Scores of alleged victims come forward and describe culture of cover-up in religious group in UK
More than 100 people have contacted the Guardian with allegations of child sexual abuse and other mistreatment in Jehovahs Witness communities across the UK.
Former and current members, including 41 alleged victims of child sexual abuse, described a culture of cover-ups and lies, with senior members of the organisation, known as elders, discouraging victims from coming forward for fear of bringing reproach on Jehovah and being exiled from the congregation and their families.
A Guardian investigation also heard from 48 people who experienced other forms of abuse, including physical violence when they were children, and 35 who witnessed or heard about others who were victims of child grooming and abuse.
The stories told to the Guardian ranged from events decades ago to more recent, and many of those who came forward have now contacted the police.
They told the Guardian about:
- An organisation that polices itself and teaches members to avoid interaction with outside authorities.
- A rule set by the main governing body of the religion that means for child sexual abuse to be taken seriously there must be two witnesses to it.
- Alleged child sex abuse victims claiming they were forced to recount allegations in front of their abuser.
- Young girls who engage in sexual activity before marriage being forced to describe it in detail in front of male elders.
A solicitor representing some of the alleged victims said she believed there were thousands of complainants in the UK and that the people who have contacted the Guardian were just the tip of the iceberg.
One alleged victim, Rachel Evans, who has waived her right to anonymity, claimed there was a paedophile ring active in the 1970s, although details of the case cannot be divulged due to a current investigation.
Within the Jehovahs Witnesses there is an actual silencing and also a network where if someone went to the elders and said there is a problem with this and they believe you, the whole thing will be dealt with in-house. But often these people are not dealt with, they are either moved to another congregation or told to keep their head down for a few years, she said.
Another victim, who did not want to be named, said she was abused by a ministerial servant (someone with congregational responsibilities) in the organisation in the 1970s.
I was sexually abused many times a week from the age of three until I was 12. Congregation elders knew that when I told them, at 12, what had been happening. No steps were taken to tell the police. I had to tell three male senior figures what had happened. Imagine that? A young girl telling a bunch of men what this man did to me. I wasnt even allowed to have my mother there with me.
After she went to the police about what had happened, the person who abused her pleaded guilty and was eventually convicted. The Jehovahs Witnesses should lose their charity status as they are not protecting children, she added. She said she had mental health issues as a result of what happened and how it was dealt with.