Jehovah’s Witnesses have come forward claiming that they were told not to report allegations of child abuse.
The organization has been accused of sheltering abusers.
Several victims have accused the religious organization of a systemic cover up, with some revealing how they were themselves assaulted as children. They claim the group’s rules, which require two witnesses before an incident can be investigated by elders, have protected perpetrators.
One child abuse lawyer believes there could be thousands of victims across the country who have not come forward.
The Telegraph reports: The victims – many of whom want to remain anonymous – claimed that the religion’s guidelines have shielded their abusers, as well as deterring victims from contacting the authorities.
In a statement, the organisation on Monday described the allegations as “absolutely false”, adding that victims and their parents had an “absolute right” to report abuse to the police.
But leading solicitor Kathleen Hallisey, who brought a landmark case against the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2015, claimed the scale of child abuse was similar to that exposed in the Catholic Church.
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph last night, Ms Hallisey said: “Frankly I would equate this to a scandal and a cover up akin to the Catholic Church. Knowing about paedophile priests and moving them from parish to parish. The two are identical.
“Most of the cases I deal with are in relation to abuse by people in positions of trust within the organisation.”
She said that the internal teachings of the organisation meant that the true scale of the scandal has been suppressed.
“I think because of the barriers to coming forward, we don’t have the same number [as the Catholic Church],” she added. “There’s teaching which is that you shouldn’t take another Jehovah’s Witness to court. There’s also a teaching to avoid interaction with secular authorities. So you’re breaking two rules [in reporting abuse].
“Those two things could lead to you being disfellowshipped, which means that you’re shunned.”
It came as victim Louise Palmer, who has chosen to waive her anonymity, said that she had been told not to report being raped by her brother, Richard Davenport, who was also a Jehovah’s Witness.
Ms Palmer, who lives in Evesham in Worcestershire, alleged that her brother began raping her when she was four, but said she was discouraged from alerting the authorities by members of the organisation. Davenport was eventually jailed for 14 years in 2014, later reduced to ten.
“I asked them what should I do?” she told the BBC. “Do you report it to the police? Do I report it to the police?
“Their words were that they strongly advised me not to go to the police because it would bring reproach on Jehovah.”
Ms Palmer said she does not believe that children “are safe” in the organisation, adding that its safeguarding policies needed to be updated.
Another woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said that she was sexually abused by a friend of her brother and later raped by him.
She claims that when she informed her parents and elders in her Jehovah’s Witness congregation she was also told not to alert the authorities.
Victims who came forward claim that Jehovah’s Witnesses’ judicial policy, known as the “two witness rule”, is preventing the abuse from being exposed.
According to the process, two witnesses are required to establish a perpetrator’s “sin” if they do not confess to the allegations made against them.
Jehovah’s Witnesses claims that the policy protects members against malicious accusations of sexual assault. It has also stated previously that the “incidence of this crime among Jehovah’s Witnesses is rare”.
However, incidents of child sex abuse within the organisation have been exposed across the world, including in Australia, where in 2015 it was disclosed that the national branch had kept files on 1,006 alleged perpetrators of child sex abuse since 1950.
The UK’s main Jehovah’s Witness organisation, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain, is currently the subject of an inquiry by the Charity Commission.
A report by the commission earlier this year found that one congregation in Manchester had allowed a convicted paedophile to cross-examine two women he had abused as children before they would expel him.
Ms Hallisey believes that the Commission should strip the organisation of its charitable status, adding that it had repeatedly refused to change its processes when challenged in court.
“I think it is reaching the point where we do really need drastic action, and we need something like the removal of their charitable status. Because…despite the litigation, the inquiries and the court orders, they don’t seem to be changing.”
A spokesman for the organisation said: “Jehovah’s Witnesses abhor child abuse, and view it as a heinous crime and sin. The safety of our children is of the utmost importance.