Child sex abuse royal commission: Jehovah's Witnesses to be focus of inquiry hearing

By Nicole Chettle
ABC News
July 26, 2015

Angus Stewart SC said the church's policies on sexual abuse were primarily based on Bible passages.

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 Sydney hearing was told the church adopted a scriptural response to abuse, which it abhorred, and had files relating to 1,006 alleged perpetrators, dating back to 1950.

The process required witnesses to prove abuse took place, and no allegations were ever reported to police.

A 47-year-old woman, known to the inquiry as BCB, said she was sexually assaulted as a teenager by her family friend and church elder, Bill Neill, at Narrogin, south-east of Perth in the 1980s.

The commission heard Neill is now deceased.

BCB described feeling ashamed to give evidence because she still identifies as a Jehovah's Witness despite suffering a nervous breakdown and depression as a result of the abuse.

"I would like the Jehovah's Witnesses to take allegations of child abuse more seriously and report them to the police," she said.

"I also think that those victims that are brave enough to report to elders should be properly supported and protected.

"I found the experience of reporting my abuse to a room full of men, including the man who had abused me, very distressing."

BCB revealed she considered taking sleeping pills due to the ongoing impact of the abuse but decided not to for the sake of her husband and children.

Elder admits destroying notes from meeting

A Jehovah's Witness elder, Max Horley, said he destroyed notes from a meeting about the assault of BCB.

"It was a very serious nature," he said.

"I took it as a huge breach of trust."

He then told Justice Peter McClellan he would have destroyed any notes about the meeting to protect the congregation and individuals involved.

Justice McClellan then asked Mr Horley if he would do the same thing today if someone reported a serious allegation of sexual assault to him.

"Yes," Mr Horley said.

"That's our practice."

Church practice not to report sexual abuse

Justice McLellan then asked him if he was aware of his obligation to tell the authorities if a serious allegation of sexual assault was reported to him.

"If we have any hesitation we contact the branch for advice on how we should proceed legally and scripturally," Mr Horley said.

"We don't report it to the police. I think we encourage them to do that. But we give them the assistance to do that."

He was then asked how he encouraged people to report sexual assaults to the police.

"My understanding, a little bit unclear because I've never had to do it - I'm not fully aware on the process but if it did come to me I would just be saying 'Look this is a matter that you need to talk to the police about'."

Mr Horley said the church required witnesses to establish whether any abuse took place if the offender did not confess.

Justice Peter McClellan responded that in many cases, there were no witnesses to sexual assault.

He then asked if there was an allegation of rape and a view had been formed that the complainant was clearly telling the truth, if there was no other person to give evidence about the rape, would it not go any further.

"I would have to seek counsel from the society to handle the situation as to how we would proceed," Mr Horley replied.

"I've never come across that yet."

Justice McClellan then asked if that was a "good place" for the Jehovah's Witnesses church to be.

"Not for the people bringing the accusations forward," Mr Horley said.

"It's a very sad situation for them."

BCB told the commission she just wanted the matter to be dealt with fairly.

"I only want to be treated fairly as a victim of abuse that was perpetrated by a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses," she said.

"I just want fair and just compensation for what Bill did."

The hearing continues.


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