In Brief

Jehovah’s Witnesses could face child sex abuse inquiry

Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse says there have been ‘a considerable number’ of complaints against the group

Jehovah’s Witnesses are facing the possibility of an independent investigation into allegations of child sex abuse in the church.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), which is investigating the extent to which institutions in England and Wales failed to protect children from abuse, said it is considering whether to open a separate inquiry after receiving a “considerable number” of reports about the religious group.

It is believed both MPs and members of the public have come forward to raise concerns about the sect and, while the inquiry team has so far refused to give an exact number, one solicitor representing abuse victims told The Guardian she believed it ran to thousands.

“The Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to recognise the issue of child abuse in their organisation or to create robust safeguarding procedures to protect children,” said Kathleen Hallisey, senior solicitor in the abuse team at Bolt Burdon Kemp. “An investigation by IICSA into the Jehovah’s Witnesses is an opportunity for the inquiry to effect real change in an organisation that refuses to shine a light on child abuse and protect children.”

Numerous sources have told The Guardian that “alleged child abuse victims within the faith have been told not to report it to the police” and those who have face the threat of exclusion, or ‘disfellowship’, and being cut off from family and friends.

The inquiry was set up in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal and has so far investigated 18 religious groups, including examining specific institutional failures in the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches.

In response to the allegations, Jehovah’s Witnesses said in a statement that the church abhors “child abuse, and view[s] it as a heinous crime and sin”.

“The safety of our children is of the utmost importance,” it continued. “Whether the victim or parents decide to report the matter is not contingent on the number of witnesses to the offence or whether a confession has been made. Congregation elders do not shield abusers from the authorities or from the consequences of their actions.”

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