Jehovah's Witness church under fire at child abuse commission

July 27, 2015

[with audio]

The Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse has heard that the Jehovah's Witness Church in Australia has received more than 1000 child sex abuse allegations over 60 years - and not one was reported to police.

It was an emotional day for victims who shared their stories of abuse by elders at church, who destroyed notes about child sex abuse.

Julia Calixto reports.

The Jehovah's Witness Church preaches about repentance in preparation for Doomsday.

Instead of a pulpit, it's been the witness box for elders at the Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse.

Max Horley was an elder for the Jehovah's Witness congregation in Narrogin, Western Australia, in the late 1980s when a woman, known as BCB, was abused by another church elder, Bill Neill.

Commission chair Peter McClellan asked Mr Horley if he had taken notes of his conversations with BCB.

"What don't you like to have notes of a serious allegations? There are brief notes kept in the file, but all other notes are destroyed. Why is that? I guess it's because we don't want them to fall into the wrong hands and other people to find them and they go through them."

Mr Horley said it was not the church's practice to report serious allegations of sexual abuse to police.

"If we have any hesitation, we contact the branch for advice on how we should proceed legally and scripturally. We don't attend - we don't report it to the police, I think we encourage them to do that, but we give the assistance to do that it they need that."

But victim BCB, who is now 47, told the commission she was never advised to go to police, and she was never offered any support.

BCB told how Neill, who is dead, groomed her from the age of 15.

He would kiss her and spy on her when she was in the shower at his home.

"Later that day, Max rang me back and said to me 'BCB, the Neills have asked that you not tell any more people about Bill out of respect for the family.' I respected Max and did as I was told. I didn't tell anyone else about what had happened to me, not even my best friend at the time."

The commission also heard that victims were made to confront their abusers and left feeling as if they had sinned.

When the abuse was revealed, she was asked to attend meetings where on one occasion the abuser joked about what he had done.

"I found the experience of reporting my abuse to a room full of men, including the man who had abused me very distressing. Thinking back, I now see that I was being asked to respect the man who had done those things to me, but nobody was offering me any respect or proper support."

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

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

There are 817 Jehovah's Witness congregations in Australia with more than 68-thousand members.

The hearing is set down for two weeks.


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