De Morgen – 18th December 2018
Sektwaakhond asks research into child abuse at Jehovah’s Witnesses
The official advice center for sects in our country asks the House for an investigation into the sexual abuse of minors at the witnesses of Jehovah. A number of testimonies have also been reported to the public prosecutor’s office. “The victims are worried about sexual offenders who are still active within Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
The IACSSO sectobservatory, an independent center of the Justice Department, received “various direct and indirect testimonies” last year. They declared that they had undergone sexual violence as a child within the witnesses of Jehovah. IACSSO can not tell you about the number of testimonies, but they seem to confirm that Jehova’s witnesses also cover child abuse in Belgium.
The ball came rolling a year ago, after reports to the Dutch foundation Reclaimed Voices. In less than a year, 286 testimonies of sexual abuse were received from Jehovah’s Witnesses. Last month the court in the Netherlands did several raids in churches, so-called kingdom halls, and homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“When it turned out last year that Belgian victims were present, we started investigating the case,” says Kerstine Vanderput, director of IACSSO. The center has now made recommendations to Chamber chairman Siegfried Bracke (N-VA) and various members of the government. The timing is not ideal given the fall of the government, but IACSSO directs on a parliamentary inquiry committee to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The goal: “To gain insight into the underlying pattern of the internal rules, practices and structures and their possible influence on the willingness to report.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses have been condemning pedophilia as a despicable act for many years in numerous publications, but at the same time it does not systematically inform the competent authorities. She arranges child abuse cases all over the world internally through judicial committees set up by the college of elders, who provide pastoral guidance.
The Belgian Jehovah’s Witnesses have received the findings of the IACSSO, but they refute it. “A judicial committee only serves to determine whether such a perpetrator can still be part of the community, but it is not a court of law,” says spokesman Louis De Wit. He calls child abuse “detestable”. “Victims need to go to justice with their complaint.”
This contradicts international reports, as well as testimonials from ex-members in the media. “Going to the police, you do not, unless the perpetrator is an infidel,” said a woman, who last year in De Morgen testified about the abuse she had undergone as a child. The world of Jehovah’s Witnesses is strongly inward: to avoid contact with people from outside the Church.
Nevertheless, the past year came from the community, which in Belgium says 25,480 members in Belgium, some of them testify at IACSSO. “People came here to testify who were no longer able to drive home because of the emotion”, says Vanderput. “They are worried about sexual offenders who are still active within Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
IACSSO informed the federal prosecutor’s office in September, but no complaint has been submitted. As a result, there is no official investigation. According to a judicial source, the public prosecutor is working on it, but it would be a confidential file.
“It is expected that just as with the sexual abuse in the church, other people will now find the courage to formulate a complaint,” says Olivier Faelens of the Study and Advisory Group of Sects, who assists sectarian victims.
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