Jehovahs Witness Sex Abuse Lawsuit
For many years now, the Roman Catholic Church has been in the media spotlight for a long history of alleged occurrences of 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 a cult - has systematically engaged in a cover-up of thousands of child sexual abuse cases by its church elders while pressuring its members to keep quiet.
The personal injury lawyers at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC represent childhood assault survivors who were harmed by clergy, religious leaders, and laypeople in all religious organizations.
Were you, or a family member, a victim of child molestation and assault? 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 assault allegations and their religious institutions financially and legally accountable. Let us pursue legal action through a child sex abuse lawsuit on your behalf.
Sex 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 church elders.
New York recently passed the Child Victims Act, which removes the statute of limitations on personal injury 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.
Abused Since Childhood
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 assaults to the church leadership rather than the police (at least at first). The church leadership dealt with the situation internally rather than reporting it to the authorities.
In Steele's personal injury case, the parents ultimately told the police of reports of child assault. The church elder was convicted of the claims of physical 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 of church elders 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 assault) 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 assault 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 sex assault continued for so long among the Jehovah's Witnesses church elders 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, 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 taking place.
Making matters worse, the church's culture of secrecy extends even to congregants, many of whom are reportedly never informed when a church elder is facing allegations of assault 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
Sex assault is a crime, and abusers can spend many years in prison if 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 assault 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 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 abuse claims she had endured years before to the proper authorities.
All that said, the church 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.
Victims cannot be vindicated or compensated if they do not come forward, whether filing criminal or civil charges.
Time Requirements to File Sex Assault Cases Against the Jehovah's Witness
There is a statute of limitations (time requirement for bringing assault claims) in civil court to recover compensation for their abuse. Many victims of 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 that they should have come forward too late.
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. 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 are a victim of sexual abuse by the Jehovah's Witness Church, the time to come 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.
Church Members Response to the Jehovah's Witness Organization
According to victims of child sexual abuse in the Jehovah's Witness organization, the organizational structure and how it works to address allegations of abuse lead to cover-ups and victims being blamed for their incident. There must be at least two witnesses, the victim and someone else, for leaders to consider the sexual abuse.
In addition, parents of victims of sexual assault are often not allowed to bring charges against the alleged abuser. However, if another child in the congregation is victimized, church elders may expel the accused from the church and demand that they avoid contact with their victim.
However, there have been multiple cases of these abusers repeatedly returning or continuing their abusive behavior.
The mere knowledge of the existence of child sexual abusers in the Jehovah's Witness organization is enough to destroy lives. However, this issue becomes an even greater concern when discussing why church members do not come forward with reports.
Refusing to Hold Abusers Accountable
Many victims claim that they were threatened or shamed into silence by their Jehovah's Witness leaders, who refused to hold their abusers accountable.
The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society has made it clear that its members must make a clear distinction between "apologizing" and "confessing," even in cases of sex assault. They refuse to apologize for mistakes or wrongdoing because they claim that none of them have ever done anything wrong.
They believe that the only reason a Jehovah's Witness would be at fault is if he or she was not being obedient to God and his word as outlined in the Bible.
As you can see, many factors keep Jehovah's Witness victims of sexual abuse from coming forward about the assault.
The Jehovah's Witness organization has been accused of withholding vital information from members about child sexual abuse. Many experts believe this is a systematic practice to keep victims quiet throughout the church.
In addition, there have been allegations that local leaders have been the church members who believe it is their responsibility to follow instructions from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. However, this often leaves them unable or unwilling to make decisions independently.
Jehovah's Witness and Child Sexual Abuse
According to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Jehovah's Witnesses have been reproved or warned about dealing with accusations of child sexual abuse. For decades, this Christian sect has refused to report cases of physical assault to civil authorities, even in cases where the abuser confessed.
Reports indicate that Jehovah's Witnesses have a reputation for practicing a form of "shunning" for those who choose to leave the denomination. Jehovah's Witness leaders themselves have confirmed this.
In addition, many former members have claimed that it was not uncommon for older disciples to marry and start families with Jehovah's witnesses who were young children.
They claim that, in these cases, the older family member would often serve as a ministerial servant or an elder—positions of power and trust within the congregation. It, of course, gave him the opportunity to take advantage of his authority for years or decades before finally being held accountable.
Disfellowshipped or Excommunicated
Jehovahs Witness leaders use ex-communication as a way to punish those who break the rules and refuse to repent. Ironically, these members refer to this process as "disfellowshipping."
Christians claim that the Bible teaches them to forgive others as they have been forgiven by God. However, Jehovah's Witnesses believe that forgiving those ex-communicated Jehovah's Witnesses believe that if one person in the church sins then the whole congregation is at fault.
For this reason, members who are caught sinning must be punished before they can return to full fellowship.
According to Jehovah's Witnesses, disfellowshipping occurs when a JW willingly and knowingly breaks God's rules, believing that only the elders of the church have the authority to declare someone "disfellowshipped." However, each disfellowshipping is subject to review at a congregation judicial committee meeting.
The process can take up to several months during which time the accused member is not allowed contact with members of the congregation.
They cannot participate in church activities, including the Lord's Supper, and taking a public prayer for a member of their family is not allowed. They are also barred from attending weddings or funerals of close relatives who remain on the membership rolls.
In some cases, disfellowshipped members report that they are not shunned because they no longer worship the same God. However, it is well established that Jehovah's Witnesses believe shunning by all members will prompt an unrepentant sinner to return to the faith.
How a Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help
Are you a victim of sexual molestation involving a member of a religious organization and ready to hold those responsible for their unacceptable behavior accountable? If so, a personal injury lawyer specializing in sexual molestation cases can help.
Our attorneys provide a safe, confidential environment to discuss what happened recently or long ago. We use the law to ensure that the sexual predator and their religious leaders that covered up what happened are held financially accountable.
Our JW child molestation lawyers work with abused victims to confront all those responsible through legal means. Taking action can stop the unacceptable behavior so others are not also hurt.
There are many benefits to using a lawyer in a sexual abuse case, including:
- First, a lawyer can help you file a compensation claim. Filing a claim can help you recover damages for the abuse that you suffered.
- Second, a lawyer can help you negotiate with the insurance company. Insurance companies are often willing to offer a settlement if they know that the victim is represented by a lawyer.
- Third, a lawyer can help you take your case to court. If the insurance company does not offer a fair settlement, your lawyer can represent you in court and fight for the damages that you deserve.
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 a free consultation with an experienced sexual abuse attorney who has helped other survivors get their life back.
What Is the Definition of Sex Assault?
According to the American Psychological Association, sex 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 physical assault know their abuser.
Many victims immediately react to physical 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.
Psychologists defined child sex 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 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.
If they do not consent, the victim could be fearful that they will be physically injured, killed, or harmed now or in the future should they not consent.
What Should You Do If You Observe Sexual Abuse?
If you witness an assault 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 abuse have been uncovered when the episodes have been reported to authorities. Not only do these processes 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 assault can pursue a claim for compensation in civil court. Victims have been awarded millions of dollars in compensation from the perpetrator's organization in some cases.
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
- 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 organization member from investigating allegations of physical 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 personal assault attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC are experienced with prosecuting claims and lawsuits involving Jehovah's Witness.
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 law firm for a free review of your legal rights and ability to pursue legal action against them on a contingency fee basis.
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 sex assault attorneys about your sexual abusers remain confidential through an attorney-client relationship with our law firm.