The Jehovah's Witnesses have a silent epidemic of child abuse that was recently brought to public attention again after four alleged victims filed lawsuits against the organization.
There are over 7 million Jehovah's Witnesses across the globe, according to the group's website. However, there have been numerous accusations and cases brought against elders and leaders of the organization, alleging child abuse of both young men and women, dating back at least 30 years. Four reported victims brought a lawsuit against the Jehovah's Witnesses and Watchtower Organization in Connecticut.
"This is an insidious problem, an epidemic problem with child sex abuse within this organization that so far seems more concerned about protecting its reputation from scandal than about the children," attorney Irwin Zalkin said at a press conference in Connecticut.
One particular case in 2012 saw Candace Conti, a victim, receive awarded $28 million in damages after alleging that member Jonathan Kendrick molested her from 1995-1996. The case was filed in Oakley, California and the $28 million award was the largest paid to a single victim.
"Nothing can bring back my childhood. But through this (verdict) and through, hopefully, a change in their policy, we can make something good come out of it," Conti said at the time.
Jim McCabe, the attorney who represented the religious organization in the case, said that the Jehovah's Witnesses "hate child abuse and believe it's a plague on humanity. Johnathan Kendrick was not a leader or a pastor, he was just a rank-and-file member. This is a tragic case where a member of a religious group has brought liability on the group for actions he alone may have taken."
The Jehovah's Witnesses have plenty of information on their website about how to keep children safe from predators, but take a unique approach to dealing with cases of accused abuse. When an allegation against a member or elder is made, the organization follows a "two-witness rule," which requires that there be two victims made. They claim that they follow Biblical principles when it comes to the rule and cite Scripture such as 1 Timothy 5:19 and Deuteronomy 19:15, which speak of having two persons come forward when making an accusation.
"You can disagree with our religion all you like, but we are a Bible-based organization, and we stand for upholding the Bible. What we are doing is simply being consistent with the Bible laws and principles, and as much as you dislike the outcome, we have told everyone of our stand, and you can't fault us for being consistent," the organization said in its defense of the rule.
In 2013, Elder Ronald Lawrence was charged with 19 felony counts: 11 of lewd molestation, seven of forcible sodomy and one of rape by instrumentation. The victims included two females and one male in Pittsburgh.
"He admitted to his church that all of the allegations were true" to be re-instated in his church after being "dis-fellowshipped" by the congregation to which he belonged, the affidavit read. However, Lawrence said that he never admitted anything and denied committing any crimes.
"The actions of the church, their banishment of (Lawrence) on one or more occasion and the directives of the governing body toward the victims and their family members regarding these crimes were actions of 'concealment' and further actions preventing the victims from reporting the crimes to law enforcement," the motion filed in Pittsburgh County District Court read.
The case against Lawrence was dropped in March 2014 due to an objection by the state. However, the prosecutor in the case plans to appeal the decision.
A call was placed to the Jehovah's Witnesses organization in Brooklyn, New York, to discuss the matter further, but no comment was given.