While politicians, lawyers and leaders of NGO’s continue to argue about the framework of the UK’s child abuse Inquiry panel, survivors of child abuse and sexual molestation by Jehovah’s Witnesses demanded action this week.
The Inquiry panel has been dogged by lack of leadership and what appears to be infighting. The embattled Inquiry was set up by Theresa May, the Home Secretary. Its remit is partly to find out whether public bodies had neglected or covered up allegations of child sex abuse in the wake of claims pedophiles had operated in Westminster (the seat of the UK government) in the 1980s.
Two chairs of the Inquiry, Lady Butler-Sloss and Fiona Woolf, have already stood down over concerns that they may have links to the public bodies being investigated.
In a Home Affairs Select Committee meeting to question the child abuse panel members on Tuesday, 20, January, more problems surfaced. Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democratic Home Office minister, (responsible for sex offences), said it was unsatisfactory that she was not shown the letter from Theresa May sent to members of the panel, suggesting the panel might be disbanded.
On Wednesday, 21, January, panel member Sharon Evans, a child abuse survivor and chief executive of the Dot Com Children’s Foundation, which helps prevent children from becoming victims of violence or abuse, told the Committee she felt “bullied” by counsel to the inquiry Ben Emmerson QC.
Emmerson reacted to her allegations by pointing out her complaints had already been investigated by the Home Office and dismissed as unfounded.
The dispute is threatening to bring to a complete halt the work of the Inquiry, which was set up in July 2014.
So where does what appears to be a shambolic exercise, leave the survivors of molestation by Jehovah’s Witnesses?
They are not giving up.
According to the terms of reference for the UK child abuse Inquiry, Churches and other religious denominations and organisations will be examined to see if they failed to:
“identify such abuse and/or whether there was otherwise an inappropriate institutional response to allegations of child abuse and/or whether there were ineffective child protection procedures in place;”
Wendy, a survivor of rape by a Jehovah’s Witness elder, intended to be vocal at one of the listening events (organised to inform the inquiry panel). The Inquiry website is indicating the listening meetings have all now been cancelled until a Chair of the Inquiry is appointed. Wendy, along with other abuse survivors, will now have to wait for a new meeting date. She asked the questions “do they not realise how important this Inquiry is for those that have suffered? Why is this taking so long to get started?”
The purpose of the listening meetings presumably will still be:
To provide information on the Panel, terms of reference and feedback received so far
To seek views on how those attending, particularly victims, survivors and representative groups, would like the Panel to engage with them
To ask those attending what they would like the Panel to include in their considerations
The findings will be collated as part of the Inquiry’s listening and engagement programme and fed back to the full panel.
Wendy is part of a group of abuse survivors who she says have suffered “because of the ineffective and damaging policies of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” The group wants their concerns heard as soon as possible.
Wendy said, “A few of us are realizing that this Inquiry could look at the practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It could mean that other people will not have to go through what Sewell and the congregation elders put us through. Sewell raped me and sexually assaulted his niece. He may be serving 14 years in prison, but the years of cover-up, because the elders closed ranks to protect the organization, need to be examined. Secondary abuse is caused by theses policies and practices and this has to stop. This Inquiry could make recommendations that would highlight and call to account how Jehovah’s Witnesses operate under the direction of the Governing Body.”
Nick French who was molested from the age of 7, by his Jehovah’s Witness step-father Gary Moscrop, 76, said, “In the last week, I have been contacted by someone and told that Gary Moscrop, was trying to befriend a 9 year old boy, just two weeks before he went to trial. Jehovah’s Witnesses allowed this guy back into the congregation. They somehow think that because a pedophile, like Gary Moscrop, has told the elders he is repentant, then he will somehow stop molesting children. Research shows otherwise.”
Nick appealed to Jehovah’s Witnesses this week and said, “please speak up if you were molested by this man or know a child that could have been or was abused. We have to stop the practice of silence that adds to the abuse itself.”
“Moscrop may be in prison, but there may be other children who suffered and they may need help, so I implore Jehovah’s Witnesses to get in touch with their humanity and speak to the police so their children get help. I did this as an adult. It is possible to begin healing.”
Wendy’s story was reported by Wales Online and the Daily Mail, who covered the case in detail. The perpetrator, Mark Sewell, a Jehovah’s Witness elder, was jailed for 14 years in June 2014 for sexually abusing girls as young as 12.
Sewell, 53, raped Wendy a member of his congregation in Barry, near Cardiff, leaving her pregnant.
He also molested his niece, Karen Morgan and abused two others in a string of attacks that spanned eight years. Karen’s story was reported at the time by Jehovah’s Witness Report.
Karen revealed that 19 elders remained silent and covered up the abuse and shredded the evidence.
It had taken 19 years before Sewell was found guilty of eight counts of sexual abuse.
Judge Richard Twomlow told him: “You were in a position of trust as a senior member of the church.”
“Your victims felt inhibited about what they could say because of your position as an elder.”
Many abuse survivors take years before they can speak about what happened to them. But with support and other people bravely speaking out, a young woman who was molested by her Jehovah’s Witness grandfather has found the courage to challenge her abuser. She will be putting her voice to the Inquiry.
David Dennis molested his granddaughter over an eight year period. Although still young, she wants her voice heard. She said, “My grandfather was an elder and what he did to me should never have happened. We have received no support from the congregation. They support him even though he admitted the abuse.”
David Dennis, aged 60, was handed a 12-year prison sentence in November 2014, by Truro court in Cornwall after admitting 25 counts of indecent assault and sexual assault on a 13-year-old girl, committed over an eight-year period. He was an elder in the Launceston congregation.
Her mother said at the time “She was so scared about coming forward because he was so well respected in the community. She didn’t think anyone would believe her, but I never doubted her for a second. I couldn’t believe it of him, but I never doubted her.”
Wendy said, “We are beginning to make contact with many who have been abused and silenced by elders and family. The abuse and the silence needs to end. We want this Inquiry to get moving and to address the wide gap between what is said and what is done within the Jehovah’s Witness community.”
“We want elders to be called to account for the cover-ups, and we want the Inquiry to review the policies that perpetuate the abuse. We want the Inquiry not only to make recommendations so that policies are changed, but also we want some kind of penalty and accountability laid at the door of those responsible for allowing children and adults to suffer.”
Key facts and documents – Child abuse inquiry Link
Wales Online – Mark Sewell – Two victims of perverted Jehovah’s Witness sex attacker to sue Church Link
Crawley News – Gary Moscrop – Pensioner jailed for sex attacks on boy over six years Link
Gary Moscrop – convicted – 10 years for child molestation – Nick French’s story Link
David Dennis – Mother reveals torment as Jehovah’s Witness is jailed for sexually abusing her daughter Link
Guardian – Child abuse Inquiry panel questioned by MP’s Link
Huffington Post – The treacherous intersection of faith and child abuse Link