Watchtower Society settles sexual abuse cases to prevent victims from speaking out
Sixteen sexual abuse victims have settled nine lawsuits in which they said they were sexually abused as children by Jehovah’s Witnesses members and leaders.
Settlements were reached in late February and early March, according to court records obtained by Bill Bowen of SilentLambs.org. Now with video of press conference! Fourteen of the cases were filed in California; the others were in Oregon and Texas.
“For once, we have the church stepping up to the plate and having to settle with these victims,” said Bill Bowen, founder of SilentLambs.org. “To me, it’s a vindication for the abuse survivors.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses Silentlambs Press Conference on Channel 4
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Mario Moreno, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ associate general counsel, confirmed that nine lawsuits involving a total of 16 plaintiffs had been settled. When asked the total amount of the settlements, he said, “I’m not able to comment on any of the specifics,” citing “a confidentiality agreement.”
Bowen called that agreement a “bittersweet” outcome. “Even though they’re vindicated and they’re going to be compensated … they can’t tell anybody about it,” he said. Even so, Bowen considered this a significant legal victory for the plaintiffs. “It’s the largest group of people that they have settled with – as far as child abuse is concerned – at one time,” he said. Moreno would only say that “it certainly is unusual for us to have a number of cases.”
In a brief statement, the religious body said: “We are pleased to see this matter resolved.” The statement “regarding January-February 2007 settlement of child abuse cases” cites the New Testament book of Romans about hating “what is wicked” and says child abuse falls in that category.
“As an organization, we will continually strive to educate families and congregations with sound Scriptural teachings that they can use to protect their children from child molesters,” the statement said. “And we will continue to do our utmost to protect children from this horrible crime and sin.”
SilentLambs.org has criticized the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ policy on abuse. If the accused denies the charge, two credible witnesses are required to establish guilt due to literal application of such Bible verses as Deuteronomy 19:15 (”only on the evidence of two witnesses, or of three witnesses, shall a charge be sustained”). If two witnesses are lacking, the accused is deemed innocent, charges remain confidential and parents who warn others are subject to disfellowshipping for slander.
Since establishing SilentLambs.org in 2001, Bowen says about 7,000 people who claim they were abused have contacted his support group.