Jehovah's Witnesses under fire from former congregants who say child sex abuse was hushed
Two people who say that as children they were sexually abused by a leader in a Hillsboro Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation filed a $10.5 million lawsuit Monday – among the first in Oregon to accuse the religious organization of hiding decades of sexual abuse.
Attorneys for Velicia Alston, 39, and an unnamed man said the Jehovah’s Witnesses leadership continues to cover up sexual abuse against children by leaders. They say it is more than a decade behind other organizations, such as the Catholic Church, that have been forced to address their problems through many years of civil litigation.
Velicia Alston, as a child.
“There is a crisis of silence in the Jehovah's Witness organization," said Irwin Zalkin, one of several attorneys representing Alston and the man. Zalkin described the religious organization as "more concerned about protecting its reputation than it is about protecting its children."
For example, Zalkin said the seven men who make up the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Governing Body have a policy requiring a confession from the perpetrator or two eyewitnesses to the abuse before leaders will take any action.
“Even if they do disfellowship a perpetrator, they don’t tell the congregation why,” Zalkin said during a news conference Monday in Portland. “No one but the elders can ever know that there is a child predator lurking in that congregation.”
Zalkin said Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders don’t call police. Rather, Zalkin said, they take the position that although Oregon law defines clergy as mandatory reporters of child abuse, they don’t need to report the abuse because it was a privileged religious communication.
“At some point, it becomes too expensive to keep doing this,” Zalkin said. “That’s what civil litigation is about.”
An attorney for the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mario Moreno, said he hadn't yet seen a copy of Monday's lawsuit and couldn't offer comment.
Zalkin, an attorney from San Diego, said this is the first case of its kind that he knows of in Oregon. His firm has 14 active cases against the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization in other states that include California, Connecticut and New Mexico. Several others also are pending in the U.S.
The suit alleges that Daniel Castellanos, who held the equivalent position of a baptized ordained minister in the North Hillsboro Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, molested Alston in 1986 or 1987 when she was 11 or 12 years old. The suit claims Castellanos also molested a boy, described only as John Roe in the suit, when the boy was 8 to 10 years old.
Alston said she chose to use her name and speak to reporters Monday because she wants to give victims a voice. She said filing civil litigation in hopes of changing the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ policies did not amount to committing an act against God, even though her attorneys say the Jehovah’s Witnesses might shun her for doing so.
"I know that there are other victims," said Alston, who now lives in San Diego. "I know that you're scared because you're worried about being punished by God. But God would never do something like this. So it's OK to say something. Because if you don't say something it's going to keep happening."
The suit alleges Alston was kissed and fondled under her clothes multiple times by Castellanos, a piano teacher, while he was supposed to be giving her piano lessons at his house. She eventually told her mother, who went to the Hillsboro congregation’s elders. Alston said the elders told her and her mother to tell no one – including police
Zalkin said Castellanos was ousted from the congregation for three to five years but eventually let back in.
Castellanos was married and had children at the time of the abuse, Alston said. She and her attorneys don’t know how old he is or where he lives, but they believe it’s outside of Oregon. They said they don’t think he has any criminal history.
Oregon's statute of limitations doesn't allow Castellanos to be criminally prosecuted because too many years have passed. But state law does allow alleged victims of child sexual abuse to file lawsuits up until age 40 or within five years of when they realize the damaging effect the abuse has had on their lives.
Castellanos couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Several weeks ago, a California judge awarded $13.5 million to a man who said he was molested as a child by a San Diego Jehovah's Witnesses leader.
Jehovah's Witnesses count about 8 million people within more than 113,000 congregations.
-- Aimee Green
Suit Filed Against Hillsboro Jehovah's Witnesses, Alleging 1980s Abuse
Lawyers filed suit against the Jehovah’s Witnesses Monday, for alleged abuse against two children in a Hillsboro congregation back in the 1980s.
Velicia Alston and an unidentified man are claiming the abuse.
Velicia Alston at a press conference Monday.
Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB
Alston, 39, says she’s not satisfied with Jehovah’s Witnesses response, even though the man was expelled after she came forward.
“I was told not to talk about it with anybody in the congregation, none of my friends that were around my age,” she said. “And to be honest, it kind of made me angry because I didn’t feel that was something that you should not tell people.”
Alston and her co-plantiff are seeking more than $10 million in damages. Her lawyer says there’s a culture of silence within the Jehovah’s Witnesses that allows predators to get away with abuse.
Mario Moreno is a lawyer at the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ head office in New York. He says he has yet to see the case, but expects it has no merit.
Jehovah's Witnesses Hit With Another Lawsuit Alleging Child Sexual Abuse; Organization Has Paid Over $13 Million in Damages
BY SAMI K. MARTIN , CHRISTIAN POST REPORTER
December 1, 2014|12:25 pm
(PHOTO: THE CHRISTIAN POST/NICOLA A. MENZIE)
A group of Jehovah's Witnesses stand by their table displaying religious literature on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, at the Atlantic Terminal subway station in New York City.
A new case of child sexual abuse was filed earlier today against a Jehovah's Witnesses congregation in Hillsboro, Oregon.
The lawsuit, filed against the North Hillsboro Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, alleges that Velicia Alston and an unnamed plaintiff known only as John Roe, were sexually abused and molested by Daniel Castellanos, a Baptized Publisher and Elder or Ministerial Servant in the congregation. Alston and Roe were reportedly between the ages of 11 and 8-10, respectively.
"We will show that these innocent children had their lives ruined by this congregational leader and this religious organization, who suppressed its knowledge of a child predator within the congregation by following the policies imposed by the governing body of the Jehovah's Witnesses to keep such information secret at all costs to avoid scandal and public scrutiny," Irwin M. Zalkin of The Zalkin Law Firm, said in the press release.
The Zalkin Law Firm has represented numerous victims of sexual assault at the hands of the Jehovah's Witnesses organization. The governing body has had to pay several million dollars to victims and has been accused of purposely covering up charges of abuse as well as protecting known abusers.
In Oct., Jose Lopez was awarded $13.5 million in damages for the abuse he suffered when he was seven years old. Lopez went public with his allegation of abuse at the hands of church leader Gonzalo Campos and was represented by The Zalkin Law Firm. The religious organization flatly denied all of the charges.
"Jehovah's Witnesses abhor child abuse and strive to protect children from such acts," Mario Moreno, associate general counsel for Watchtower, told UT San Diego. "The trial judge's decision is a drastic action for any judge to take given the circumstances of this case. We will seek a full review of this case on appeal."
However, Zalkin has stated that there is an international problem of child sexual abuse within the organization that must not be denied.
"These guys will deny and deny. They are belligerent, they are arrogant, they treat victims as adversaries," Zalkin told UT San Diego. "This is not an organization that is ready to accept the reality of what they have been doing."
Last month alone, three siblings in Connecticut filed a lawsuit alleging they were abused by a ministerial servant from the group. They claimed that the group protected a known and registered sex offender, Orlando Afandor, which left them vulnerable to abuse.
Jehovah's Witnesses have remained silent on the matter, leading to further belief that there is a conspiracy or cover-up. When called for comment, the organization did not reply.
Zalkin Press Release Click Here