May 15. 2003
TO ALL BODIES OF ELDERS
Regarding: treatment of accusations of child abuse
Through many years it has been standard procedure that the elders immediately contact the Branch Office when cases of child abuse arise. In this way we always assure that the right guidelines are followed in these relatively rare cases. We will continue to follow this procedure.
Sexual abuse of children is an outrageous perversity and all such accusations should be taken seriously. The results of such abuse are far-reaching. Many victims will not recover completely until Jehovah makes all things new in the new world. The Watchtower gives a clear explanation of our view – a person that abuses children is a rapist and is to be viewed as such. All who has been a victim of child abuse has the right to accuse the abuser – The Watchtower November 1. 1995, page 25– 27.
Even though very few congregations will ever experience such cases the Branch Office Committee has decided that all elders should be familiar with the action plan the Service Department uses when they give guidance in such cases. It is our hope that openness about such serious problems will work to prevent child abuse and give you the ability to give the correct help when it happens. At the same time we take the opportunity to stress that such serious abuse must not be taken lightly. The action plan consists of six parts: 1. Prevention. 2. Help to the victims. 3. Cooperation with the authorities.
4. Responsibility for the congregation. 5. Help for those with ”recovered memories”. 6. Relationship to the media.
A. When it is possible parents should be encouraged to review the information in the October 8. 1993 issue of Awake! This has many good articles under the theme “How Can We Protect Our Children?”
B. In most cases of child abuse the abuser is a member of the family or a good friend of the family. Elders must therefore be particularly alert if they in their daily care for the congragation should encounter behavior among children or adults that could be an indication of abuse – see the article ”Prevention in the Home” in the above mentioned Awake!
C. Many pedophiles find their victims through the internet. The July 22 1997 issue of Awake! Pages 10-13 contain warnings and good guidance for parents.
D. Carefully follow the guidance that known pedophiles shouldn’t be left alone with other individual’s children, should not be going out in the service alone and should not occupy positions of responsibility in the congregation.
E. Elders must be alert if someone that attends the meetings in the congregation shows improper interest in children, and that they themselves must be good examples by interacting with children in all purity.
To all Bodies of Elders
May 15. 2003
2. HELP FOR THE VICTIMS
A. In case of abuse steps must immediately be taken to protect the child against additional abuse. The parents, the victim or the elders must immediately take contact with a doctor and/or the Social Authorities.
B. Refer the parents to the box “If Your Child Is Abused” on page 9 in the above mentioned October 8, 1993 Awake!
C. The elders must not interrogate the child to find out what has happened. This is something the parents must do in cooperation with doctors or the authorities.
D. If an adult witness wants to talk to the elders about abuse they have suffered as children, the elders of course will offer those spiritual help and compassion. The October 8, 1991 Awake! offers a number of articles under the theme “The Secret Wounds of Child Abuse” and “A Time to Heal” these can be a great help when giving care.
3. COOPERATION WITH AUTHORITIES
A. As elders it is your duty to offer religious and spiritual help to the members of the congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses. Any information that you will get during the execution of your duties are considered confidential and you are under obligation never to reveal them. You must never make any statements neither to the press, nor to persons not concerned.
B. According to the Law of Social Service paragraph 35 and 36, all Danish citizens have a duty to inform the Social authorities in the municipality if they know about or suspect abuse of children.
Paragraph 35: Anyone in the execution of their official duty or occupation shall inform the municipal authorities. If they in carrying out their daily duties come into knowledge with circumstances involving children under eighteen years of age, which indicate that the child has special needs of support.
Paragraph 36: Individuals… that acquire knowledge of a child under 18 which are subject to neglect or maltreatment from its parents has a duty to report it to the municipal authorities.
C. Parents should therefore be encouraged to turn to the doctor or the municipal social authorities. Never discourage anyone from reporting to the authorities. If the parents/victims report the abuse the elders will consider if they should also approach the authorities in accordance with Law of Social Service.
D. If the abuse is to be investigated the elders will cooperate with the Social Authorities as well as the police.
4. RESPONISIBILITY FOR THE CONGREGATION
A. Abuse of children is a serious sin which can lead to disfellowshipping from Jehovah's Witnesses congregations. Any allegation should taken seriously and be investigated by at least two elders.
B. If the accused admits to the abuse he should immediately be stripped of any congregational duties. Subsequently there should be formed a Judicial Committee which shall decide if the abuser should be expelled from the congregation,
If extraordinary circumstances dictate that a child abuser is not expelled diclipinary reproof made public in the congregation so families with children can be on guard.
To all Bodies of Elders
May 15. 2003
Whether the abuser is expelled or not, he is to be treated correctly. The elders will encourage him and if possible help him to get professional treatment and support.
C. If the accused denies the accusation in front of the two elders and it is word against word, therefore no judicial committee would be formed. The Bibles demands that there must be two or three witnesses for a decision to be made. It is the nature of such cases that there are rarely any witnesses. The elders can therefore only intervene if there is strong circumstantial evidence or if another eye witness can testify to similar abuse. If not they will have to place the matter in Jehovah’s Hands. (1 Timothy 5: 19, 24, 25)
D. The elders handling of such a case involves only the abusers relationship with our church. It can therefore be carried out parallel with the authority’s investigation. The victim can immediately go to the doctor or to the social authorities; they do not have to await the elder’s decisions. Even though there is no case for judicial action the elders should encourage the victim or the relatives to consider informing social authorities.
5. HELP FOR THOSE WITH “RECOVERED MEMORIES”
A. Carefully follow the guidance set out in November 1, 1995 issue of the Watchtower article “Comfort for Those With a “Stricken Spirit” (pages 25-29)
B. Recovered memories are experienced as very real. Those who are disturbed with such memories need understanding and care. These are memories that have been forgotten many years and then recovered by therapeutic treatment that either has been carried out by a professional psychologist or by a self taught psychotherapist.
C. Because it is great doubt as to the authenticity of such recovered memories they can’t be included as proof of abuse if they can’t be verified by other circumstances..
D. If no confession from the accused is forthcoming, the elders will not raise any case for judicial action on the grounds of “recovered memories”. They will view it as a case where there is “word against word”
6. RELATIONSHIP TO THE MEDIA
A. Rightfully Child abuse is in the eye of the media. If someone in your congregation is accused, the elders must appoint a spokesman who can answer the media if they are approached.
B. The response that should be given is: “We never give information about specfic cases about cases that are under investigation. In principal I can inform you the social authorities are informed it is then up to them to investigate further.”
This action plan will of course not cover all eventualities but we hope it will be of assistance if such problems should occur or if publishers should ask us how we deal with such matters.
Apart from those articles referred to, good advice has been offered through body of elder letters and the Kingdom Ministry School, our methods and procedures will be adjusted and improved in step with the needs that arise and we will encourage you all to keep informed about all future guidance.
We also want to recommend the attached folder which is published by Save the Children. It contains condensed instructions that is in harmony with what is written in our publications and in letters from the Branch Office. It should be helpful for you and for parents that might need to review this material.
To all Bodies of Elders
May 15. 2003
It would be very fitting to have a special folder in the congregation’s permanent file where you could collect letters and other material about child abuse so you can find the necessary information quickly. A photocopy or a printout from Watchtower Library of the October 8, 1993 Awake! article should also be added to the folder.
This letter may be circulated among the elders but must not be copied. At the next visit by the circuit overseer the main points of it should be reviewed at the meeting with the elders.
With the expressed wish that we may help our own and others children as well as to keep our Christian congregation morally clean so that the spirit of God can work freely, we send our love and greetings.
Danish Branch Office
(comment sent to newspaper about action plan)
For many years we have had an action plan at the branch office which we have used as gui dan ce when accusations of child abuse have occurred.
We have been aware that such cases should be reported. We have therefore encouraged the parents/victims to personally report it to the social authorities. As far as we know all cases of child abuse has been reported to the authorities since the Law was implemented.
Even though there have been relatively few cases we chose, because of the publicity, to inform all elders about the principles we follow when we give direction in this area. This was done with action plan of May 15. 2003.
In the action plan we quote the Law about social service and encourage the elders to in turn encourage the parents/victims to personally report to the social authorities.
The expression “consider” underlines that the elders should give the matter much thought, if the situation arose where parents/victim did not wish to report the matter.
They were at the same time reminded about their duty under the Law about social service.
After conferring with our headquarters in Brooklyn , New York we became aware that this could be misunderstood. That is why the action plan was immediately withdrawn and was replaced on October 20. 2003 by the attached action plan, which unequivocally instructs the elders to report all accusations to the authorities.
We will also in the future adjust our action plan if it is drawn to our attention that any area needs tightening.
(October 20, 2003 letter to elder on revised action plan)
HOW WE PROTECT CHILDREN AGAINST SEXUAL ABUSE
We find sexual abuse of children abominable. This attitude is in harmony with what we finding Romans 12: 9. If there was only one case of child abuse that would be one too many. For many years our magazines the Watchtower and Awake! has published articles with the purpose of informing both our congregations and those on the outside of how important and essential it is to protect children against sexual abuse.
We have among others had articles like “Let Us Abhor What Is Wicked” The Watchtower January 1. 1997, and “Help for the Victims of Incest” The Watchtower October 1. 1983. In the Awake! Magazine we have had articles like, “Your Child Is in Danger!”, “How Can We Protect Our Children?” and “Prevention in the Home” (all of them in the October 8. 1993 issue. Also the article “Child Molesting—Every Mother’s Nightmare” and other articles in the January 22, 1985 Awake!
WHEN ACCUSATIONS OF CHILD ABUSE ARE INVESTIGATED
When one of Jehovah's Witnesses are accused of committing child abuse, it is expected that the elders in the local congregation investigate the case. Two elders will first meet the acc user and then with the accused, to listen to what they have to say. If the accused denies any guilt the two elders can hold a new joint meeting where both the accused and the acc user are present, so both parties can present their case in the presence of the elders.
If the accused during this meeting still claims innocence and there is no one else who can corroborate any abuse the elders will not be able to intervene on behalf of the congregation. Why not? As a Christian community we have to conform to the instructions of the Bible. We read: “No single witness should rise up against a man respecting any error or any sin... At the mouth of two witnesses or at the mouth of three witnesses the matter should stand good” (Deuteronomy 19:15 ) This principle was later confirmed by Jesus in Matthew 18: 15 -17. But if two persons separately can confirm an incident of the same type of abuse, the testimony of those two witnesses can be viewed as sufficient for the congregation to take action.
When a person is confronted with an accusation of sexual abuse of children and he confesses to the abuse the elders will intervene on behalf of the congregation. And if he don’t regret and change his ways he can no longer be a part of the congregation. And even if he does regret – feels crushed and is firmly determined that what has happened shall never be repeated - there will still be as is stated in the January 1. 1997 Watchtower page 29: “For the protection of our children, a man known to have been a child molester does not qualify for a responsible position in the congregation. Moreover, he cannot be a pioneer (one of Jehovah's Witnesses full time publishers) or serve in any other special, full-time service.” He will not qualify due to Biblical requirements. (1 Timothy 3: 2, 7-10) We take this consistent stand because it is important for us to be in harmony with the Bible’s high moral standards in protecting our children. We expect everybody in our organization to live up to the same standards, na mel y that they should remain clean physically, mentally, morally and spiritually. – 2 Corinthians 7: 1; Ephesians 4: 17-19; Thessalonians 2: 4.
REPORTS OF ACCUSATIONS OF CHILD ABUSE
Even in cases where the elders can’t intervene on behalf of the congregation, they should report the accusation to Jehovah's Witnesses branch office in the particular country if it is allowed by the law of the land. Apart from reporting the accusation to Jehovah's Witnesses branch office, the elders should follow the Laws of the country when it requires that such offences should be reported to the authorities, even though there is no confession and the accusation isn’t corroborated by other witnesses. It might also be the case that the victim wants to approach the authorities directly, and that is naturally fully within the rights of the person concerned.
Our procedure in connection with child abuse has been improved with time. For many years we have become aware of some points which we could tighten up further and we have not hesitated to do that. We are also continuing to do it. We will not claim that our action plan is perfect. No human organization is perfect. But we remain confident that our attitude and procedure in connection with child abuse is clear, consistent and Biblical. If it is established that one, no matter who it is, has a position of responsibility, commits child abuse, the person in question should immediately be removed from his position. And we cannot deliberately permit that he will get his position back some other place or get appointed again after an eventual move.
The Bible teach us that it is possible for a transgressor to regret, change and “and turn to God by doing works that befit repentance” (Acts 26: 20) We accept that, but we let our children’s safety come first. It is something we take deeply serious.
Holbaek, October 20. 2003