A new law passed in the state of New York that lifts the statute of limitations for civil suits alleging abuse. It states that regardless of the age of the plaintiff or how long ago the abuse allegedly occurred one can come forward and file a lawsuit. With that, two suits are challenging the Governing Body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In two separate filings, two individuals named all eight of the members of the Governing Body as defendants.
The first filing comes from a woman who is now in her late 40’s. Her first memories are being molested by an elder in the mid 1970’s when her family lived in New York. When she finally felt as if she could voice what was going on, she confided in her mom. Instead of going to the police, her mother disclosed to the elders who tried to convince them that it was in their minds and rather none of it had happened. From there, her parents notified the authorities and the elder served a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence. Once released he was quietly moved to another congregation where very few knew of his past.
The second filing comes from a gentleman stating sexual abuse happened to him. At the age of 14 he was paired with a Ministerial Servant to work going door-to-door to advocate and promote the religion. He states that over the next four years the older man raped him repeatedly. At the age of 21 he decided to finally tell his father, who went to the church elders. At a religious committee, him and his abuser were accused of engaging in homosexual activity and disfellowshipped. This is a severe form of excommunication where family and community cut all ties.
Attorney Irwin Zalkin has taken on both cases. He stated, “while public attention has focused on clergy abuse within the Catholic Church, a serious problem of child sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses has also emerged.” Zalkin first took on the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2010, and since he has referred to it as an “odyssey.” He believes that the two filings stated above are just the first of many cases to be filed against the Governing Body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York. Zalkin has represented 24 former or current Jehovah’s Witnesses, with 10 more being settled outside of court. Zalkin alleged that the Governing Body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses maintains a database of suspected molesters that seem to “date back decades.” Although it is unclear how many names are in the database, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have repeatedly refused court orders to turn it over to authorities.
William Bowen, a founder of an organization called Silent Lambs, knows about the database. His organization works with victims of abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses to connect one another. He states, “Eighty percent of the people on that database have faced no legal charges.” His organization is working to bring together victims who have a safe platform to communicate. Since being founded in 2011 he has worked with more than 10,000 victims. Bowen, himself, was an elder for 15 years but he was disfellowshipped in 2000 for reporting abuse he had uncovered. He has maintained and insists that his organization Silent Lambs is not a vigilante group out to get Jehovah’s Witnesses. He states, “I’m not against them – I want them to be a better church.”
This year in the state of Montana a bill was passed lifting the statute of limitations on sexual abuse laws. It was implemented because of two sexual abuse cases that frustrated prosecutors. It has since opened the doors for victims of sexual abuse to come forward and use the legal resources necessary.