The Jehovah’s Witness organisation keeps a sex offenders register that nobody outside the church is allowed to see, a former “elder” tells Panorama.
Bill Bowen, who has spent his lifetime as a Jehovah’s Witness and nearly twenty years as an elder, says the organisation covers up abuse by keeping this database secret.
His sources indicate there are 23,720 abusers on the list [from USA, Canada, and Europe] – who are protected by the system.
“They [the Jehovah’s Witnesses] do not want people to know that they have this problem”, he tells Panorama.
“And by covering it up they just hurt one person. By letting it out, then they hurt the image of the church.”
A Jehovah’s witness has been jailed for a sex attack on a 15-year-old, despite church leaders’ refusal to cooperate with a police investigation.
Paul Atkin has been sent to prison for five years after admitting sexual activity with the underage girl.
A court heard the South Shields branch of the church carried out its own investigation after the allegation came to light and Atkin was booted out.
But when police came knocking, church officials refused to help what was then a rape allegation, on the grounds of confidentiality.
Prosecutor Deborah Smith told Newcastle Crown Court: “It would appear there was some form of investigation by the church.
“We know the defendant was disfellowshipped as a consequence of that investigation but there has been no disclosure of any minutes of meetings with the defendant and the elders have refused to provide statements to the police, despite the fact the defendant is no longer a member of their congregation, on the grounds of confidentiality.”
It is really hard for kids to speak up when they’re abused. But the Jehovah’s Witnesses make it a lot harder.
They have a “2 Witness” rule, which says that anyone who accuses an adult of abuse must have a second witness. If there is no second witness, the accuser is punished for a false accusation – usually by ordering that no Witness may talk with or associate with the “false” accuser. This is called dis-fellowshipping. For a kid raised only with other Witnesses, it was horrifying. Even your parents would have to ignore you. It was more terrifying than Jonathan.
It was the elders of my congregation who had assigned Jonathan to team up with me. When we separated from the others, he forced me into his pick-up truck and drove us to his house. Then he would say “Let’s play”. It happened too many times. Like everyone else in the congregation, my parents liked “Brother” Jonathan and trusted him in our family.