The treatment of child abuse victims by the Jehovah’s Witness church is seriously flawed, a national inquiry has heard from a consultant hired by the church.
Dr. Monica Applewhite, a US-based consultant specialising in child abuse risk analysis and education programs for institutions, mostly churches, was employed by Watchtower Australia to evaluate the Witnesses’ policies for the royal commission hearing.
Watchtower Australia is the legal entity of the Jehovah’s Witness church.
Dr Applewhite, who has been an expert witness in abuse trials in Britain and the US, submitted a report in which she noted the Jehovah’s Witnesses were a cut above other religious organisations in Australia.
The doctor, who has listed work with the Catholic archdioceses of Melbourne and Adelaide on her extensive CV, said she had not found examples in Australia of a religious organisation that provided better information than the Witnesses on how to support abuse victims.
But she confessed her research was based on Jehovah’s Witness publications, not on empirical studies.
Her knowledge of every religious organisation was also limited and she was unable to immediately identify the other religious organisations to which she was referring.
When asked by Angus Stewart SC, counsel for the commission, whether Jehovah’s Witness procedure was “deficient when measured against current best practice”, Dr Applewhite replied: “Does it meet all current best practices? It probably doesn’t.”
Jehovah’s Witness procedure is based on biblical teachings.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard this week from two women who had gone through the Jehovah’s Witness process for handling child sex abuse allegations.
In both cases the church did not uphold the allegations because, under church law, two witnesses are required to prove any wrongdoing.
This rule is based on the Witnesses’ interpretation of scripture and the handling of wrongdoers.
The women told the commission how an internal judicial hearing required them to detail the abuse to three church elders, all men, in front of the alleged abuser.
Justice Peter McClellan asked Dr Applewhite if she thought this process was appropriate.
Dr Applewhite said there were better ways.
She also agreed that under the two witnesses rule, abuse victims could be further traumatised because they were not being believed.
Justice McClellan said: “It is by no means an ideal place for someone’s psychological wellbeing to be placed?”
Dr Applewhite replied: “That’s true.”
When Andrew Tokley SC, counsel for the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia, suggested Dr Applewhite be allowed to submit a supplementary report, Justice McClellan said it needed to be more than an expression of opinion.
He pointed out the commission needed information that would help address the obvious flaws in the Witnesses’ procedures.
If Dr Applewhite was going to supply further information, Justice McClellan said it should be done within the next few weeks. © AAP 2015