Victimizing the Victim? How One Religion Handles the Matter of Rape and Child Sexual Abuse
I’ve written a couple of articles so far regarding the Jehovah’s Witness religion in which I was raised. As many of you know I was raised a third generation member of this religious group and left almost 20 years ago. (See the hub Life as an Outcast) As with most organized religion, much of what goes on behind the scenes is kept private from not only non-members of the religion but the members themselves.
Recently a publication was leaked online that was printed by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WBTS) but is only made available to certain members of this group; specifically the leaders of the church (elders, overseers, etc.) it is not made available to those who are simply members, their rank and file. Within this article I have posted some information from that book along with information from other publications of theirs that I believe will be of interest to many people and, in my opinion, should be made public.
When I was a member, I remembered hearing of this publication and being very fascinated by it as the elders of the various congregations within the Jehovah’s Witness organization are advised never to let anyone who is not in the position of elder and above to see this book called Shepherd the Flock of God. It is referred to as the Elders Manual; an instructional manual for those men chosen to be in leadership of their assigned congregation and teaches how they should handle cases of misconduct in the congregation, among other things. I cannot tell you exactly why this handbook is treated as a secret. When I called the headquarters of the WBTS, not only would the gentleman I was put through to not give me his name (although he asked for mine) he also refused to discuss anything about this publication.
At this point all I can do is draw my own conclusions as to why this book is kept from their own members. In any case, that is not the reason why I am writing this piece. As mentioned, I was recently made aware that this publication was leaked online so, of course, I decided to download it and see what the big deal was. Why I am writing this has to do with an issue that the WBTS has been confronted with over the last several years; the issue of child sexual abuse and rape.
Please, keep in mind; I am not writing this out of anger or spite. This is something I feel compelled to write about and a matter of which I feel I need to make others aware.
A Little More About My Story
The following story I am going to share with you is not meant for sympathy or for therapeutic reasons as I have dealt with it already, I simply feel it is something that needs to be shared along with what I found in the WBTS publications. One thing I have kept quiet about for years (because I was told to by family members) was that I was a victim of date rape in my teen years. When I opened up about this to a friend who was a fellow Witness I was advised to talk to the elders about this. To make a long story short, I was questioned extensively by the elders as to the "who, what, when, where and why" (yes, they wanted graphic details as to what took place). Since I had made the mistake of going on a date with a boy who was not a Witness and this incident happened, I was “publicly reproved” in front of the congregation I attended with my family. When a person is “publicly reproved,” an elder announces to the whole congregation that this particular person they are naming has been reproved or punished for the sin they committed.
At the time, I truly believed I did something wrong as I went on a date and rode in a car with a boy from my school that did not share my beliefs. I also believed I made matters worse by not running to the police and keeping the humiliating experience to myself. Over the years I came to realize that none of this was true and, in reality I was the victim of a horrific crime. Years later, when I broached this subject with certain family members as to why my case was handled this way, I was told there may have been a misunderstanding on the part of one of the elders; probably not all rape or sexual abuse cases are handled this way, maybe God directed to make that decision for some mysterious reason; etc.
Ok, I thought to myself, maybe mine was an isolated case and others haven’t had to go through my ordeal.
Interesting Discoveries Regarding Child Abuse
When reading through Shepherd the Flock of God and specifically looking for how the elders should handle the matter of rape and sexual abuse what I found was quite interesting. Please, note in this article that, not only have I quoted material from this book, but I have also uploaded copies of these quotes directly from the book and attached them below so you can see this for yourself.
To give you a little background: each congregation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is led by a group of men with authority to teach their members and discipline or counsel those who commit a “sin,” or are “spiritually weak,” meaning they do not attend regular services or meetings and/or do not participate in the door-to-door preaching activity; basically the elders ensure that their congregation or “flock” is running smoothly and meeting the requirements that the WBTS sets out for them. When a sin or wrong-doing is brought to the elder’s attention they form a “judicial committee” a group of maybe three or four elders to meet with this person who committed the sin and find out the details of said sin and determine whether or not this person is contrite. When anything like this takes place, often times the headquarters of the WBTS (the “branch office” is notified). Therefore, there are records of every member of this religious group and those who have committed “sins” have details of these sins in files in the congregation and in the branch office.
All of this being said, in Shepherd the Flock of God, chapter 5 which is entitled Determining Whether a Judicial Committee Should Be Formed, a list is presented of what should be considered “brazen conduct” or “loose conduct” which is defined as “filth[iness], lasciviousness, wantonness, unbridled lust,...outrageousness, shamelessness, insolence." What are some actions that would fall under this category? Below is a quote from Shepherd the Flock of God:
"10. Though this is not an exhaustive list, brazen conduct may be involved in the following if the wrongdoer has an insolent, contemptuous attitude
made evident by a practice of these things:
- Willful, continued, unnecessary association with disfellowshipped nonrelatives despite repeated counsel.
- Child sexual abuse: This would include fondling of breasts, an explicitly immoral proposal, showing pornography to a child, voyeurism, indecent exposure, and so forth.
Continuing to date or pursue a romantic relationship with a person though not legally or Scripturally free to marry, despite repeated counsel and generally after a warning talk to the congregation."
Child sexual abuse is thrown into the same category as association with a disfellowshipped (excommunicated) person and adultery??? The “practice” of this is considered “loose conduct” or “brazen conduct?”
What is an elder to do when he learns of an accusation of child abuse? Here is a quote from the same book:
“18. You should immediately call the branch office for direction if you learn of an accusation of child abuse, regardless of the age of the victim now or at the time of the alleged abuse, even if it occurred before the alleged perpetrator's baptism. The branch office will then give direction based on the circumstances involved in each situation.”
The next paragraph does say that child abuse is a crime and that the elders should “never suggest to anyone that they should not report an allegation of child abuse to the police or other authorities.” Also, “elders will not criticize anyone who reports such an allegation to the authorities.” However, why are the elders not protecting their “flock” and informing the authorities themselves? Why should the branch office of the WBTS be contacted immediately rather than the authorities if this is a crime?
There is also instruction given as to what should be done is a known molester moves into a congregation:
“20. When a known child molester moves to another congregation, the Congregation Service Committee should send a letter of introduction with full and complete information about his background and current situation. Any letter from the branch office concerning the child molester should not be photocopied or sent to the new congregation. However, the new congregation should be clearly informed of any restrictions imposed by the branch office. A copy of the letter of introduction should be sent to the branch office.”
Maybe it’s just me, but I am seeing some conflicting statements in this paragraph.
In regards to the person being accused of child molestation, this letter regarding the accused should include information such as:
“(1) What is his interaction with children?
(2) Does he admit to any activity with the accuser that could have been misinterpreted by the accuser as sexual abuse, or does he claim to have a poor memory of the accusation?
(3) What is his response to why the accuser has made the allegation?
(4) Has he had to be counseled for any other matters of a sexual nature, such as inappropriate conduct with adult sisters or pornography?
(5) What is the level of his spirituality?
(6) Do all the elders on the body believe that he can be trusted with children?”
What does the accused’s conduct with adult sisters (female members of the Witnesses) have to do with child sexual abuse? Notice that paragraph is assuming a predator is a man. If there are accusations of child sexual abuse taking place, why is anyone concerning themselves with his/her spirituality? I think the person’s spirituality is last the thing with which anyone should be concerned.
Here are questions that should be answered in regards to the accuser, in other words, the child:
(1) What is the level of maturity of the child or youth?
(2) Is he (or she) describing conduct that one his age would not normally know about?
(3) Is the child or his parents known to be serious, mature?
(4) Is his memory consistent, or is it intermittent, or does it involve repressed memories?
(5) What is the reputation of the parents?
(6) Are they spiritually and emotionally mature?
After carefully considering the matter, the branch office will then give you direction as to what information about the allegation should be shared, if any, with the elders of the new congregation.”
Why are these questions being asked about a child who is the victim of sexual abuse? Why is the parent’s maturity and spirituality, or lack thereof, coming into question? Most importantly in both sets of questions regarding the accused and accuser; why are the authorities not involved??? Why is the branch office or headquarters (use whatever terminology you want) of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society making decisions on how to handle this crime?
Also, what are the chances that there would be witnesses of a child being sexually abused by someone? There may be rare occasions when this happens, but what are the chances? The closest thing coming to it would be other children coming forward after a case has been made public. Here is another excerpt:
“38. If wrongdoing has not been established but serious questions have been raised, the body of elders should appoint two elders to investigate the matter promptly. For example, there may be just one witness. If so, it would be loving for the witness first to confront the accused and encourage him to take the initiative to approach the elders….
39. If the accused denies the accusation, the investigating elders should try to arrange a meeting with him and the accuser together. (Note: If the accusation involves child sexual abuse and the victim is currently a minor, the elders should contact the branch office before arranging a meeting with the child and the alleged abuser.) If the accuser or the accused is unwilling to meet with the elders or if the accused continues to deny the accusation of a single witness and the wrongdoing is not established, the elders will leave matters in Jehovah's hands….The investigating elders should compose a record, sign it, put it in a sealed envelope, and place it in the congregation's confidential file. Additional evidence may later come to light to establish matters.”
Again, no mention of involving the authorities. They are recommending that the accused confront the accuser and tell them to go the elders. Further in paragraph 38 they do recommend that the accuser not approach the accused by himself/herself, but why would you put the accuser/victim through such an ordeal?
In chapter 5, Determining Whether a Judicial Committee Should Be Formed, the subject of rape is also discussed. First, in this same chapter, they discuss the Greek word “pornei’a” which, when translated, references fornication (sex outside of marriage). Here is an excerpt from their book:
“7. One who was raped would not be guilty of pornei’a. Discernment is needed in considering claims of rape, taking into consideration such factors as the mental disposition of the person, the circumstances that led up to the incident, and any delay in reporting.”
Ok, so they don’t consider the victim of a rape as having committed fornication, that’s a start. However, they feel they need to consider what led up to the “incident” and what may have been behind any delay in reporting the “indent.” Rape is a humiliating and mortifying crime for both women and men and according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Insect National Network) out of every 100 rapes only 40 are reported to the police. (https://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates) Should this be held against the victim?
The WBTS has mentioned in their publications that rape is a crime and it is not the victim’s fault. However one has to question one has to question the quotes in one of their books specifically published for children called My Book of Bible Stories. This book can be found online at http://www.jw.org/en/publications/books/bible-stories/my-book-of-bible-stories/. Story #20, Dinah Gets into Trouble, shares the parable of a bible character spoken about in Genesis chapter 3 named Di’nah who makes friends with some women in the land of Ca’naan and thee women do not share the same beliefs about God that she holds. Long story short, Dinah is raped, her brothers find out about it and kill the rapist. Below is a quote from this “children’s story”:
“One day when Di´nah came on a visit, She´chem took Di´nah and forced her to lie down with him. This was wrong, because only married men and women are supposed to lie down together. This bad thing that She´chem did to Di´nah led to a lot more trouble.
When Di´nah’s brothers heard about what had happened, they were very angry. Two of them, Sim´e·on and Le´vi, were so angry that they took swords and went into the city and caught the men by surprise. They and their brothers killed She´chem and all the other men...
How did all this trouble get started? It was because Di´nah made friends with people who did not obey God’s laws. We will not want to make such friends, will we?”
First of all, what She’chem (the rapist) did was wrong because only married men and women should do that? It wasn’t wrong because rape is a crime and he violated another human being? “All this trouble” got started because Di’nah made friend with the wrong people? Seems to me like a classic case of “blame the victim.” There's more. Here are some questions included at the end of this story that should be asked to children after they read it:
Was Dinah’s association with the daughters of the land of Canaan an isolated incident?
Why did Dinah bear a measure of responsibility for losing her virginity?
How can young ones today show that they have taken to heart the warning example of Dinah?"
While the WBTS may say that a victim of rape is not at fault, I believe quotes such as the above speak volumes and contradict their claims that they do not blame the victim. There are more examples that can be found online; I am just showing you a few, and please keep in mind this is directly from the source. Other quotes from WBTS on how someone should react when they are sexually attacked can be found in sites such as www.freeminds.org and www.jwfacts.com where articles are also quoted and referenced. Although it can be argued that these sites are created by ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses, they do provide information on where you can find these quotes from the source itself, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (https://www.jw.org). If you are interested in obtaining a copy of Shepherd the Flock of God it can be downloaded from: http://www.x-jv.dk/aeldstebog.pdf.
As I mentioned above, this is not written for revenge, I believe this is an issue that everyone should be made aware of and should be addressed. NOBODY should be made to feel victimized by anyone, particularly those in a leadership position who are assigned to protect you.
(C) 2014 Brenda Thornlow
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© 2014 Brenda Thornlow