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Great Britain

Jehovah’s Witnesses sued over ‘child sex abuse’ amid claims it ‘protects abusers’

JEHOVAH'S Witnesses are being sued by at least 20 former members over claims of child sex abuse.

They also allege the group protects abusers, as it has a policy of not punishing the accused unless a second person witnessed it.

One former elder has spoken out, slamming the group's claims elders always tell police if a child is in danger "even if there is only one witness".

John Viney, who alleges he was abused between the ages of nine and 13 by "an active Jehovah's Witness", claims kids are still being abused.

He told the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme: "The way that Jehovah's Witnesses handle matters within the congregation, it's a closed shop.

"I know for a fact now that there are parents that haven't done anything about the abuse of their children by others because they don't want to bring reproach on Jehovah's name."

His own daughter was also abused as a child and has spoken out about it.

Mr Viney disowned her when she left the organisation - saying he regrets putting being an elder first.

He said he eventually reported his abuser to the cops last year, but was told he had died in prison after abusing other children.

He said: "What would have happened if I had had the courage and common sense to come forward [at the time]?"

I know for a fact now that there are parents that haven't done anything about the abuse of their children by others because they don't want to bring reproach on Jehovah's name.

John Viney

Another alleged victim, calling herself Emma, said her abuser was welcome back into the group after he was released from prison.

She added that when she revealed she had been abused, elders visited her and quoted scripture "about why we should keep it in house, not follow the laws of the land".

Labour MP Sarah Champion, the chair of a cross-party group of MPs looking at adults abused as children, said she found the methods often used to deal with accusations "concerning".

She added she met elders who "believe that there is more than enough safeguarding in place... [but] couldn't think of an example when they would go to the police about their concerns".

Thomas Beale, a solicitor representing some former members, said they decided to take action when the group "[denied] what has happened or refusing to engage", after asking for an apology.

A Jehovah's Witnesses spokesman said: "The only way that a child abuser can gain access to children in a religious organisation like ours, which does not have any programmes that separate children from their parents, is through parents themselves.

"We believe the most important safeguarding measure that can be taken in an organisation like ours that does not separate children from their parents is to educate parents about the dangers of child abuse and how they can protect their children from abuse. We have provided such education for parents and the public for decades through our publications and website."

"If a congregant has been guilty of child sexual abuse, our elders inform parents with minors so that they can take measures to protect their children."

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