Neal Owen story of Child Sexual Abuse within Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia
| From the time he was 17 until he was in his 40s, Neal belonged to the Jehovah’s Witnesses Church. It was important to him and the whole social structure of his life was based on it.
In the 1990s, Neal’s teenage daughter, Gina, told her family she had been sexually abused when she was younger by a Church elder, Reg Ingham. The abuse had continued right up until Neal’s family relocated to another area and joined a different congregation. Neal was shocked and reported it to two other elders of the Church. ‘Just trying to get them to do something … They didn’t want to know about it.’
Neal told the Commissioner about the ‘two witness rule’ that the Church has. As part of the brush-off the elders gave Neal, he was told there was nothing they would do about it as there were no witnesses to the abuse.
‘Then I rang up the branch office … talked to Parker [a senior official]. Well, guess what he says? If I know what’s good for me I’ll leave it alone … “What are you trying to say? My daughter’s life … This needs to be dealt with.” This bloke’s still up there now getting amongst kids.’ Neal was effectively threatened.
Previously, other elders and friends of Ingham had said to Neal to watch his kids around Ingham. No detail was ever given and Neal didn’t understand what was being said. ‘The other one that warned me about him, was Norman Rule … He told me in no uncertain terms that this Ingham has a record of having a go at kids … That was just before we left [the area].’ However, when Neal later contacted these people after Gina’s disclosure, they denied any knowledge of these warnings. Neal felt they closed ranks.
Neal went with Gina to the police station where Gina gave a detailed statement. ‘You just sit there and weep, you know. To her it was like yesterday.’ However no charges were laid against Ingham after the police conducted their investigation and Neal’s family was never given a reason why.
In a separate incident a family friend disclosed to Neal that she had been sexually abused by an elder of the Church – not Ingham but another elder. Neal offered to take her to speak with the elders but she decided to go herself. Neal understands she was not believed by the elders partly because of the two witness rule. After speaking up about the abuse to the elders, she was disfellowshipped.
In another incident, again, a woman, Julia, spoke up against another elder who had abused her as a child. This elder was ‘stepped down’ but nothing else happened to him until Julia later pressed charges when she became aware of further abuse by the same perpetrator.
In the 1990s, Neal’s own father, Vince, who was also a member of the Church, was arrested and charged for multiple sex offences. Because the police had become involved and out of concern for possible bad publicity, the Church contacted Neal. He was encouraged to come in and speak with them. When he got there the person he was supposed to meet with wasn’t there. Instead, he was to meet with Parker, the man who had threatened him previously. Parker wanted Neal to convince his father to disfellowship himself, in preference to them doing it, which would draw attention. Neal asked Parker about the two witness rule and suggested an elder come with him. But they were willing to waive the rule in this instance, just to keep everything on the quiet.
Neal was moved to come to the Royal Commission after watching the public hearings into the Jehovah’s Witnesses Church. ‘Still same smug attitude they had back then. Hasn’t changed … I thought, “You know what? You’re not getting away with it. Sorry”.’