Jehovah’s Witness Sexual Abuse Lawyer
For many years now, the Roman Catholic Church has been in the media spotlight for a long history of alleged occurrences of sexual abuse among the priesthood.
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 within the Jehovah’s Witnesses Organization—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 its members to keep quiet.
The sexual abuse lawyers at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC represent child sexual abuse survivors who were harmed by clergy, religious leaders, and lay people 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 Within the Jehovah’s Witnesses
That culture of silence within the Jehovah's Witness may soon be broken open starting with two separate sexual abuse 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 sexually 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 Allegations 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 Bible and Tract Society sent a letter to all of its U.S. Congregations with detailed instructions on how to report sexual predators.
The instructions were to write a full report answering twelve questions (including whether anyone else knew about the abuse) and mail the answers to the Watchtower Society while keeping the files confidential.
The Society has allegedly quietly built this information into a secret database that may now contain tens of thousands of reports of abuse within the Jehovah's Witnesses organization, 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.
Jehovah's Witness Sexual Abuse 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 the beliefs of its membership—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 deal with offenses internally.
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 actually taking place.
Making matters worse, the church’s culture of secrecy extends even to congregants, many of whom are reportedly never informed when an elder is facing allegations of sexual abuse of a child.
As a result, parents are frequently completely unaware that they are entrusting their children to the care of alleged predators.
Legal Options for Victims of Jehovah's Witness Sexual Abuse Abuse
Sexual assault is a crime, and abusers can spend many years in prison if they are convicted. Victims and their families may 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 pattern of secrecy 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 may be the conflict within their faith that tells them to distrust the authorities or to keep the discipline within the Jehovah's church itself.
Whether filing criminal or civil charges, victims cannot be vindicated or compensated if they do not come forward.
Time Requirements to File Sexual Abuse Cases Against Jehovah's Witnesses
There is a statute of limitations (time requirement for bringing sexual abuse claims) in civil court to recover compensation for their abuse . Many victims of sexual abuse 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 may 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 may soon see the shroud of secrecy begin to unravel.
If you a victim of Jehovah's Witness sexual abuse, the time to com forward is now. Our sexual abuse lawyers appreciate your situation and take every measure available to protect your privacy while aggressively pursuing a claim. Talk to a lawyer today for a free consultation.
Jehovah Witness Sexual Abuse FAQs
Below are some frequently asked questions raised by victims of sexual abuse within the Jehovah's Witness organization. We appreciate that these questions may give rise to additional questions and concerns.
Consequently, we invite you to contact our law firm for free consultation with an experienced sexual abuse attorney who has helped other survivors get their life back.
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 immediately react 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?
An act involving inappropriate touching includes another person touching an innocent victim’s private parts that make them uncomfortable, sad, or confused.
Inappropriate touching can occur on unclothed and clothed areas of the body, including the abuser putting their hands in the victim’s pants under their shirt/blouse.
Many sexual predators tell their victims to keep their “secret” and not tell anyone, for fear that the victim will get in trouble. Child victims of sexual impropriety deserve the respective privacy like all others.
What are Some Examples of Child Sex Abuse?
Underage adolescents and children do not have the mental and psychological development to give consent to any inappropriate touching behavior that might make them uncomfortable, sad, or depressed.
Psychologist defined 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 without consent.
Inappropriate fondling might also occur with victims and capable of providing consent due to their useful 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 could be fearful, that they will be physically injured, killed, or harmed now or in the future if they do not consent.
What Should You Do If You Observe Sexual Abuse?
If you witness sexual abuse or suspect that it is going on within the Jehovah's Witnesses or another organization, the best thing to do is to report it directly to law enforcement so the incident can be investigated and perpetrators can be held legally accountable.
Many cases of sexual abuse have been uncovered when the episodes have been reported to authorities. Not only does these process hold the perpetrators accountable, but it also prevents these sexual predators from perpetuating the abuse on others.
What Type of Compensation is Available to The Victim of Jehovah's Witness Abuse?
A victim of sexual abuse can pursue a claim for compensation in civil court. In some cases, victims have been awarded millions of dollars in compensation from the organization that the perpetrator was affiliated with.
Most states allow the victim of abuse to recover compensation for:
- Counseling and therapy expenses
- Medical care
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of enjoyment of life
If you have questions about a potential claim, contact our legal team today for a free consultation with an experienced lawyer.
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.)
- Neglect, including physical, mental, emotional, psychological, psychosocial negligence and financial exploitation
However, Jehovah's Witness leaders handle claims of sexual abuse involving children using their "two-witness rule." The rule restricts any member of the organization to investigate allegations of sexual assault unless the victim produces at least a second witness to the crime.
Get the Experienced Legal Representation You Deserve for Your Jehovah's Witness Claim
The sexual abuse attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC is experienced with prosecuting claims and lawsuits involving Jehovah's.
If you or a loved one was the victim of sexual assault perpetrated by a Jehovah's Witness church member, we invite you to contact our office for a free review of your legal rights and ability to pursue a civil lawsuit against them.
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.