Jehovah’s Witness Sexual Abuse
For most Americans, Jehovah’s Witnesses are simply the friendly young people who knock on our doors and want to share their beliefs. Their zealousness may be a minor annoyance, their pleasant greetings give no reason for ire or concern. Over the past few years, however, criminal investigations and civil lawsuits—including one here in Philadelphia—have revealed a darker underside to the organization for some members. An unusual approach to handling allegations of wrongdoing among members puts victims of sexual and other types of abuse at greater risk, making it difficult for them to get the help they need.
The Jehovah’s Witness “Two Witness Rule”
When a member of a Jehovah’s Witness congregation is accused of wrongdoing, including sexual abuse, the organization’s firm policy is that no action shall be taken against the accused without at least two witnesses to his actions. While the two witness rule has its roots in Biblical text, it creates an insurmountable barrier for most sexual abuse victims. Most child molesters and other sexual abusers take great care to keep their actions private, meaning that there will virtually never be a witness other than the victim.
While the rule relates only to internal disciplinary actions and does not prohibit a parent or other concerned adult from reporting sexual abuse to local police or other authorities, the belief that two witnesses are required for an allegation to stand is deeply ingrained in the Jehovah’s witness community. Whether due to their own beliefs or concern about social repercussions, many members are reluctant to involve authorities or take civil action outside the church.
Pennsylvania Law Protects Jehovah’s Witnesses Who Have Been Sexually Abused
Winning or settling a sexual abuse case against the abuser or the organization that allowed the abuse to continue requires evidence. However, the Pennsylvania court system does not apply an arcane rule requiring that a third party must have witnessed the sexual abuse. Other types of evidence, including testimony from the victim and medical records, can be used to establish liability and damages in a sexual abuse case.
The Pennsylvania statute of limitations in sexual abuse cases was written to ensure that people who were unable to come forward as children or who had repressed their memories of the abuse have an opportunity to face their abusers and pursue compensation in adulthood. Therefore, children who were left at the mercy of abusers within the Jehovah’s witness community and leave the congregation as adults may still be able to pursue legal claims, although the abuse is years in the past. If the victim was a minor when the sexual abuse occurred, the statute of limitations allows 12 years beyond the victim’s 18th birthday to file a lawsuit. Thus, many victims have access to justice for childhood sexual abuse until they reach the age of 30. In some cases, a skilled child molestation attorney may successfully bring suit even outside that generous limitations period.
Determining Liability in a Jehovah’s Witness Sexual Abuse Case
When sexual abuse occurs within an organization like the Jehovah’s witnesses and is enabled or covered up by that organization’s official policies or its leadership, legal responsibility may reach far beyond the individual abuser. The best way to determine whether there may be additional responsible parties is to discuss your case with an experienced sexual abuse lawyer.
Liability in a sexual abuse case is not dependent on criminal prosecution. A sexual abuse victim who never made a report to the police may still pursue a civil claim. The burden of proof is different in a civil case than in a criminal case. If the prosecution decided there was not enough evidence to file charges, or filed charges and lost the case at trial, a civil verdict or settlement may still be possible.
Damages in a Sexual Abuse Case
The damages awarded in every case are different, since they are determined by the specifics of the case. One of the most common and most significant elements of sexual abuse damage awards is funding for the costly and often long-term therapy many sexual abuse victims require.
A Sexual Abuse Attorney Can Be a Powerful Ally
Many victims of sexual abuse find it difficult to speak up and seek help. That’s especially understandable when the abuse has been covered up by trusted adults and community leaders, such as the leadership of a Jehovah’s Witness congregation. While it may be difficult to take that first step, there is nothing to lose and much to gain by speaking with an experienced sexual abuse lawyer. The decision as to whether to move forward will always be yours. Give yourself the tools to make informed decisions by scheduling a free consultation right now.