Australia’s Royal Commission Investigates Sex Abuse in Jehovah’s Witnesses

Watchtower SealWhen the Australian government formed a task force to investigate child sex abuse among religious organizations, the commission’s main focus was the Catholic Church. But the Australian government gave the commission broad powers to investigate any organization suspected of child sex abuse.

When the commission investigated the Jehovah’s Witnesses, it found a pattern of sexual abuse and institutional cover-up that stunned even the most veteran investigators. Anne Cossins, an associate law professor and a consultant to the commission, noted, “I find their approach to the issue and victims extraordinarily bizarre — almost medieval.”

The Jehovah’s Witnesses insular structure and emphasis on secrecy served to exacerbate the sexual abuse issue. Angus Stewart, a South African lawyer who leads the investigation into the church. “It is a system in which a group of men who are appointed from above, not by the congregation, stand in judgment over their fellow men, women and children on every aspect of their lives,” he told the inquiry last week. “There is no meaningful distinction between family and church.”

The commission has found an astounding number of abuse cases in the church. Like the Catholic Church with its secret archives and the Boy Scouts with their Perversion Files, the evidence is present Jehovah’s Witnesses documents. From 1950 until 2014, the “Watchtower Society” (a name sometimes used to refer to the Jehovah’s Witnesses church leadership) maintained 5,000 confidential files detailing the sexual abuse of 1,006 of its members.

Thus far, the church has maintained a defensive posture toward the survivors of sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, the exposition of their secrets will protect children in the future and confirms the claims of those who’ve suffered horribly in the past.

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