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JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES HOLD OUT OVER SEX ABUSE REDRESS SCHEME

The Jehovah’s Witnesses is openly defying the child sex abuse royal commission, refusing to implement its recommendations because they go against the religion’s “Bible-based beliefs” despite allegations that 1800 children had been abused since 1950.  The secretive religion of nearly 70,000 members is one of six institutions that were publicly shamed and stripped of taxpayer funding by Social Services Minister Anne Ruston who condemned the groups for failing to uphold their “moral obligation” to society by signing-up to the redress scheme.  She warned the refusal of the six institutions, including the Boys’ Brigade NSW, to participate was blocking the compensation claims of 55 abuse survivors.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses has failed to reform its structures in line with the directions issued by the royal commission in addition to its rejection of demands it sign-up to the government’s scheme aimed at compensating victims.  The decision means those with sex abuse allegations within the religion will still need to have their stories corroborated by at least two witnesses before church elders consider whether an alleged offender should be sanctioned by the organisation.  The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse warned there were systemic problems within the Jehovah’s Witness religion in dealing with abuse, including a failure to report credible allegations to the police.

The Commission heard Jehovah’s Witnesses had documentation of abuse allegations by 1800 children involving more than 1000 perpetrators since 1950 and three specific recommendations were made.  The religion was urged to abandon its application of the two-witness rule in cases involving complaints of child sexual abuse;  that it allow women to be involved in the investigation processes and that it no longer require members to shun people who leave the organisation if they are a victim of child sex abuse.  A Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesman said the three recommendations related to the religion’s “Bible-based beliefs”.  “We believe they go well beyond the scope of the royal commission’s terms of reference,” he said.

In a second statement, the spokesman said adopting the recommendations was unnecessary because it showed “a distinct lack of understanding of the beliefs and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses”.   The spokesman said two witnesses to an incident of abuse are only required to determine whether an alleged perpetrator remains in the congregation, not whether an allegation is reported to police.  He also said women can be “fully involved in receiving and submitting evidence of child sexual abuse” and denied the religion shunned victims of child sexual abuse.  But the spokesman did confirm the organisation shuns people who leave the organisation “of his own free will”.

Other institutions that were “named and shamed” by the government for not meeting the June 30 deadline were Australian Air League, Fairbridge Restored Limited, Lakes Entrance Pony Club and Kenja Communications.  The Australian Air League has since announced it would join the scheme.  Senator Ruston said the institutions that had not met the June deadline to join the compensation scheme for victims of institutional child sex abuse would be ineligible for any future commonwealth funding.  The government is also investigating options to revoke tax concessions including for those who can apply for charitable status.  She will discuss further sanctions with state and territory ministers next week.

Australian Air League, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Boys Brigade NSW all have charitable status, the Lakes Entrance Pony Club is on the tax deductible gift registry.  “It is completely unacceptable that these institutions have failed to meet their moral obligation to join the national redress scheme,” Senator Ruston said.  “These are institutions which know they have been named in applications and yet they have chosen to shirk their responsibility to finally do the right thing by these survivors.  More than 220 non-government institutions, including churches, schools and charities, have signed up to the scheme, with another 156 committing to joining.  Nearly 2700 people have received compensation under the scheme, worth a total of $220.9 million.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports