With a worldwide membership of more than 8.2 million adherents involved in evangelism and convention attendance figures of more than 15 million, the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses is a very prominent religious organization not just in the United States but across the whole world. Non-practitioners know them mostly for their devoted practice of door-to-door preaching, but the organization has recently been gaining notoriety for something far more sinister.
Over the past decade, the organization has been hit with a steady stream of lawsuits and investigations, due to an alleged poor record of handling child sexual abuse allegations. The most notable lawsuits have been filed and litigated in California, including the following:
- In 2007, the Watchtower Society, the main legal arm of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, settled out-of-court with 16 unnamed sexual abuse victims after a trial motion in the Napa, California court established that “ecclesiastical privilege” did not supersede the legal obligation of clergy to report child sexual abuse to secular authorities.
- In 2012, a California court ordered the Watchtower Society to pay more than $20 million in compensatory and punitive damages to a woman who, as a child, was allegedly abused by a member.
- In 2014, the Watchtower Society was ordered to pay $13.5 million for failing to protect a boy from a known sexual offender and for its subsequent refusal to cooperate with the court.
In the United States, over 80,000 elders currently serve in over 12,300 congregations. It may be too early to say for certain whether there is a child sexual abuse epidemic going on behind closed doors within the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization, but all of the signs so far are reminiscent of the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal – which is not at all reassuring, to say the least.
If you or someone you love has been sexually abused as a child by a high ranking member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, please contact Wilshire Law Firm for help. While the legal route may not be for everyone, holding sexual abusers and institutions legally accountable can be an important part of the healing process. As your legal representatives, our compassionate and experienced legal team will make sure you stay not only informed but also comfortable throughout all procedures, and we will fight hard to get you the compensation you deserve. Call us at (800) 522-7274 for a FREE consultation.