(Investigator 164, 2015 September)


The Washington Post summed up what Australia's Royal Commission discovered about Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs):

From 1950 to 2014, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society amassed 5,000 files detailing sexual abuse of Australian children by 1,006 of its members, who believe that only they — the Jehovah's Witnesses — proclaim the truth about God.
Young girls were assaulted by neighbors. Teenagers were raped by their fathers. Victims were forced to pray with their abusers… Victims, ordered to keep quiet, were forced to confront their abusers in person. (August 14)

The Australian government established the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2012 to investigate institutionalized child sexual abuse. The Commission has wide legal powers to examine any organization that may have covered up abuse. It does not have the power to find guilt or order punishment but can refer accused individuals to other authorities.

JWs got their turn commencing July 27, 2015. The Commission heard from elders, abuse-victims, the religion's top administrators in Australia, and a Governing Body member.

The evidence is that JWs have rules that prevent victims from speaking freely, fail to support them, and allow alleged perpetrators to remain in the congregation.


A Google Search brought up numerous news reports about what the Royal Commission heard including these:
July 27 Brisbane Times

July 27 The Guardian

July 27 The Chronicle (Toowoomba)

July 28 The Australian

July 28 The Independent

July 29 WA Today

July 29

July 29 Sydney Morning Herald

July 29 Sydney Morning Herald

August 1 The Saturday Paper

August 1 The Daily Telegraph

August 3 The Guardian

August 4 The Guardian

August 4 Sydney Morning Herald

August 5 Sky News

August 5 Sydney Morning Herald

August 6

August 13 Sydney Morning Herald

August 14 Toowoomba Chronicle

August 14 Washington Post

August 14


The following discussion is based on evidence given at the Royal Commission:

JWs in Australia received 1006 allegations of child sexual abuse by individual perpetrators since 1950 but reported none to the police.

The head of the JW legal department in Australia, Vincent Toole, has been getting three or four calls per month for the past two years regarding child abuse.

Alleged abusers can be expelled from church, i.e. "disfellowshipped", provided at least two witnesses gave evidence against them to a "judicial committee" composed of elders in the congregation. Most cases lacked two observers; therefore many accused perpetrators were not even questioned.

The Commission heard that 401 JWs in Australia had been "disfellowshipped" for abuse of children and 127 "officials" (elders or ministerial servants) demoted. But the majority were later reinstated.

The Organization of JWs is governed by its Governing Body which decides on doctrine and policy and instituted the policy that allegations of abuse not be reported to the police in states which lack specific legislation requiring abuse to be reported. JW elders also discouraged victims from taking the initiative to contact police because the publicity would "drag Jehovah's name through the mud".


About 60 alleged victims of child sexual abuse within JWs contacted the Royal Commission of whom two gave evidence.

A Queensland victim now aged 43 testified that at age 17 she suffered sexual abuse by her father:  "I remember him saying to me, 'Shhhh, it's okay. I'm your father. Be obedient to your father.'"

It happened about five times. She resisted as much as she dared but was afraid because he sometimes flogged her with a belt. She complained to the elders. These were friends of her father and berated her, even asking "Did you enjoy it?"

She was raised not to trust "outsiders", therefore afraid to go to the police, and attempted suicide. Later she found out her sisters had suffered similar abuse. Therefore in 2000 she abandoned the church and reported her father to the police. He was jailed in 2004 for rape.

John de Rooy was on the judicial committee which examined this victim's complaint. He told the Commission he had believed her and was "sickened", but it was "her word against the father", and church rules required two witnesses to prove an offence.

The father was subsequently "disfellowshipped" for another reason — he left the family home and lived with another woman — but was reinstated several years later.

Another woman now aged 47 testified she was friends with an elder's daughter in Western Australia and therefore stayed at the elder's home. He would "tongue kiss" her; and spy on her when she was in the shower. She reported it to other elders and had to attend judicial meetings with the offender present. He joked about what he did and was demoted.

Max Horley was an elder in the congregation the girl attended. He told the Commission that notes about child sexual abuse are destroyed to limit the number of people who know about the abuse: "We do not want our wives knowing our stuff – what sort of things we are dealing with."


To find someone guilty JW judicial committees (composed of elders, usually three) have to secure one of the following:

a)    A confession;
b)    The testimony of two credible witnesses to the one incident;
c)    The testimony of two witnesses to separate but similar incidents;
d)    Strong circumstantial evidence testified to by two or more witnesses.

The accuser also has to put his/her case to the judicial committee in the presence of the alleged perpetrator. This means that a teenage girl may have to appear by herself before four men and describe intimate details.

Perpetrators found guilty are disfellowshipped until they "repent" and seek reinstatement. They are not, however, reported to the police except where the law requires it or if the victims on their own initiative tell the police.

Perpetrators who claim to be repentant before they are disfellowshipped remain members but under restrictions, called "loss of privileges". Elders found guilty are demoted from eldership for a few years but may be reinstated if they meet certain criteria.

Thus child-abusers who profess repentance remain in the congregation where the elders "keep an eye on him". The congregation is not informed of their "sin", therefore unprepared if they relapse.


Terrence O'Brien, co-ordinator of the "Branch Committee" at the JWs Australian headquarters, told the Royal Commission that the Organisation would consider changes to its procedures for child sexual abuse.

The Branch Committee would consider greater involvement of women, clearer guidance for elders, better communication with victims about legal options, and would consider establishing a redress scheme.

These replies were vague because decisions on policy, rules, and doctrine are made in New York by the Governing Body and these insist on uniformity among all JWs in over 200 countries.


The Royal Commission possibly remains unclear on three official JW teachings that hinder victims from reporting sexual abuse to police:

1.    Gossiping and slander can be disfellowshipping offenses among JWs. If alleged child abuse cannot be confirmed by two observers the victim and his parents have to stay quiet i.e. not "gossip" or "slander". This keeps the congregation ignorant of pedophiles in its midst and can dissuade victims' parents from informing the police.

2.    JWs are discouraged from taking each other to court. They apply the Apostle Paul's words: "Does anyone of you that has a case against the other dare to go to court before unrighteous men?" (I Corinthians 6)

JW publications have never stated that this includes child abuse. Nevertheless, when alleged child abuse lacks the required two witnesses, many elders apply this scripture and permit police involvement only after or if the perpetrator is disfellowshipped.

The counsel in The Watchtower is this:

"However, if a Christian refuses to correct a serious wrong when it is made clear to him by elders serving in judicial capacity in the congregation, such a one would be expelled. This is in line with Jesus' words: "If he does not listen even to the congregation, let him be to you just as a man of the nations and as a tax collector." (Matt. 18:17) Thus, for example, one who defrauded his Christian brother or who failed to provide materially for his wife and children would find himself outside the congregation if he did not repent.—1 Tim. 5:8.

The injured party could thereafter decide whether legal action should be taken in an attempt to force the guilty one, now disfellowshiped, to rectify matters. Of course, the injured party would want to take into consideration whether it would be worth the time and expense as well as whether the congregation could still come into disrepute by bringing to public attention the actions of one of its former members. If the wronged Christian conscientiously felt that God's name would not be reproached and legal action was definitely needed, he would not necessarily be acting contrary to the spirit of Paul's counsel if he were to take to court one who was no longer a part of the Christian congregation… "
(1973, November 15, p. 703)

3.    JWs are routinely admonished to not bring "reproach on the organization" or on "God's name". Again, JW publications do not explicitly apply this concept to concealing child abuse. However, many who left the sect after suffering sexual abuse claim that elders used the "do-not-bring-reproach" argument to stop police involvement. 


The flawed JW response to child sexual abuse has long been criticised. For example:

•    The Illawarra Mercury (NSW) reported:

A Wollongong judge yesterday launched a scathing attack on the Jehovah's Witness congregation at Balgownie, accusing elders of failing to report child sex abuse…
The attack came as he sentenced Robert Leslie Souter to five years' jail for sexual assaults on two teenage boys 20 years ago…
"The moral punishment imposed by a church is not punishment demanded by law,'' Judge Goldring said… (August 5, 2000)

•    A report in the Toronto Sun (2002, September 1) reported how, "monsters are hiding behind the church's policy on handling child abuse."             

•    An Australian television documentary, "Silent Witness", on the Sunday Program (Channel 9) for September 22, 2002, gave evidence that JW elders covered up         child abuse and frustrated police investigations.
        Transcript at:

•    The Encylopaedia Britannica 2002 Year in Review (2003) reported: "Five people were expelled from the Jehovah's Witnesses in the United States after they             accused leaders of covering up the sexual abuse of children by members." (p302)  One of the expelled, Bill Bowen, was an elder for 16 years. He founded    
        the "Silent Lambs" website which reprints media reports of sexual abuse by JWs and says 6000 victims have made contact.

Geoffrey Jackson

On August 5 the Royal Commission heard that Geoffrey Jackson, an Australian-born member of the New York-based Governing Body, was in Queensland visiting his father.

Governing Body members normally minimize their exposure to questioning by media and courts. In California the Zalkin Law Firm reported a $13.5 million default judgment against the Watchtower Society:

…a default judgement against the corporate head of the Jehovah's Witnesses after it refused to obey court orders to produce documents that would show the depth and breadth of the problem of sexual abuse of children within congregations of the Jehovah's Witnesses throughout the United States. In addition, Watchtower refused a court order to produce the longest serving member of its governing body for a deposition.

Jackson, however, responded to a Royal Commission summons and appeared via video link from the Toowoomba courthouse on August 14.

Jackson said the JW Organization would join a "co-ordinated redress scheme for victims of institutional sexual abuse" provided "nothing was scripturally against us doing that". An apology to abuse victims was "perceivable". Women cannot become elders but the policy of requiring female abuse victims to appear before male committees may be reviewed. The Governing Body would only conform to today's social attitudes where "supported by the scriptures".


The Zalkin Law Firm specializes in child abuse cases. Its website has articles, video links, and media reports.

YouTube features many videos for free viewing including Mr Jackson's questioning by the Royal Commission barrister. (

Particularly informative is the video "Dateline Interview: JW Elder Rapes Erica Garza".

And disturbing is: "Boy Raped at Bethel [i.e. headquarters) by a … Governing Body Member".

The "Member" was removed from the Governing Body but not reported to police nor disfellowshipped, merely reassigned to other work.

Dictionary of Jehovah's Witnesses at: