By Jack Ryan
Here are some English reports on the child abuse scandal coming out of Belgium.
Jehovah's Witnesses' scandal: state intelligence to home in on sects Belgian justice minister Koen Geens (Flemish Christian democrat) wants Jehovah’s Witnesses wishing to leave the organisation to receive help from the sects’ watchdog. The minister was speaking after VRT's Pano programme revealed widespread sexual abuse of children among the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation.
On Wednesday several people came forward to bear witness to sexual abuse of children among the Jehovah’s Witnesses, an organisation that is often seen as a society within society and whose members are obliged to follow strict religious rules. Numerous were the Jehovah's Witnesses who said how difficult it was to leave the organisation. Karel Decaestecker, who grew up in a Jehovah's Witnesses family, but decided to leave, explained how difficult it was to obtain benefit to live on.
Mr Geens is proposing that IACSSO, the Belgian sects' watchdog, play a fuller role in helping people leave the organisation. The minister stresses the need for a multidisciplinary approach saying people should receive help to steer a course among the various agencies that can play a role in providing e.g. financial and psychological support.
The justice minister also insists that elders within the Jehovah's Witnesses movement should report criminal acts. There are claims that the names of child abuse suspects are kept in a blue envelope that hasn't been shown to the justice department. Moreover, there are worries that child abusers have been tried by internal courts and that offences have been kept from the wider public. Mr Geens notes that negligence is a punishable act.
Federal prosecutors are investigating possible abuse within the organisation. Koen Geens is eager to go further: "I will also ask the secret service to take a closer look at the activity of sects."
Hello guest! Please register or sign in (it's free) to view the hidden content. Jehovah's Witnesses child abuse scandal: "Only the tip of the iceberg" Pascal Mertens, an activist against child sex abuse among Jehovah's Witnesses, claims that the number of complaints in the public domain are only the tip of the iceberg. Earlier this week VRT's Pano programme probed the extent of child abuse among Jehovah's Witnesses.
Pascal Mertens helped to set up "Reclaimed Lives", a helpline for Jehovah's Witnesses experiencing child sex abuse. He says that he is confronted with stories of child abuse on a daily basis: "It's always the same story. Victims are chucked out of the community. The organisation never refers cases on to the justice department”.
The number of victims is unclear. There is talk of three reports in Belgium, while in the Netherlands 300 reports have been made. With 25,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in Belgium, compared to 29,000 in the Netherlands, the two communities are of a comparable size. Pascal Mertens hopes the scale of abuse in Belgium isn't as high as in the Netherlands, but fears it is.
In Pano several former Jehovah's Witnesses spoke out about child sex abuse that was swept under the carpet by the organisation. The Jehovah's Witnesses, labelled a sect by some, operate their own law system. Child sex abuse suspects are brought before a judicial committee. It's alleged that the names of perpetrators are kept in a blue envelope at Jehovah's Witnesses HQ in Kraainem, but it's thought the information isn't always handed on to the judiciary. Federal prosecutors are now heading an investigation, while parliament last week established a special committee.
Pascal Mertens has called on the Jehovah's Witnesses to break the silence and take matters to the justice department.
Hello guest! Please register or sign in (it's free) to view the hidden content. Pano Report with English subtitles:
Parliamentary discussion after the Pano Report with English subtitles:
By Guest Indiana
More than 70 victims of sexual abuse within the Jehovah's Witnesses have come forward with their stories since the public network aired a documentory about it last week, reports the nonprofit organisation Reclaimed Voices Belgium.
The documentary brought to light that the organisation had been covering up sexual abuse of minors via an internal 'disciplinary' system for years, concluded Pano. That way, none of the claims were reported to the police. One of the witnesses in the documentary was very straightforward in calling it "a paradise for paedophiles".
According to CIAOSN, an independent centre set up by Belgium's Department of Justice to study sectarian organisations, there are similar findings in 12 other countries. The report concludes that the issues in all other countries are the same. Due to the strict hierarchy of the organisation, it's very difficult to come forward, reports CIAOSN.
The elders of the organisation usually don't listen to the victims, or don't help them. They usually tell them to keep their mouths shut, said one of the witnesses. "I was told to keep the abuse to myself. 'We don't want to slander God's name.' I had to trust them to take care of it. They told me to pray some more and everything would be fine."
Jehovah's Witnesses disapprove of sexual abuse, but they don't have any policies to prevent it or report it to the police. Victims that quit the organisation are ignored completely and lose all social contact. Another issue that returns frequently in CIAOSN's report is that victims have to give their statements about the abuse in the presence of their abusers. If the accused denies involvement, they'll only further the investigation after two other witness statements. In all these 13 countries, there is not one woman involved in the internal disciplinary system.
"Noteworthy is the number of people that talk about the severe psychological damage that the exclusion by the community brings with it," the statement of Reclaimed Voices Belgium said. "In conversations we've had with victims so far, it seems that the trauma caused by the exclusion that follows when a victim speaks up about the abuse has an even bigger impact than the abuse itself."
The Brussels Times
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