This third article from the Trouw Dutch daily newspaper is written in the form of an interview. You can read the original here.

Among the Jehovah’s, the Group Comes before the Individual

The way Jehovah’s Witnesses handle abuse is traumatic for the victims, according to the Trouw investigation. Perpetrators are protected. Does the closed culture of the Jehovah’s promote abuse?

She read books, researched and surfed the net about everything to do with sects, manipulation and group pressure. After Frances Peters (58) in 2004 was disfellowshipped, she wanted to understand how she could have been influenced all those years ago. How did she come to be a faithful Witness?

Slowly, she began to understand the pressure a religious group like Jehovah’s Witnesses exercises, and she followed a course as a coach.  In her own practice, Free Choice, Peters uses her own experiences and knowledge to help people that were members of these kinds of groups and sects.

The investigation of Trouw into the sexual abuse of the Watchtower Society—the official name of the Jehovah’s Witnesses—showed that the way abuse cases are handled, with traumatic consequences for the victims. In the past few days, this newspaper has published several articles.

The victims, members and ex-members, who spoke to Trouw admitted there is little regard for the victims, and the accused are often protected. This creates a very unsafe situation for children. Peters recognizes this from her own practice. She knows no other the culture like that of the Jehovah’s.

How does a religious group like the Jehovah’s Witnesses bind its members?

An important factor is the preference of the group above your own preferences, thoughts and ideas. The oneness between the brothers and sisters is more important than your hobbies and wishes. This causes your own identity to be suppressed. Children that grow up in such a high demand group, as it is called, learn not to trust their own intuition. They are often confused regarding their own feelings and needs. Besides that there is a very strong hierarchy. If God is the Father, than the organization is the Mother. This makes the believers like children who should just obey. Your age does not matter.

How do they get believers to acknowledge godly direction?

They use bible scriptures out of context. “The heart is treacherous”, says prophet Jeremiah. This scripture is used to state: “Do not trust yourself, trust us. Our interpretation is the only right one. Do you think you know better than the organization, God’s communication channel on earth?”

This is impressed on you, so it sticks in your mind. Thinking is punishable. The worst punishment is disfellowshipping, all contact with the organization and members is stopped. A person becomes completely dependent on the organization. If you are bombarded as a child with this type of Bible interpretation, what chance do you have to grow up as a mature adult with critical thinking abilities? Hearing opinions opposite to what is taught are hard to correctly assess. You were not taught to think critically and you do not have time for that either.

Why no time?

The daily routine is very intense. It’s hard to keep up besides work or school. There are meetings at the Kingdom Hall (the name of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ churches) twice a week, preparing for the meetings, studying the literature, and also going door to door. You do all this because your reputation is important for acceptance in the group. You have very little time and energy to think about what you are doing.

The articles Trouw published show clearly that disfellowshipping is the toughest discipline the organization administers. Why is it so terrible for Jehovah’s Witnesses?

When you leave the group, you are considered a child of Satan. The ones left behind are not allowed to have any contact with you. After all, you’ve left God and that is their biggest nightmare. Many Witnesses have hardly any contacts outside of the organization. Disfellowshipping is a method of very heavy emotional blackmail and hangs like Damocles’ sword above your head. I wonder if many people would stay if disfellowshipping did not exist.

But members can leave, can’t they?

It angers me when people state this as it shows what little insight they have in understanding how a group dynamic works. Look at “the big racism experiment” broadcast by BNN in 2013. A group of young critical thinking individuals was so influenced within 3 hours, they considered people inferior based on their eye colour. And they knew they were participants in an experiment.  There were only 2 participants that left. One of them came back when they spoke to her convincingly.  The situation you’re in influences the choices you make. Jehovah’s Witnesses are convinced that the world belongs to Satan, or that they will get God’s adverse judgment if they attend university. The organization has a passive aggressive way of reasonableness.

They say: It’s in the bible, so we have to comply. We can’t change it; this is God’s will.  The problem is not that they think, it’s their use of influencing techniques to force their will on other people. They say, ‘members are free to do whatever they like’. But if this is how they think about personal choice, are you really free?

What roll does this mechanism play in the handling of abuse?

The authority of the organization is superior to the “satanic” society as a whole according to Witnesses.  They have their own judicial system, where three elders judge sin. They have not had any education regarding this, but they have God’s Spirit, so what more do you want? The victim, often a child has to relate to these three men the terrible details of the abuse, without professional support. The elders are only interested in whether or not someone is guilty, not the mental or physical damage to the victim. Besides that, in cases with just one Witness, the accused can victimize repeatedly, because according to the rules, they can only judge someone if there are at least two witnesses.  Until such time, they cannot openly warn parents that someone is accused of child abuse. That would be defamation and you can be disfellowshipped for that offence.

Why does the victim often think they are at fault?

The elders do not take responsibility for the way a case is handled. They say, “This is what the Bible states: there has to be two Witnesses.” The victim believes this is God’s will and the elders can’t do any better than that. They do not know any better and think this is the correct interpretation of the Bible. Often they are also told: ‘This is a very serious accusation. Do you know what this means? Your dad could go to jail, so think carefully about what you say.’

One of the victims Trouw spoke with, stated that this community is a paradise for pedofiles. Do you recognize that?

I agree with the statement. Because of the two Witness rule and no police report is made regarding the accused. It’s a matter of neglectfulness by the organization.