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Child sex abuse royal commission hears Jehovah's Witnesses failed to report 1,000 alleged perpetrators.

Mamamia is committed to bringing you important stories from the national Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The stories about our failure to protect our nation’s most vulnerable people are hard to hear, but worthy of your time.

BY Brad Ryan and Angela Lavoipierre.

More than 1,000 members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been identified by the church as perpetrators of child sexual abuse since 1950, but not one was reported to police, an inquiry has heard.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses church, which preaches that the end of the world is near, is at the centre of a child abuse royal commission hearing in Sydney today.

Counsel assisting the commission, Angus Stewart SC, said the church relied on Bible passages to set its policies on child sexual abuse, and avoided resorting to secular authorities and courts.

Jehovahs witnesses sex abuse royal commission
Angus Stewart SC, said the church relied on Bible passages to set its policies on child sexual abuse. Image via ABC.

“Evidence will be put before the royal commission that of the 1,006 alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse identified by the Jehovah’s Witness church since 1950, not one was reported by the church to secular authorities,” Mr Stewart said.

“This suggests that it is the practice of the Jehovah’s Witness church to retain information regarding child sexual abuse offences, but not report allegations of child sexual abuse to the police or other relevant authorities.”

Mr Stewart said the practice potentially exposed Jehovah’s Witness members to criminal liability for concealing serious offences.

He said at least one abuse survivor, who said she had been discouraged by elders from reporting her abuse to authorities, would give evidence.

Bible passages determine abuse policies, hearing told.

The case study, which is expected to run for two weeks, is the first to focus on an entire Christian denomination rather than just one part of it.

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There are 817 Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations in Australia with more than 68,000 members.

Two abuse survivors and at least seven current and former Jehovah’s Witness elders are expected to give evidence.

Senior staff for the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ company, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia, are also expected to appear.

“The Jehovah’s Witness church relies primarily on Bible passages to set its policies and practices,” Mr Stewart said.

“Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the only way to finally end child abuse is to as they put it embrace God’s kingdom under Christ and to love God with all your heart and your neighbour as yourself so as to be saved when the end comes.”

Mr Steward said the church recognised child abuse to be a crime and a “gross sin”.

“Their official position is that they abhor child sexual abuse and will not protect any perpetrator of such repugnant acts,” Mr Stewart said.

He said two church elders were directed to investigate each child abuse allegation, but they were not authorised to take congregational action unless the accused perpetrator confessed, or the allegation was backed up by a second witness.

“The royal commission will hear that over the past 65 years, the requirement that there be two or more witnesses has prevented at least 125 allegations of child sexual abuse from proceeding to [an internal] judicial committee,” Mr Stewart said.

“That is not unexpected given that by its nature there are very seldom witnesses to child sexual abuse beyond the survivor and the perpetrator.”

Victims felt blamed by church, lawyer says.

Lawyer Angela Sdrinis, who is representing a number of people alleging abuse, said complainants had been slow to come forward because of the organisation’s size and culture.

“I’ve been doing this work for about 20 years and it really is in the past few months that I’ve been approached by members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who allege sexual abuse within that church,” Ms Sdrinis told the ABC’s AM program.

“I think people generally need a lot of courage to come forward regarding child sex abuse, and particularly in a faith-based organisation, I think the stricter or more conservative the organisation is, the more difficult it is for the victim to come forward.

“Those who have spoken to me recently, some of them found when they tried to complain about the abuse initially – and we are talking about historical sex abuse – were faced with a response that was basically rejecting of their allegations.

“That felt that the church was trying to blame the victim.”

This post originally appeared on ABC News.


© 2015 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved. Read the   ABC Disclaimer here.

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