Jehovah's Witness Sex Abuse Response "Deficient': Royal Commission

By Rachel Browne
Sydney Morning Herald
July 31, 2015

Justice Peter McClellan, Chairman of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Photo: Nick Moir

A sexual abuse expert hired by the Jehovah's Witness Church told a royal commission the organisation failed to meet acceptable standards in its approach to child abuse allegations.

Under cross-examination, Monica Applewhite told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse the Jehovah's Witness Church did not meet "best practice" in handling abuse claims.

Counsel assisting the commission Angus Stewart SC asked the church's expert witness whether structures based on biblical scriptures were in line with benchmark standards.

The church's policies for responding to child sexual abuse allegations were "deficient when measured against current best practice," he said.

"Does it meet all current best practices? It probably doesn't," Dr Applewhite replied.

The commission has previously heard evidence that under church structures, victims must face their abuser before a committee of male elders without a support person present.

Commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan asked Dr Applewhite: "The girl or woman would have to confront ultimately three men in the presence of the abuser and without moral support. Now is that a good practice?"

"Absolutely not," Dr Applewhite replied.

She acknowledged in evidence that the Jehovah's Witness Church requirement for two witnesses to give testimony against an abuser was problematic in the case of child abuse in which the two witnesses were likely to be the victim and the offender.

"Because there is not another witness, her allegation is not accepted ... do you see that might have real difficulties for the survivor?," Justice McClellan asked.

"Absolutely," Dr Applewhite replied.

In her statement, tendered to the commission, the American consultant wrote that in her opinion the practices of the Jehovah's Witness Church were superior to those of other religious groups.

"The current messages to those who have experienced abuse and the guidelines that have been provided to elders in congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses are consistent with and, in some respects, better than the current practices of religious organisations throughout the world," she wrote.

Dr Applewhite's statement also praised Jehovah's Witness Church publications about child abuse.

"Jehovah's Witnesses excel in providing such educational materials to parents and family members, and the substance of their materials concerning child abuse is exceptionally clear and helpful," she wrote.

Justice McClellan said before the commission he believed the Jehovah's Witness Church structures for investigating sexual abuse claims were flawed.

"I don't know of any other religious organisation which ... has the processes with the flaws we have identified in the Jehovah's Witnesses," he said.

The commission expects to hear more evidence about how the processes have evolved when it resumes on August 3.








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