Thursday, July 23, 2015

Is religion doing enough to root out abuse?

From when Karen Morgan was 12, until she was well into her teens, she was sexually abused by her uncle - a ministerial servant with the Jehovah's Witnesses. 

He would go upstairs, on the premise that he was saying a prayer with his niece, then sexually abuse her. 

Now in her 30s, Karen wasn't understood when she first told her parents what her uncle, Mark Sewell, was doing. 

Sewell was also the son of a trusted older member of the local Jehovah's Witnesses congregation, known as an elder.

Christian churches, as well as other religions, have faced claims of child abuse. 

But what is striking about the Jehovah's Witnesses is their explicit policy of dealing with abuse in-house.

Because of their practice of following the Bible literally, they insist there must be two witnesses to a crime, often not the case in child abuse cases. 

However, in Karen's case a second witness did come forward: Wendy, a family friend and fellow member of the Barry congregation in south Wales. She had been raped by the same man. 

When she reported the crime to elders, Wendy was made to describe it in minute detail to a group of older men. 

Later, she had to give her account again in the same room as Sewell. 

Afterwards, the elders told her that as it was only her account against that of Sewell, nothing more could be done. 

This bringing together of the accused and the accuser in a "judicial committee" is a common feature of Jehovah's Witnesses' justice. 

Karen, still a teenager at the time, was put through the process.

The elders also ruled that their separate accusations didn't constitute the required two witnesses.

Despite a pattern of predatory sexual behaviour, it took more than two decades to bring Wendy and Karen's abuser to justice. 

His punishment from the Jehovah's Witnesses? There wasn't one. [...]

Jehovah's Witnesses are not the only religious organisation to try to deal with allegations of sexual abuse in-house.

For many decades, that was the preferred method of the Roman Catholic Church, which has since reformed its child safeguarding policies following numerous court cases in the US and Europe against priests for the sexual abuse of children. 

Other churches have also tightened up their child safeguarding policies, with the Methodist Church conducting its own recent inquiry into abuse allegations dating back to 1950. 

That inquiry has led to calls for the Church of England to hold a fresh internal inquiry of its own, separately from the overarching national public inquiry that has just begun, and from the investigation it published in 2010, which critics termed inadequate. 

However, it is the more closed religious communities and new religious movements where it remains hardest for the victims of such abuse to speak out and gain access to secular justice, although awareness of the issue is growing. 

Only this month, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish scholar from Manchester - who fled to Israel after he was exposed as a paedophile - was jailed for 13 years

Todros Grynhaus was deported by the Israeli authorities to face justice in the UK, with his conviction for sex offences against girls leading to a change in attitudes in the Haredi Jewish community. 

The case prompted the UK's Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, to urge members to report child sex abuse.
The court had heard that both women who testified against Grynhaus in the case had been "ostracised" by their community as a result of speaking out about their ordeal. [...]

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