Maryville man seeks awareness of sexual abuse within Jehovah’s Witnesses
Katie Forrester | Daily Times Correspondent
Charlie Jones was just 8 years old when he was the victim of sexual abuse by a family friend. It happened when his parents left him, his sister and a friend with their “brother” in the Jehovah’s Witnesses a few times.
“He’d take me to the other room and molest me back there,” Jones said. This abuse happened on at least two occasions that Jones can remember, and each time the other two children were told that Jones had misbehaved and was about to receive punishment.
Jones said that on one occasion his mother came back and the man cleaned him up and told his mother that he was punished for misbehaving to explain why Jones was crying.
Jones said that he was punished by his unknowing mother on the way home for not behaving as he should have.
Parents didn’t know
“The issue was that my parents did not know he was a predator,” Jones said.
According to Jones, a major factor in cases such as his within the Jehovah’s Witnesses is the secrecy policy. Jones said that the written rule for bringing to light cases of sexual abuse states that for any accusation you must have two or more witnesses, including the victim. If both witnesses were victims of different attacks by the same person, then those testimonies would suffice as two witnesses.
The precedence given for that rule was based on the Old Testament, and once allegations are taken to the elders who serve as church leaders, they cannot be discussed in the congregation or otherwise. Jones said that coming forth to any other person is punishable by “disfellowshipping,” which is sort of a “social death.”
Those who have been disfellowshipped are shunned by even family, and are no longer members of the church. After a case is taken to the elders, the elders will confront the accused, and if the accused denies the allegations, the elders will confront the accused in front of the victim.
According to Jones, should the accused still deny misconduct, the elders will tell the victim that they are not to speak of the incident to anyone.
“When something like this happens, you automatically lose everything you know,” he said.
On a mission
Jones also said that because the Jehovah’s Witnesses are so inclusive that the risk of having pedophiles within the congregation is high. “It’s automatic that you trust each other, which is why it’s even more important that this information is spread out. They automatically trust any witness they meet. That’s their only choice,” Jones said.
“I wasn’t silenced in the traditional manner that most kids were,” Jones said, “I knew if I went about telling about this, I would lose my family and lose my friends. Because they (the elders) side with the congregation, not the victim, you lose friends, family, everything you know in one day.”
Now Jones, a Maryville resident, is on a mission to make people aware of sexual abuse within the organization.
“What I’ve done is involved myself in the Silentlambs,” Jones said. The Silent Lambs is an organization founded by a former Jehovah’s Witnesses elder, William H. Bowen, that is designed to give support to abuse victims within the Jehovah’s Witnesses. “It’s tough for Bill because he has to hear these horror stories on a daily basis,” Jones said.
Bowen used to be an elder in a Kentucky chapter of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. “I was a part of the organization for 43 years of my life,” Bowen said in a phone interview.
While he was an elder, Bowen was asked to clean out some of the congregation’s older files. “I discovered that a fellow elder in my church was a confessed child molester,” Bowen said.
Bowen attempted to have this elder removed from his position for one year and even found evidence that the elder had currently been molesting another child. After contacting the Jehovah’s Witnesses legal department, Bowen said he was advised to leave the matter alone.
Bowen wrote about his endeavors online and victims began to contact him with their stories and Silentlambs was created.
“Silentlambs has been in existence for 12 years. I founded Silentlambs basically to give victims a voice,” Bowen said. Now Bowen has been disfellowshipped and is shunned even by close family.
Bowen said that he has spoken with at least 7,000 victims over the years. “There’s multiple, multiple cases of children being molested and then it’s covered up by church policies,” Bowen said.
“The Silentlambs is not an anti-Jehovah’s Witnesses organization,” Bowen said, “My purpose is not to make people leave the Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Bowen said the Silentlambs’ true goal is to provide awareness to Jehovah’s Witness members of pedophiles who are within congregations so that children may be protected. In short, the secrecy policy is the cause of contention. Of those who prey on children within the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Bowen said, “They are using the trust of the organization to do it.”
Action in courts
Bowen said he has contacts within Bethel, the Jehovah’s Witnesses world headquarters. These contacts have provided him with information from a database that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have compiled of known sex offenders within the congregations. According to Bowen, as of 2002, that list is up to 23,720 confessed offenders or cases where there were two or more witnesses.
Bowen also said that the Silentlambs has had some recent success with lawsuits against the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 2011 Candace Conti, with the help of the Silent Lambs, of Oakland, Calif., sued the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the North Fremont Congregation and Jonathan Kendrick. Conti alleged that Kendrick sexually abused her as a child, and the Watchtower’s secrecy policy prevented any member of the congregation from being warned of his offenses.
The Alameda County Superior Court awarded Conti a total of $28 million in damages. The Watchtower’s press release about the Candace Conti case states that the organization will try to appeal the court’s decision on grounds that a sentence made against a corporation because of the actions of a member of the organization is unprecedented.
The local Kingdom Hall was contacted by The Daily Times, but did not wish to comment.
“In my opinion, in my experience, Candace is just the tip of the iceberg,” Bowen said. He also said that the lawsuit was “like pushing a boulder up a big hill.” The fervor will continue for members of the Silent Lambs. Jones leaves flyers for the Silentlambs at local Kingdom Halls as part of his fight, and Bowen continues talking to victims on a daily basis.
Now that this trial is done, the Silentlambs will continue to fight, and they will remain an outlet for those who have stories to share.