Danish Branch office
May 15. 2003
TO ALL BODIES OF ELDERS
Regarding: treatment of accusations of child abuse
Through many years it has been standard procedure that the elders immediately contact the Branch Office when cases of child abuse arise. In this way we always assure that the right guidelines are followed in these relatively rare cases. We will continue to follow this procedure.
Sexual abuse of children is an outrageous perversity and all such accusations should be taken seriously. The results of such abuse are far-reaching. Many victims will not recover completely until Jehovah makes all things new in the new world. The Watchtower gives a clear explanation of our view "a person that abuses children is a rapist and is to be viewed as such. All who has been a victim of child abuse has the right to accuse the abuser." The Watchtower November 1. 1995, page 25 - 27.
Even though very few congregations will ever experience such cases the Branch Office Committee has decided that all elders should be familiar with the action plan the Service Department uses when they give guidance in such cases. It is our hope that openness about such serious problems will work to prevent child abuse and give you the ability to give the correct help when it happens. At the same time we take the opportunity to stress that such serious abuse must not be taken lightly. The action plan consists of six parts: 1. Prevention. 2. Help to the victims. 3. Cooperation with the authorities. 4. Responsibility for the congregation. 5. Help for those with "recovered memories." 6. Relationship to the media.
A. When it is possible those involved should be encouraged to read the information in the October 8. 1993 issue of Awake! This has many good articles under the theme "How Can We Protect Our Children?"
B. In most cases of child abuse the abuser is a member of the family or a good friend of the family. Elders must therefore be particularly alert if they in their daily care for the congregation should encounter behavior among children that could be an indication of abuse - see the article "Prevention in the Home" in the above mentioned Awake!
C. Many pedophiles find their victims through the internet. The July 22 1997 issue of Awake! Pages 10-13 contain warnings and good guidance for parents.
D. Carefully follow the guidance that known pedophiles shouldn't be left alone with other individual's children, should not be going out in the service alone and should not occupy positions of responsibility in the congregation.
E. Elders must be alert if someone that attends the meetings in the congregation shows improper interest in children, and that they themselves must be good examples by interacting with children in all purity.
To all Bodies of Elders
May 15. 2003
2. HELP FOR THE VICTIMS
A. In case of abuse steps must immediately be taken to protect the child against additional abuse. The parents, the victim or the elders must immediately take contact with a doctor or the Social Authorities.
B. Refer the parents to the box "If Your Child Is Abused" on page 9 in the above mentioned October 8, 1993 Awake!
C. The elders must not interrogate the child to find out what has happened. This is something the parents must do in cooperation with doctors or the authorities.
D. If an adult witness wants to talk to the elders about abuse they have suffered as children, the elders will offer those spiritual help and compassion. The October 8, 1991 Awake! offers a number of articles under the theme "The Secret Wounds of Child Abuse" and "A Time to Heal" these can be a great help when giving care.
3. COOPERATION WITH AUTHORITIES
A. As elders it is your duty to offer religious and spiritual help to the members of the congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses. Any information that you will get during the execution of your duties are considered confidential and you are under obligation never to reveal them. You must never make any statements neither to the press, nor to persons not concerned.
B. According to the Law of Social Service paragraph 35 and 36, all Danish citizens have a duty to inform the Social authorities in the municipality if they know about or suspect abuse of children.
Paragraph 35: Anyone in the execution of their official duty or occupation shall inform the municipal authorities. If they in carrying out their daily duties come into knowledge with circumstances involving children under eighteen years of age, which indicate that the child has special needs of support.
Paragraph 36: Individuals that acquire knowledge of a child under 18 which are subject to neglect or maltreatment from its parents has a duty to report it to the municipal authorities.
C. Parents should therefore be encouraged to turn to the doctor or the municipal social authorities. Never discourage anyone from reporting to the authorities. If the parents/victims report the abuse the elders will consider if they should also approach the authorities in accordance with Law of Social Service.
D. If the abuse is to be investigated the elders will cooperate with the Social Authorities as well as the police.
4. RESPONISIBILITY FOR THE CONGREGATION
A. Abuse of children is a serious sin which can lead to disfellowshipping from Jehovah's Witnesses congregations. Any allegation should taken seriously and be investigated by at least two elders.
B. If the accused admits to the abuse he should immediately be stripped of any congregational duties. Subsequently there should be formed a Judicial Committee which shall decide if the abuser should be expelled from the congregation,
If extraordinary circumstances dictate that a child abuser is not expelled Public Reproof will be offered in the congregation so families with children will be alerted.
To all Bodies of Elders
May 15. 2003
Whether the abuser is expelled or not, he is to be treated correctly. The elders will encourage him and if possible help him to get professional help.
C. If the accused denies the accusation in front of the two elders and it is word against word, therefore no judicial committee would be formed. The Bibles demands that there must be two or three witnesses for a decision to be made. It is the nature of such cases that there are rarely any witnesses. The elders can therefore only intervene if there is strong circumstantial evidence or if another eye witness can testify to similar abuse. If not they will have to place the matter in Jehovahs Hands. (1 Timothy 5: 19, 24, 25)
D. The elders handling of such a case involves only the abusers relationship with our church. It can therefore be carried out parallel with the authority's investigation. The victim can immediately go to the doctor or to the social authorities; they do not have to await the elder's decisions. Even though there is no cause for judicial action the elders should encourage the victim or the relatives to consider informing social authorities.
5. HELP FOR THOSE WITH "RECOVERED MEMORIES"
A. Carefully follow the guidance set out in November 1, 1995 issue of the Watchtower article "Comfort for Those With a 'Stricken Spirit'" (pages 25-29)
B. Recovered memories are experienced as very real. Those who are disturbed with such memories need understanding and care. These are memories that have been forgotten many years and then recovered by therapeutic treatment that either has been carried out by a professional psychologist or by a self taught psychotherapist.
C. Because it is great doubt as to the authenticity of such recovered memories they can't be included as proof of abuse if they can't be verified by other circumstances..
D. If no confession from the accused is forthcoming, the elders will not raise any case for judicial action on the grounds of "recovered memories." They will view it as a case where there is "word against word."
6. RELATIONSHIP TO THE MEDIA
A. Rightfully Child abuse is in the eye of the media. If someone in your congregation is accused, the elders must appoint a spokesman who can answer the media when they are approached.
B. The response that should be given is: "We never talk about cases that are under investigation. In principal we always inform the social authorities and it is up to them to investigate further."
This action plan will of course not cover all eventualities but we hope it will be of assistance if such problems should occur or if publishers should ask us how we deal with such matters.
Apart from those articles referred to, good advice has been offered through body of elder letters and the Kingdom Ministry School, our methods and procedures will be adjusted and improved in step with the needs that arise and we will encourage you all to keep informed about all future guidance.
We also want to recommend the attached folder which is published by Save the Children. It contains condensed instructions that is in harmony with what is written in our publications and in letters from the Branch Office. It should be helpful for you and for parents that might need to review this material.
To all Bodies of Elders
May 15. 2003
It would be very fitting to have a special folder in the congregation's permanent file where you could collect letters and other material about child abuse so you can find the necessary information quickly. A photocopy or a printout from Watchtower Library of the October 8, 1993 Awake! article should also be added to the folder.
This letter may be circulated among the elders but must not be copied. At the next visit by the circuit overseer the main points of it should be reviewed at the meeting with the elders.
With the expressed wish that we may help our own and others children as well as to keep our Christian congregation morally clean so that the spirit of God can work freely, we send our love and greetings.
Danish Branch Office