After more than two years of legal wrangling, obfuscation, and a stubborn refusal to cooperate with an investigation launched by the United Kingdom’s Charity Commission, the Jehovah Witnesses has dropped its attempts to fight the inquiry.
The Charity Commission launched an inquiry into safe practices at the organization’s main UK outlet in May 2014, after receiving allegations that survivors of rape and sexual abuse, including people abused as children, were forced to face their attackers in “judicial committees.”
However, the religious organization’s decision does not extend to its Watch Tower Bible Tract Society of Great Britain (WTBTS), which oversees the United Kingdom’s 1,500 Jehovah Witness congregations and is believed to play a key role in deciding how claims of abuse are handled. Abuse claims investigated by the church are shrouded in secrecy.
According to The Guardian:
The commission is conducting a separate investigation into the Manchester New Moston congregation, where three adult survivors of child sex abuse were allegedly brought face-to-face with their abuser shortly after he was released from prison after being jailed for attacking them. He was later “disfellowshipped,” or expelled, from the church. But two women in separate cases told the Guardian last year that although the church can disfellowship people from the tight-knit congregations for minor offences, such as gambling, their abusers had been allowed to remain in the church. One, who was raped as an adult, said she had been urged by senior congregation members, known as elders, to face her rapist at a private hearing, leaving her “completely traumatized” and leading to the breakup of her marriage.
Fay Maxted, the chief executive of the Survivors Trust, said the WTBTS should apologize to those affected for the “appalling delays” caused by its litigation.
“Faith groups need to really take on board the huge damage and pain caused to victims and survivors when appeal after appeal is pursued in an attempt to prevent them from having to share information,” she said. “It is very difficult in such circumstances to believe that the best interests of the victim or survivor are in any way being considered.”
When church groups or organizations of public trust ignore their duties to the public by withholding or destroying information about childhood sexual abuse, they deserve neither our trust nor our support. When they shirk these responsibilities, the courts must hold them accountable.