More supervision needed on "closed community" Jehovah's witnesses: sexual abuse researchers

Sexual abuse is a serious problem within the Jehovah's Witnesses, they do not report such abuse allegations to the police, and a more intensive investigation is needed into this "closed community", researchers from Utrecht University said in a report that will be published on Thursday, AD reports based on the summons of the summary proceedings the Jehovah's Witnesses filed against the publication of the investigation.

Utrecht University (UU) studied sexual abuse within the Jehovah's Witnesses at the request of Minster Sander Dekker for Legal Protection. The researchers received 751 reports of sexual abuse, and the reporters completed a survey. 292 did so for themselves, 459 reported the abuse of someone close to them. Three quarters of victims said that they were insufficiently helped by the church. 52 percent of reports were made by people who no longer belong to the Jehovah's Witnesses. 4 percent involved sexual abuse by an elder of the church. The other victims were abused by family members, or at home by members of the church. 

The researchers advise setting up a hotline for sexual abuse within the church, which annually reports how the contact point deals with reports. 

In the summons, the Jehovah's Witnesses' lawyers argue that the fact that most of the abuse happened outside the physical church show that the abuse was mainly non-institutional. They also find it unjust that the abuse by elders of the church is directly linked to the religion. "No previous study in the Netherlands, certainly not a study commissioned by the government, is based on such a discriminatory definition of 'sexual abuse', with the only requirement being that the alleged victim or alleged perpetrator is a supporter of a certain faith.  

According to the summons, the researchers also suggest that the Education Inspectorate better monitor the school performance of children within the Jehovah's Witnesses, because they perform worse than might be expected based on their capacities. "Allegedly because the parents want the child to be more actively involved in his/her church community," the summons reads, according to the newspaper.

"The UU report wrongly attempts to justify the claim that Jehovah's Witnesses are a closed community and require special government intervention, including supervision of their children," the Jehovah's Witnesses' lawyers wrote in the summons. "Such supervision is not recommended for children raised in other religions, and no evidence is provided that children of the Jehovah's witnesses have, on average, worse performance than other children in Dutch schools."

"That would be surprising, given our experience that children of Jehovah's Witnesses in primary and secondary education in other countries perform better than average, and that the literature of Jehovah's Witnesses urges parents to see that children meticulously adhere to school obligations," the lawyers said.

Minister Dekker asked UU to investigate sexual abuse within the Jehovah's Witnesses after a hotline set up by foundation Reclaimed Voices received nearly 300 reports in 2018.