Jehovah’s Witnesses Release New Guidelines for Child Abuse Reporting

JWThe Jehovah’s Witnesses issued new guidelines for dealing with reporting child abuse allegations. The new directive, dated August 1, 2016, replaces the previous directive from October 1, 2012.

The six-page document is called “Protecting Minors from Abuse” but is clearly intended to protect the church from bad publicity and sexual abuse lawsuits. It provides guidelines to JW church elders on how to deal with reports of child abuse within the church. While the document covers physical and sexual abuse, the definition of sexual abuse is most detailed:

Child sexual abuse is a perversion and generally includes sexual intercourse with a minor; oral or anal sex with a minor; fondling the genitals, breasts, or buttocks of a minor; voyeurism of a minor; indecent exposure to a minor; or soliciting a minor for sexual conduct. Depending on the circumstances of the case, it may include involvement with child pornography or “sexting” with a minor. “Sexting” describes the sending of sexually explicit messages or images electronically.


In at least 17 places, the short document instructs church elders to call the church’s legal department when dealing with reports of child abuse. In contrast, it only briefly mentions that some state may require reporting to law enforcement authorities:

In some jurisdictions, individuals who learn of an allegation of child abuse may be obligated by law to report the allegation to secular authorities. In all cases, the victim and her parents have the absolute right to report an allegation to the authorities. To ensure that elders comply with child-abuse reporting laws, two elders should immediately call the Legal Department for legal advice when the elders learn of an accusation of child abuse.


Significantly, the directive does not require or even encourage the victim, the parents, or church officials to contact the police. Instead, it tells church elders to contact the legal department immediately. The goal is clear. The Jehovah Witnesses want to do the bare minimum to comply with mandatory reporting laws, but they are going to do everything possible to handle these claims internally and keep them out of the spotlight and away from “secular” authorities.

The Jehovah Witness church consistently takes the position that church officials do not report child abuse in the church to police unless required to do so by mandatory reporting laws.  During the 2015 Australian Royal Commission hearings on child abuse in Australia, a Jehovah’s Witnesses official said as much. Here is an excerpt of an exchange between Honorable Nicholas Wakeling and acting Watchtower Australian Branch Overseer Terry O’Brien:

Mr. WAKELING — I am trying to be very clear here. If there was evidence of child abuse within the church that you are aware of, would you report that to the police?

Mr. T. O’BRIEN — Not if the victim did not want it reported.

Mr. WAKELING — No, I am not asking you about the victim. I am asking: would you as an organisation report that to the police if you became aware of child abuse within your organisation?

Mr. T. O’BRIEN — We do not have the authority to do that.

Mr. WAKELING — And why do you not have the authority?

Mr. T. O’BRIEN — Because of the mandatory reporting act.

Mr. WAKELING — And why do you say that?

Mr. T. O’BRIEN — Because the minister does not have the priority over the victim. It is the victim’s absolute right and privilege to decide whether they want the matter — —

This testimony about the “victim’s right and privilege” is a dodge. The Jehovah’s Witnesses do not want to report adult members of the church who sexually abuse children to the police unless they absolutely have to because of mandatory reporting laws. It is unfair of the JW church to shift this obligation to a child victim of sexual abuse – the decision to report sexual abuse is not one that can be made by a child.

The Jehovah Witness policy should be clear and uniform across all jurisdictions: All reports of child sexual abuse within the church will be reported to law enforcement.


Dumas and Vaughn Attorneys at Law has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other states.

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