A brother writes,
WTS Reporting Policy for US Branch:
Unless the law says otherwise or a child is in IMMEDIATE danger, current WTS policy in the USA is as follows: Elders should not encourage reporting, but neither should elders discourage it.
1. Elders are not instructed to always encourage victims or their parents to report suspected or known child abuse.
2. Practically no elder is qualified to properly evaluate accusations and testimony of child abuse victims. It requires specialized training to deal with all the nuances of how children perceive incidents or objects, and how they tend to express themselves after trauma or as a result of trauma. This becomes more difficult when evaluating the recollections of an adult recounting an incident from childhood. In that case, besides analyzing the recollection from the eyes of a child , there is the added consideration of how people tend to remember traumatic incidents from their childhood.
3. Elders lack the necessary tools of investigation to root out child abusers to the extent the danger deserves.
For instance, elders do not usually have access to a person's history of criminal behavior related to child abuse, or any other crime; local police oftentimes have this or the means of retrieving it to a reasonable degree, certainly they have the greatest potential of doing so, and it is important to do so. Also, local police have means of making inquiry to neighbors and work places where a person's reputation is known in ways most often unknown to congregation elders.
4. Too much apprehension among publishers who are TAUGHT and TRAINED to depend on elders and the WTS for advice when it comes to reporting fellow JWs to secular authorities. Advice that we do not take a position on reporting leaves victims in doubt about whether they are doing a good or bad thing, if they report. They feel unsupported during a time when they may need it the most. (Supporting the reporting of child molestation is not support of false accusation)
5. The inherent and substantial danger posed by child molesters to a congregation AND community. Our existing policy does not always protect against the serious and legitimate threat posed to persons outside our local congregations. Often our policy has the effect of TRYING to protect the congregation but knowingly leaves the rest of the community totally unprotected from a known molester. This omission borders on moral (not legal) accessory when a perpetrator known to us later goes out and molests a child in the neighborhood. Morally , we owe it to our neighbors to give them an OPPORTUNITY of protection.
6. The lasting and horribly detrimental effects of child molestation for victims. Child molestation is a serious and violent criminal act and should be treated accordingly. To do otherwise is immoral.
1. Change one simple thing, Take away the DISCRETION of ENCOURAGING publishers to report by making it automatic advice in all cases of reported sexual abuse of a child! (This does not mean to imply that elders should insist victims report this crime, rather victims should be encouraged to do so)
PUBLISH this encouragement in The Watchtower for all publishers and elders to read and consider together, so that ALL teachers/ministers (appointed or not; sister or brother) in the congregation have an opportunity to SEE that matters are dealt with in a fair and safe manner.
In effect, do the same thing with sexual child abuse as we already do with rape and other seriously violent crime, ENCOURAGE victims or parents of victims to REPORT their accusation to local police or social workers. Of course, it will remain the prerogative of victims or parents of victims to follow this advice and any laws that might also apply. Elders will continue to follow whatever local laws apply, but the discretion of ENCOURAGING to report will be taken away, they will do this automatically and ALL publishers will have an opportunity to see to it by KNOWING of the policy from reading or researching our chief publication, The Watchtower.
2. After PUBLISHING for all to see the recommendation that publishers should report suspected or known sexual abuse of a child, elders should then be trained to follow this recommendation in print AND reminded of it whenever they report incidents to WTS headquarters.
DO NOT leave it up in the air as if appointed elders have the discretion of whether to encourage reporting in cases of alleged child molestation. Make it automatic! Let publishers know they are supported rather than left on their own.
DO NOT leave it up in the air for publishers to be concerned about whether it is proper to report the accusation of a seriously violent crime like child molestation. Let them know IN PRINT that this is their choice but that it is encouraged.
This simple policy shift of ENCOURAGING that victims or their parents report suspected or known child molestation tears down so many obstacles hindering justice and protection from further hurt. I see no GOOD REASON for failing to have a policy as described here.
Effects of Remedies
1. It alleviates concerns among publishers about whether they are acting as Christians by reporting that possibly a fellow Christian is actually a criminal child molester. (This is more than a civil matter such as those discussed in 1 Cor 6:1; This is a criminal matter more akin to rape [see g93 3/8 p9-10 subheading "Give Her Support", also see box on page 9])
2. It maintains ministerial confidentiality as much as the law allows, yet it lessens the opportunity that justice and protection goes unserved.
3. This change may not be a "Megan's Law," but it should nevertheless strike fear in the heart of those known as JWs who are actually child predators in mind or reality! Those who might be wrongly charged should have no fear that elders or secular law enforcement officials will uncover criminal behavior. Innocent persons accused of child molestation should be glad to have an opportunity of having their good name THOROUGHLY cleared! Suspicions and rumor will not GO AWAY just because the police are not notified.
4. It empowers victims and parents to do no less than what we already recommend in cases like rape. Unless we view sexual molestation of a child as a LESSER offense than rape, then why in God's name (literally as JWs) must we treat it differently in terms of ENCOURAGING that these reports are made to police? In cases of rape we encourage this reporting whether there are two witnesses OR NOT. Why the dual standard when both criminal behaviors are just as serious and just as damaging!
5. It allows public knowledge should an investigation turn up strong enough evidence of threatening criminal behavior, like child molestation. This helps elders protect families in the congregation without revealing anything confidential. Besides whatever internal protective measures might be available otherwise, elders can also refer publishers to public knowledge if need be. This would help elders keep confidential pastoral conversation private, better protect congregations and allow that communities have a fair opportunity to protect themselves from a suspected or known child molester.
As long as these simple and practical policy changes are left undone, it is dishonest for the WTS to keep depending on the age-old excuse of "Those elders acted outside WTS policy." The WTS knows perfectly well that child molestation is an extremely difficult issue to deal with and that elders are not trained to deal with all of the resulting dynamics. Yes, they may be trained to make the moral distinction of right and wrong in terms of "is child molestation wrong?" Certain child molestation is wrong! But, almost to the man, elders are untrained to evaluate the credibility of child molestation accusations or to deal with the almost automatic emotional and psychological aftereffects. Elders are trained to provide pastoral help, which means they can determine morality and offer spiritual assistance and protection, but this does not give them tools adequate to accurately weigh accusations of child molestation. This requires specialized training beyond the pastoral scope and training of elders.
is quite possible a WTS staff lawyer will answer this recommendation
by saying current policy ALLOWS for reporting, but this is different
from insisting that elders always encourage publishers to report accusations
of sexual child abuse. Certainly there is no published statements for
publishers to follow when it comes to this, and these publishers are
taught to look to the WTS and local elders for advice for dealing with
life situations, including moral ones. This advice is lacking in our
publications and local elders are not sure what to say themselves, on
the subject of reporting child molestation. Do not be fooled by evasive
language about what is ALLOWED versus what is ENCOURAGED.
Potential Objections to Recommendation
1. Might hinder voluntary confession.
Answer: Not so. Voluntary confessions stem from repentance. Repentant people are willing to "own up" to their crime and face the consequences. Those who are unwilling to face consequences of their own actions are not repentant and cannot reasonably be expected to voluntarily confess in the first place.
2. Might hinder victims or parents from reporting to elders.
Answer: Not so. Elders are not to insist that victims or parents report allegations of child molestation, they are only encouraged to do so. This should be made clear. This is a support and safety mechanism for those who need or desire it.
3. Might hinder cooperation of alleged abusers with our internal judicial process.
Answer: Not so. Honest cooperation from molesters stems from repentance, not fear of criminal consequence. Accused persons who are innocent have every reason to cooperate. Unrepentant child molesters will avoid honest cooperation. Repentant child molesters will cooperate out of their repentance. In some cases elders can help a molester to the point of repentance; cooperation will follow repentance.
4. Might needlessly cause adverse press about Jehovah's Witnesses.
Answer: Not so. Adverse press stems from doing perceived wrong, not from doing the right thing. Today developed lands are growing in their appreciation of organizations who take a proactive and supportive position for victims of molesters and decide to err on the side of caution. The growing realization of the horrible and long-lasting victimization caused by child molestation has taught society how dangerous it is and to react accordingly.
5. In some lands it might be dangerous to report child molesters because of horribly brutal systems of prosecutions, or notoriously unjust systems.
Answer: Victims (or their guardians) will be aware of this and can weigh for themselves whether reporting under local circumstances is the morally correct choice. Furthermore, molesters will also be aware of this and must be therefore responsible for consequences of their own actions. Additionally, this aspect of reporting should be an area where elders could share their own reservations, but at the same time reminding publishers that this decision is theirs and the congregation will not think less of them for seeking whatever protection is available under the law.
6. Sexual molestation of a child is not as serious a crime as rape or murder.
Answer: Victims of child molestation say otherwise. Some of them become so distraught later in life that they commit self-murder (suicide) in order to escape their damaged emotional state. Who is responsible for this murder?
Potential Objections to Recommendation, cont'd
7. The Bible advises Christians to work things out among themselves if possible.
Answer: It is true the Bible recommends Christians working out differences among themselves. This could probably be extended to petty criminal acts too. However, some acts pose a present dan ger outside the congregation, they go beyond civil or moral issue to the point of hurting others emotionally and physically. The Bible instructs to us love our neighbors as ourselves. If love for our fellow believer dictates that we protect them as far as possible from suspected child predators, why does our love not extend to our neighbors by alerting them of an accused molester? Sexual molesters of children pose a threat to everyone, not just publishers within a given congregation.
8. Routine reporting of accused child molesters goes contrary to scriptural admonition to maintain confidentiality.
Answer: Reporting suspected criminals of violent acts to recognized authorities is not a breach of confidentiality, because giving information to those with a right to it is not a breach. God has placed secular governments in relative authority to deal with and met out justice for crime. By us attempting to deal with serious crime ourselves we are attempting to usurp a provision of Jehovah. This is similar to elders trying to discipline children in a congregation as they would their own. True, elders can met out congregational discipline to baptized children, but doing this does not try to take the place of informing parents so they can deal with their own children according to the need. We respect God's authority in the family as given to fathers and mothers. Similarly, secular authorities are responsible to God for dealing with serious crime, and sexual molestation of a child is very serious crime that needs to be dealt with for the protection of everyone, not just Jehovah's Witnesses.
Furthermore, if we report accusations of child molestation sometimes, which we do, then it is scriptural to report accusations of child molestation, because scriptural tenets remain constant regardless of secular law.
9. We already ALLOW reporting (or: We already ENCOURAGE reporting, when the law requires it ).
Answer: Allowing reporting or recommending it in accordance with the law is not the same as ALWAYS giving the encouragement to report. Frank ly, if reporting is scripturally okay in some cases (where the law requires it) then they why would the practice become objectionable otherwise?