Jehovah’s Witness Sexual Abuse Lawyer
For many years, the Roman Catholic Church has been in the media spotlight with a long history of alleged occurrences of sexual abuse among priests and clergymen. But thanks to some recently filed landmark lawsuits, a much smaller, more tight-lipped religious organization might soon be finding its place in the national hot seat.
Rumors have been rampant for years that the Jehovah’s Witnesses—a sect that many consider being a cult—has systematically engaged in a cover-up of thousands of child sexual abuse cases by its elders while pressuring congregational members to stay quiet.
A Sexual Abuse Injury Attorney Can Help
The personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC represent child sexual abuse survivors harmed by clergy, religious leaders, and laypeople in all religious organizations. Were you, or a family member, a victim of child sex abuse and molestation? If so, contact us today at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone number) to discuss your case evaluation in a confidential setting.
We hold those facing sexual abuse allegations and their religious institutions financially and legally accountable. Let us pursue justice through a child sexual abuse lawsuit on your behalf.
Sexual Assault Allegations Against the Jehovah’s Witnesses
That culture of silence might soon be broken open starting with two separate lawsuits filed by Heather Steele, 48, and John Michael Ewing, 47, two former members of the sect who claim they were repeatedly molested as children by their elders.
New York recently passed the Child Victims Act, which removes the statute of limitations on abuse lawsuits. Steele and Ewing filed both lawsuits in Brooklyn the day the new law took effect.
The stories told by the two plaintiffs are different in scope, but as the New York Post reports, they reveal some common threads. Steele says a Church child abuser began fondling her as early as age 2 or 3 while riding in the back seat of her family’s car, and he would even abuse her while holding her on his lap during church meetings.
Ewing claims his abuse began when he was a teenager and continued four to six times per week for the next four years. But in both cases, when the children eventually told their parents, two disturbing things happened:
- The parents reported the abuse to the church leadership rather than the police (at least at first); and
- The church leadership dealt with the situation internally rather than reporting it to the authorities.
In Steele’s abuse case, the parents ultimately told the police of reports of child abuse. The elder was convicted of the claims of sexual assault and served a prison sentence before returning to ministry in another congregation.
In Ewing’s case, he reported the incident to the Church when he was twenty-one years old and suffered the same punishment as his offending elder: Disfellowship from the Jehovah witness religious organization for homosexual activity.
A Database of Abuse Involving Jehovah’s Witnesses
There is evidence that the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the nonprofit organization overseeing the Church, has been aware of the ongoing pattern of abuse within its ranks for more than two decades. As The Atlantic reports, in 1997, the Watchtower Society sent a letter to all U.S. Congregations with detailed instructions on reporting sexual predators.
The instructions were to write a full report answering twelve questions (including whether anyone else knew about the abuse) and mail the Watchtower Society’s answers while keeping the files confidential.
The Society has allegedly quietly built this information into a secret database that might now contain tens of thousands of abuse reports, the vast majority of which were never reported to the police—and which has remained mostly under wraps even in defiance of multiple court orders.
Shrouded in Secrecy
How has this much-alleged child sexual assault continued for so long among the Jehovah’s Witnesses with so little accountability? Much of it has to do with its membership’s beliefs—a common characteristic of cults—that people outside the Church are unredeemed and therefore to be distrusted.
As law enforcement and the judicial system are considered “secular,” the Church prefers to internally deal with offenses.
But aside from going contrary to the law, if a known predator can be allowed to continue ministry even after serving jail time—and that predator is only one of the thousands known to exist in the Church—one must question how much internal accountability is taking place.
The Church’s secrecy culture extends even to congregants, many of whom are reportedly never informed when an elder faces child abuse allegations. As a result, parents are frequently utterly unaware that they are entrusting their children to the care of alleged predators.
Legal Options for Victims of Abuse
Sexual assault is a crime, and abusers can spend many years in prison if they are convicted. Victims and their families might also have the legal right to file civil lawsuits for financial damages, both against the perpetrator and against any organization (including religious organizations) that practiced negligence in allowing the abuse to happen.
Despite the secrecy pattern within the millenarian restorationist Christian denomination, congregants who choose to buck the pressure to keep silent and report the abuse have often seen justice served, at least partially.
As one recent example, a jury in Montana last year ordered the Jehovah’s Witnesses to pay $35 million to a victim for ordering the local clergy not to report her child sexual abuse claims she had endured years before to the proper authorities.
All that said, Jehovah’s witness sex abuse victims still face a couple of challenges when seeking justice or getting compensation. The first challenge might be the conflict within their faith that tells them to distrust the authorities or keep the Church’s discipline requirements.
Whether filing criminal or civil charges, victims cannot be vindicated or compensated if they do not come forward.
The second challenge involves the statute of limitations that still exists within many states. Many victims of sexual assault were children at the time and had no recourse if their parents would not report the abuse.
If the children do not report it as adults within the time frame permitted by law, they cannot bring charges or claims against their perpetrators. As a result, many victims have suffered in silence for decades, only realizing too late that they should have come forward.
The good news is that widespread change might now be on the horizon concerning the second challenge. Several states have already followed New York’s example in extending or eliminating the statute.
On January 1, 2020, California will enact a similar law that raises the law’s restriction age from 26 to 40, and the L.A. Times reports that the justice system is bracing for a deluge of lawsuits.
As adult victims are given more power to hold their abusers accountable—as well as the organizations that enabled the abuse—we might soon see the shroud of secrecy begin to unravel.
Jehovah Witness Sexual Abuse FAQs
What Is the Definition of Sexual Assault?
According to the American Psychological Association, sexual assault is defined as an unwanted sexual activity where the abuser makes threats, uses force or takes advantage of innocent victims without consent. Nearly all victims of sexual abuse know their abuser.
Many victims react immediately to sexual assault through disbelief, fear, or shock. Over time, their symptoms can include PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), fear, anxiety, and depression.
What Is Inappropriate Touching?
Any act involving inappropriate touching includes another person touching an innocent victim’s private parts that makes them uncomfortable, sad, or confused. Inappropriate touching could occur on unclothed and clothed areas of the body, including the abuser putting their hands inside the victim’s pants under their shirt/blouse.
Many sexual predators tell their victims to keep their “secret” and not tell anyone, fearing that the victim will get in trouble. Child victims of sexual impropriety deserve the respective privacy like all others and need to say what happened in a safe environment.
What Is Fondling a Child?
Underage adolescents and children do not have the mental and psychological development to consent to any inappropriate touching behavior that might make them uncomfortable, sad, or depressed.
Psychologist define child sexual assault fondling to include:
- Fondling the minor’s breasts, genitals, or anus for any unnecessary reason, including sexual pleasure
- Making the adolescent or child touch another’s genitals, breast, or anus
- Playing sexual games with children
- Other inappropriate behaviors that do not include touching or fondling a child include:
- Exposing your genitals or breasts
- Sharing pornography
- Making sexual remarks
- Peeping into bathrooms and bedrooms
- Making or watching a child undress, post, or perform sexual behaviors, including taking photographs
What Is Forcible Fondling?
Forcible fondling is the inappropriate behavior of touching a child, adolescent, or adult’s genitals, breast, or anus for sexual gratification against their will or consent. Inappropriate fondling might also occur with victims incapable of providing consent due to their young age or permanent/temporary mental incapacity.
Forcible fondling another without consent or by force/threat is a criminal offense, much like a forcible compulsion of another to participate in sexual activities against their will. The victim might fear that they will be physically injured, killed, or harmed now or in the future, if they do not consent.
What Are Indecent Liberties with Forcible Compulsion?
Some states use the legal definition of indecent liberties with forcible compulsion as a felony punishable by time in prison.
The law identifies a person’s indecent liberty of compulsively forcing another by physical force overcoming a threat or resistance that places the victim in fear of physical harm or death to themselves or others if they do not comply.
What Are the 4 Types of Abuse?
According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the four types of abuse of an innocent victim involve:
- Physical abuse, including battery and non-consensual touching
- Sexual assault, including children, adolescents, and adults involving rape, sodomy, molestation, fondling, child pornography, etc.)
- Sexual harassment
- Neglect, including physical, mental, emotional, psychological, psychosocial negligence and financial exploitation
However, Jehovah’s Witness leaders handle sexual abuse claims involving children using their “two-witness rule.” The rule restricts any organization member to investigate allegations of sexual assault unless the victim produces a ‘second witness’ to the crime.
Get the Experienced Legal Representation You Deserve
The sexual abuse attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC is experienced with prosecuting claims and lawsuits involving sexual assault.
Are you or a loved one the victim of sexual assault perpetrated by a Jehovah’s Witness church member? If so, contact our law firm today at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone call) or through the contact form to schedule a free consultation.
All discussions with our sexual abuse attorneys about your sexual abusers remain confidential through an attorney-client relationship.