Say Sorry’s submission to the Australian Government

21 June 2020

UPDATE: Shortly after the publishing of this article, and prior to the deadline of 30 June 2020 for joining the National Redress Scheme, the Jehovah’s Witnesses institution informed the Australian Government that they will not be joining the Scheme.

(15 minute read)

For the last few years Say Sorry has regularly given testimony, evidence, and made submissions to the Australian Government in relation to what we anticipated would be the refusal of the Jehovah’s Witnesses institution to join the National Redress Scheme.

Our ongoing concern during this period has been that the leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to accept the findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, refuse to meet with victim groups, refuse to comply with mandatory child protection laws, refuse to join the National Redress Scheme, and refuse to say sorry.

The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Jehovah’s Witnesses institution “are essentially abuse deniers” and as such need to be held to account by all levels of Government.

Our most recent submission to the Australian Government requested that the government hold the Jehovah’s Witnesses institution to account for refusing to join the National Redress Scheme, for failing to comply with mandatory child protection laws, and for having the most shocking member statistics of child sexual abuse for any institution in Australia.

The Say Sorry submission also makes a number of general recommendations for all institutions that may not join the Scheme, and some tailored recommendations towards redress for child sexual abuse victims from within the Jehovah’s Witnesses institution.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses institution is the only national institution in Australia that has refused to join the National Redress Scheme which was set up to pay compensation to victims of institutional child sexual abuse.

<< DOWNLOAD | Say Sorry submission to the Australian Government >>

Jehovah’s Witnesses put on notice by Australian Government

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Senator the Hon. Anne Ruston, Minister for Families and Social Services (screenshot Channel 10 The Project)

On 15 December 2017, the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse presented its Final Report to the Governor-General. The report was the culmination of a five-year inquiry into institutional responses to child sexual abuse and related matters. The Final Report was, for good reason relatively critical of religious institutions, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Our involvement with the Royal Commission commenced shortly after then Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced, on 12 November 2012, that she would recommend to the Governor-General that a Royal Commission be appointed to inquire into institutional responses to child abuse.

One of the very first submissions and pieces of correspondence officially received by the Child Abuse Royal Commission was from members of Say Sorry. Our concern was in relation to the covering up of and the prevalence of child sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses institution.

On 30 June 2015 the Child Abuse Royal Commission announced a public hearing into Jehovah’s Witnesses and Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia Ltd. This public hearing became known as Case Study 29: The response of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia Ltd to allegations of child sexual abuse.

Related Say Sorry article: Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Child Abuse Royal Commission

DOWNLOAD: Case Study 29 – Official Findings Report into Jehovah’s Witnesses.pdf

This July 2020 will mark the five-year anniversary of the commencement of public hearings in the Jehovah’s Witnesses institution undertaken by the Child Abuse Royal Commission. On numerous occasions during those public hearings, and the follow up public hearing on 10 March 2017, it was presented to the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation to join a redress scheme. There was no commitment.

The National Redress Scheme

“Institutions must agree to join the National Redress Scheme so they can provide redress to people who experienced child sexual abuse in relation to their institution.” – Australian Government

The National Redress Scheme was created in 2018 in response to recommendations by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. This Child Abuse Royal Commission listened to thousands of people about the abuse they experienced as children,  The abuse happened in orphanages, Children’s Homes, schools, sports clubs, hospitals, foster care churches and other religious organisations, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses institution.

The National Redress Scheme:

  • acknowledges that many children were sexually abused in Australian institutions
  • recognises the suffering they endured because of this abuse
  • holds institutions accountable for this abuse, and
  • helps people who have experienced institutional child sexual abuse gain access to counselling, a direct personal response, and a Redress payment.

According to the National Redress Scheme website:

“Institutions named in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission) or named in an application received by the National Redress Scheme (the Scheme) must provide a clear written statement setting out their intention to join the Scheme by no later than 30 June 2020. These institutions will be expected to join as soon as possible, but no later than 31 December 2020. This additional time reflects the maximum time it takes to complete the on-boarding process and recognises the reduced capacity of many institutions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

If by 30 June 2020 an institution has failed to signify their intention to join the Scheme, they will be immediately publicly identified by the Scheme in accordance with Scheme legislation and jurisdictions will consider other appropriate action. This may include financial sanctions applied by state, territory or Commonwealth governments, and changes to an organisation’s charitable status. Naming institutions is necessary to ensure that people wanting to access the Scheme know the status of relevant institutions.”

Financial compensation under the Scheme is capped at A$150,000 per claim.

A requirement of the National Redress Scheme is an apology

– Institutions that join the Scheme are required to say sorry –

When requested by an applicant, the institution must issue a written apology as part of their Direct Personal Response. A victim is also entitled to tell their story to a representative of the institution and receive an apology and an explanation of what the institution is doing to stop anyone else from being abused in the future.

A direct personal response can be done in a variety of ways, such as:

  • a face-to-face meeting between you and a representative of the institution
  • a written letter from the institution, or
  • other arrangements, depending on your circumstances.

Under the National Redress Scheme, survivors of child sexual abuse from within the Jehovah’s Witnesses institution would be entitled to request a Direct Personal Response, a written apology, from the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Protest signs outside the 2019 JW Convention in Melbourne, Australia

The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses refuses to join the National Redress Scheme

Since the commencement of the National Redress Scheme numerous attempts have been made by the Government to encourage the Jehovah’s Witnesses institution to join the Scheme. There was no favourable response.

Over the past year Government, media, and public pressure has been placed on the Jehovah’s Witnesses institution to join the National Redress Scheme. The institution refused to join the Scheme.

During the Child Abuse Royal Commission hearings, on 14 August 2015, the possibility of the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation joining the National Redress Scheme was put to Mr Geoffrey Jackson of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses by the Chair of Royal Commission, Justice Peter McClellan AM. Mr Jackson replied by stating:

“we would need to see that nothing was scripturally against us doing that.”[1]

Geoffrey Jackson appearing under subpoena before the Australian Child Abuse Royal Commission

To date, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation have failed to put forward any valid reason for not joining the National Redress Scheme, this despite having the past five-years to search for, or create, a doctrinal teaching for the purpose of denying redress to child sexual abuse survivors.

In a statement to Channel 10’s The Project, the Jehovah’s Witnesses institution dismissed the National Redress Scheme for child sexual abuse victims by falsely asserting that:

“[t]he religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses does not have the institutional settings that the voluntary National Redress Scheme is designed to cover. Therefore, the Minist[er] for Families and Social Services has been advised that Jehovah’s Witnesses will not join the Scheme.”

DOWNLOAD: Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia Child Abuse Data Base Summary A3 – pdf

The current attitude of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Jehovah’s Witnesses institution towards the ever-growing number of child sexual abuse allegations levelled at the institution is: denial. This denial was evidenced on the weekend of 6th and 7th of July 2019 when the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses had the following read out verbatim in all congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia:

“Sadly, child sexual abuse is a worldwide plague, and true Christians have been affected by this plague. Why? Wicked men and impostors abound, and some may try to enter the congregation. In addition, some professing to be a part of the congregation have succumbed to perverted fleshly desires and have sexually abused children.”

The above statement appears in the May 2019 issue of The Watchtower  magazine. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion, and the leaders of the Watch Tower Society by their conduct “are essentially abuse deniers”.[3]

The same Watchtower magazine also claimed that child sexual abuse is “a sin against the secular authorities.” Democratic governments, and the laws they enact, deal with child sexual abuse as a crime, not a ‘sin’.

Sadly, child sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses institution is a worldwide plague, and the religion’s leaders are blaming it on imposters; those professing to be a part of the congregation; and those who try to enter the congregation— thereby denoting they never actually became a part of the Jehovah’s Witnesses institution, but only tried.

The above claims by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses belie the overall evidence presented during the Child Abuse Royal Commission, including the evidence and findings presented in relation to the Jehovah’s Witnesses institution. The Royal Commission also reported that there was no evidence that any of the child sexual abuse allegations within the Jehovah’s Witnesses institution were reported to police or any other secular authority by the religion. If these alleged perpetrators were indeed imposters or falsely professing to be a part of the congregation then there was no need to conceal or cover up the child sexual abuse by the avoidance of reporting a single incident to the police or any other secular authority.

The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses are in denial, and as a result are refusing to accept liability or responsibility, or even apologise in relation to even one single child sexual abuse incident within the institution.

In its Final Report, the Royal Commission warned the Australian Government of the clear and ongoing danger that the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation poses to the protection of children in the Australian community, when it warned:

“We considered a number of factors that may have contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse in religious institutions or to inadequate institutional responses to such abuse. The Jehovah’s Witness organisation addresses child sexual abuse in accordance with scriptural direction, relying on a literal interpretation of the Bible and 1st century principles to set practice, policy and procedure. These include the two-witness rule, the principle of male headship, the sanctions of reproval and disfellowshipping, and the practice of shunning. We consider that as long as the Jehovah’s Witness organisation continues to apply these practices in its response to allegations of child sexual abuse, it will remain an organisation that fails to protect children and does not respond adequately to child sexual abuse.”[5] (bold added)

We repeat the above warning that the Jehovah’s Witnesses institution ‘will remain an organisation that fails to protect children and does not respond adequately to child sexual abuse’. We also add that the institution has not adopted a single one of the relevant recommendations that the Royal Commission made, despite the institution claiming otherwise in its 2018 and 2019 Annual Reports to the Royal Commission, of which reports also denied that the child safe standards apply to the Jehovah’s Witnesses institution.[6]

When is an institution responsible for the abuse a person experienced?

The Jehovah’s Witnesses institution has self-determined that they do not have the institutional settings in which child sexual abuse can ever occur, and therefore will not be joining the National Redress Scheme.

In determining whether an institution is responsible for a person’s abuse, the National Redress Scheme Operator or the Independent Decision Maker  considers whether the institution is responsible for the abuser having contact with the person. The following two circumstances are also considered in determining this:

  • whether the abuser was an official of the institution when the abuse occurred, and
  • whether the abuse occurred on the premises of the institution, where activities of the institution occurred, or in connection with activities of the institution.

National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Act 2018

Say Sorry’s submission to the Australian Government

It is time for the Government to take decisive action against the Jehovah’s Witnesses institution to hold them to account for refusing to join the National Redress Scheme, for failing to comply with mandatory child protection laws, and for having the most shocking member statistics of child sexual abuse for any institution in Australia.

Our submission to the Australian Government makes a number of general recommendations for all institutions that have not joined the Scheme, and some tailored recommendations towards redress for child sexual abuse victims from within the Jehovah’s Witnesses institution.

<< DOWNLOAD SUBMISSION >>

Say Sorry’s recommendations to the Australian Government

Recommendation 1    Institutions that failed to voluntarily join the National Redress Scheme prior to 1 July 2020 and were named in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, or are identified in any application for redress, have their tax concessions, charitable status, and Government contracts revoked.

Recommendation 2    Institutions that fail to voluntarily join the National Redress Scheme prior to 1 July 2020, and are referred to in recommendation 17.2 and 17.3 by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to lodge an Annual Report in response to Recommendation 17.3 of the Royal Commission’s Final Report: Volume 17, Beyond the Royal Commission, be audited in relation to their level of compliance with the recommendations applicable to them.

Recommendation 3    The National Redress Scheme implement a recovery rights system in which the Scheme pays claimant’s redress and pursues that payment and administration costs from any institution that failed to voluntarily join the National Redress Scheme prior to 1 July 2020 and were named in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and that could reasonably be expected to participate in the scheme, and the institution

  • has had reasonable opportunity to join the redress scheme; and
  • has not been declared as a participating institution in the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Declaration 2018.

That consideration be given that the above claimants receive a payment increase (‘loading’) of 50% in lieu of a direct personal response from the institution.

Recommendation 4    Funding and support services be made available for groups or classes of persons to explore the option of a group or class action as a recovery right for Redress in circumstances in which they had their familial child sexual abuse allegations handled, or mishandled, at an institutional level and that institution was identified, or was the subject of a public hearing, by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and evidence was presented, or findings made, that the institution handled, mishandled, or investigated their childhood sexual abuse in an institutional setting.

Recommendation 5    That legislated mechanisms be put in place to prevent organisations that join the National Redress Scheme from opting out of the scheme after having accepted an application for processing or consideration. This recommendation is to prevent institutions from joining the scheme under pretence so as to access applications from child sexual abuse victims for a purpose other than the assessment of a payment under the scheme. 

Recommendation 6    Institutions that failed to voluntarily join the National Redress Scheme prior to 1 July 2020 and were named in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, or are identified in any application for redress, be subject to scrutiny and investigation by ASIC, the ACNC, the AFP, and other federal or state law enforcement agencies.

Recommendation 7    Institutions that failed to voluntarily join the National Redress Scheme prior to 1 July 2020 be subject to auditing at a federal and state level for compliance with mandatory child protection laws, the child safe standards, working with children laws, privacy laws, and any reportable scheme relating to child protection.

Recommendation 8    Institutions that fail to voluntarily join the National Redress Scheme prior to 1 July 2020, and were named in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and have not yet issued a public apology to the victims and survivors of child sexual abuse within that institution, be asked by the Minister for Families and Social Services if they intend to issue a formal apology, and if so, when, and if not, why not?

Say Sorry

13 June 2020

 

Background articles

National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse

SBS Insight | How the Jehovah’s Witnesses ‘broke’ my family by Lara Kaput

Two Year Review – the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse | Part 1 – Jehovah’s Witnesses

44 Stories of Child Sexual Abuse within Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia taken from the Child Abuse Royal Commission

 

[1] Transcript. Day 155. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Public hearing into Jehovah’s Witnesses. 14 August 2015 (Day 155), p 15986  G W JACKSON

[2] The Watchtower magazine May 2019, p 8, par 3. <LINK>

[3] Ms Larissa Kaput, Committee Hansard, 19 March 2020, p 38. <DOWNLOAD>

[5] Final Report: Religious Institutions, Volume 16: Book 3. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. 2017, p 108.

[6] First Annual report by Jehovah’s Witnesses in response to the Royal Commission’s Final Report. 2018. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. 2018. Jehovah’s Witnesses Response to Recommendations 16:31-58. <DOWNLOAD>

Second Annual report by Jehovah’s Witnesses in response to the Royal Commission’s Final Report. 2019. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. 1 November 2019. Jehovah’s Witnesses response to Recommendations 16:28-29. <DOWNLOAD>

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