The Watchtower policy states concerning reporting child abuse to the authorities: "the elders may be required by law to report even uncorroborated or unsubstantiated allegations to the authorities. If so, we expect the elders to comply." This raises the question: why not just report all alledged cases of child abuse and let the authorities handle it as the crime that it is? Wouldn't it be best if the Watchtower Society made it mandatory for elders to report all cases rather than reporting only if the law of the land has a mandatory reporting statute? Some critics make the claim that elders are not qualified to decide who should or should not be reported. And neither are the Watchtower lawyers. If the Watchtower Society was really concerned about victims and the victim's family wouldn't they make such a blanket policy of mandatory reporting for the good of all? Really the question boils down to this: would a mandatory reporting policy by the Watchtower Society in all cases really be the best course of action to follow?
Those who criticize Jehovah's Witnesses for not having a mandatory reporting policy for all child abuse cases reported to the elders are really laboring under a misconception. And that is that the definition of child molestation only involves the typical scenario in which a middle-aged man molests a very young child. But the truth is that the definition of child molestation or abuse varies, depending on the locality in which one lives. In some localities, if two teen-agers or persons very close in age have consensual sex, one or both might be guilty of child molestation, sexual assault of a minor, statutory rape, etc., according to the laws of the land in which they live.
Take a look at wikipedia here under Statutory rape: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statutory_rape. It states: "Age of consent (AOC) is usually the age at which an individual can legally have intercourse with an adult, but in some jurisdictions the AOC establishes the minimum age of sexual conduct with anyone, regardless of age. In jurisdictions with the latter, it would be possible to charge two minors with a violation of the state's AOC....Due to a wide variety of opinions on what the proper age of consent should be, and conflicts between child sex protection laws and the natural exploration of teenage sexuality, statutory rape charges can sometimes be controversial and contradictory." The article also refers to the "The massive confusion caused by the various but very different sexual crime laws..." On top of this, the age of consent varies from state to state and country to country. In some localities the age of consent is as low as 13 years of age. It can get very complicated, to say the least, and opinions as to the definition of child molesting varies.
It is just as the October 10, 2002 letter from the Watchtower Society stated: "It must be appreciated that the question of child abuse is a complicated matter and that there can be no blanket direction given to the elders throughout the country, or even state by state. Whether or not they are "required by law to do so," can only be determined at the time when elders contact the Society after receiving a report of child abuse. If the law requires them to report the matter, the Society has always, at that time, advised-elders to do so. Since there is no clear precise legal definition of "child abuse," and since laws may vary from state to state and are changed from time to time, it is only when all the facts of a particular case are available that proper direction can be given in such matters."
Please take a look at this real life example of what one state considered child molestation and some highlights and quotes from the article. http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/eticket/story?page=Wilson
"Being Inmate No. 1187055 Genarlow Wilson ...He's 20 now. Just two years into a 10-year sentence without possibility of parole...Once, he was the homecoming king at Douglas County High. Now he's Georgia inmate No. 1187055, convicted of aggravated CHILD MOLESTATION.
When he was a senior in high school, he received oral sex from a 10th grader. He was 17. She was 15. Everyone, including the girl and the prosecution, agreed she initiated the act. But because of an archaic Georgia law, it was a misdemeanor for teenagers less than three years apart to have sexual intercourse, but a felony for the same kids to have oral sex.
He was a good student, with a 3.2 grade point average. He was popular, the school's homecoming king, liked by students and teachers. He never got into any trouble with the law. He was a track and football star.
On tape, the cops saw a 15-year-old girl, a 10th-grader, performing oral sex on a partygoer and, after finishing with him, turning and performing the act on Genarlow. She was the instigator, according to her mother's testimony. Problem was, the girl was a year under the age of consent. Local prosecutors called the act aggravated CHILD MOLESTATION...
Wilson refused to admit to being a CHILD MOLESTER. If he pled to or was convicted of any charge that put him on the sex offender registry, he couldn't live at home with his younger sister. He wouldn't accept that, so he waited for his trial.
The trial finished that afternoon, and the jury came back with ..."guilty" on the aggravated CHILD MOLESTATION."
In these types of cases should elders report this to the authorities if not required by law or if the parents or the younger participant do not wish to report it? Do the elders simply disregard the feelings of the parents and those involved? Imagine for example, if Wilson had been one of Jehovah's Witnesses and the elders had insisted that they were going to report what happened to the police. Even though, the parents of the victim and the 15 year old girl didn't want it reported. Can't you just hear the apostates sing about the Watchtower's policy ruining the life of this boy? Can't you just hear opposers telling how the mandatory rules and regulations of the Watchtower Society is unloving, uncaring, and unreasonable? Can't you just hear the complaints of how the Watchtower Society and the elders put themselves in everybody's business disregarding the feelings of the children and the parents?
Here is another scenario to consider. A father might abuse his child and years later the now grown child reports the abuse to the elders. Certainly the elders would handle the case judicially in the congregation. But what if the now grown victim did not wish to report the abuse to the police and no children were in danger since none remained at home with the father. If there is no mandatory reporting law, should elders take it upon themselves to ignore the victim's wishes. What right do they have to do that? Do they have the right to force their conscience on others making decisions for them? Are they lord and master over the souls of Jehovah's Witnesses?
As one poster known as Pathofhorns astutely observerd on a certain discussion board: "The fact that many states don't have mandatory reporting laws is proof that the matter is not black or white. Why leaving it to the victim to go to the authorities is wise in the majority of these cases where the abuse happened in the past is because it is the victim's testimony that will be required to build a case. It is the victim who may indeed be 'victimized' again in the courtroom through harsh cross-examinations. A victim may have made much progress in moving on from what happened and this fragile recovery could be set back as they are forced to relive the events that happend for the court in the often slim hopes of a conviction. Sure, a victim may have done their civic duty, but at what price?"
Of course it is far different if parents have failed to protect their children and a child or children are in danger. And the policy of the Watchtower Society recognizes this difference. That is why a 1988 letter states: "There is a duty to report when one has reasonable and probable grounds to believe that there is abuse or a substantial risk of abuse and parents have failed to protect the child." And a 1992 letter states: "all in the Christian congregation would want to consider their personal and moral responsibility to alert the appropriate authorities in cases where there has been committed or there exists a risk that there might be committed a serious criminal offence of this type..."
But some may object: Child abuse is a crime and elders are responsible to report all crimes to the authorities! It is absolutely not true that elders or anyone is obligated to report everyone who commits a crime or breaks the law. That is, in fact, why there are MANDATORY reporting laws. If it is mandatory that ALL crimes are reported then why do they even make MANDATORY reporting laws? It is within the rights of citizens and elders not to report to the authorities everytime they know of an occurance wherein someone broke the law. Imagine elders calling the authorities about adultery, homosexuality, minors in possession of alcohol or cigarettes, marijuana smoking, jaywalking, speeding, etc. It is NOT mandatory to report ALL crime nor would it even be reasonable that all crime must be reported by the elders. The law does not say that.
Others claim that the elders should report the abuse to the authorities and then the victim and parents can decide if they want to 'press charges'. This is another misconception. It is not always up to the parents to decide if they will press charges. The authorities press charges against the person if they so choose. See the story above about the 17 year old named Wilson.
A September 27, 2002 letter from the Watchtower Society showed their view: "Our policy does not, however, dictate all of the specifics of the reporting. There are too many variables to stipulate anything beyond compliance with secular law." And so, logic and discernment must be used in the complicated matter of 'child abuse' with all its many variables when mandatory reporting is not required by law. While some might believe that mandatory reporting is the best way to handle child abuse, surely the Watchtower Society cannot be labeled a pedophile paradise because they choose to apply discernment and reasoning when considering whether or not to report abuse to the authorities, if not required by law, while at the same time realizing the need to protect the children. But certainly the need for confidentiality in certain situations and the wishes of the victim and the parents must be considered when children are not in danger. Elders cannot presume to take over the responsibility nor the decision making of adult victims or parents who love and want to protect their children from harm.
It is quite interesting what Silentlambs founder, William Bowen, who roundly condemns the Watchtower Society for not having a policy of mandatory reporting to the authorities said at the site called JWD: "I have talked to many victims who have never reported their abuse, I simply encourage them to talk about it to counslers, close friends, or report the matter on the sl website. The more they learn they can speak out the more likely they are to report the crime." Wait a minute! You mean that Bowen does not himself practice the policy of mandatory reporting when he learns of child abuse?
Notice how the same poster quoted earlier, Pathofhorns, pointed out his contradictory stance: "What the Silentlambs group appears to be suggesting is that if an elder were to hear this information he should immediately report the matter to the authorities whether the victim wishes this to be done or not. From what Bill posted earlier on this thread, it would seem that in actual practice he takes exactly the same position as the WT in leaving it up to the victim to decide whether to go to the authorities." Simply put, Bill Bowen does not practice what he preaches. He calls for the Watchtower Society to do something that he himself is unwilling to do. In fact, since he claims to have a database containing thousands of names, by his own admission he is guilty thousands of times of failing to report abuse. Not one single solitary person among Jehovah's Witnesses even comes anywhere close to being more guilty than Bill Bowen in not reporting abuse to the police.
But doesn't the fact that elders do not always report child abuse lead to the belief that abuse must be kept secret to protect the reputation of the organization? Doesn't the whole judicial committee scenario conducted in secret foster a hush hush mentality? Doesn't this hush hush mentality create a safe haven for child molesters? And isn't it true that a person might be disfellowshipped for talking to others about an abuser in the congregation?
Chapter Nine: Speak No Evil