, especially for Witnesses. At The Zalkin Law Firm, P.C., we have years of experience with sensitive cases. We will work to get you the justice you deserve and keep your confidentiality.
Contact our national sexual abuse attorneys today at (800) 477-2989 to schedule a consultation today.