Why Is the Jehovah’s Witness Child Sex Abuse Scandal Different?

Child sexual abuse is absolutely terrible, and the institutional coverup of abuse makes it even worse. From churches to sports organizations, we have seen so many institutions silence abuse scandals to protect the group’s reputation. However, when the group concerned is a high-control, destructive cult, there are extra layers of coercion and lies involved – layers which most lawmakers and justice professionals neither understand nor recognize.

Many people do not even realize that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a high-control group: most members of the public – judges and lawmakers included – think of them only as those “nice people” who go door-to-door offering “Bible studies”; pro-cult sociologists call them a “new religious movement”. When confronted with the covering up of sexual abuse by the Jehovah’s Witnesses (and other high-control organizations), these legal experts often make the mistake of treating the cases as they would one involving the Boy Scouts, the Methodist Church, or a sports club, when in fact, the organization they are dealing with is far less likely to cooperate with law enforcement. Mainstream religious groups have been reluctant to admit to abuse, but once that abuse has been exposed, many have done all that they can to expose the abusers. On his recent visit to Ireland, Pope Francis aligned himself with the victims of abuse, and has promised to do all that he can to root out this evil from the Catholic Church. This is not the attitude of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

We must not minimize cases of abuse in groups that are not destructive cults, but there are many reasons why child sexual abuse coverups are different – and should be treated differently – when involving high-demand groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses.


Jehovah’s Witnesses have a doctrine of ostracism or “shunning”, whereby contact and communication can be limited or even completely prohibited. Former members are often shunned by the entire congregation. Although the Watchtower’s lawyer recently managed to convince the Canadian Supreme court that “normal family relations” continue for those who are disfellowshipped, this is a base lie – the Watchtower’s internal propaganda films explicitly direct the faithful to engage in shunning. Anyone who speaks out about abuse risks isolation from their whole social group. They may well be cut off from their families, their friends, and their entire support system. In many cases, simply reporting the abuse to the proper authorities has become a disfellowshipping offence, meaning that parents have the Hobson’s choice of losing their community, or turning their backs on the needs of their children.

Predator-Enabling Policies

The “two witness” rule imposed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses – where a report of abuse is ignored if there is only one accuser – is the best-known, but abusive groups all employ a web of policies designed to keep the leadership and the followers in control – and to deny justice to those victimized by the wolves in the fold. The Mormons have come under fire for the battery of highly sexually charged questions asked of teenagers in closeted one-on-one sessions with bishops, and other groups use similar forms of interrogation designed to shame and confuse youth. Most high-demand groups have policies which explicitly forbid taking legal action of any kind against their fellow believers or the group, making it impossible to seek justice for any wrong done in the community.

Isolation from Society

High-control groups use a variety of methods to isolate their members: in the Jehovah’s Witnesses (as well as other destructive cults), members are conditioned to believe that those outside the group – especially law enforcement and social services – are controlled by Satan. This ensures that faithful members dare not think of reporting abuse to the authorities– or even realize that they have the right to do so. Additionally, those who leave the organization are viewed as apostates, not to be believed, and so past cases are dismissed as lies, even by those currently experiencing the same abuse.

Already Traumatized Children

Like many groups twisting Christian theology to wield control, the Jehovah’s Witnesses focus heavily on Armageddon or the “The Great Tribulation”, the final battle before Jesus returns to earth. Their literature is chock-full of violent images of destruction; children are taught that their schoolfriends, teachers, and even relatives not in good standing with the Watchtower will die in an excruciating holocaust of global chaos and destruction. Children suffering sexual abuse in such groups will have not only the trauma of the abuse, but an array of other phobias and emotional trauma to contend with.

Enculturated Guilt

When you’re a member of an abusive group, everything is your fault. It is not uncommon to hear from survivors of sexual abuse in the confines of a high-control group that they were made to feel as if they were the ones who had initiated the sexual contact, or that it happened because they were inherently sinful, or simply not a devout enough believer. Combined with the “usual” amount of shame experienced in such situations, this contributes to victims’ unwillingness to come forward.

Obedience as a Way of Life

Children raised in high-control groups are taught to obey without question or thought. In groups practicing “male headship”, a girl must obey the men of the group – no matter what is requested of her. Even without gender inequality, members of a destructive religious cult believe that their leaders are the ordained representatives of God, and to disobey them is to go against God’s will. Parents of abused children will be reluctant to act “against God”, and those who do go to the authorities will be wracked by guilt and paralyzed by fear, as they are now acting against everything they have been taught to believe and revere.

Zero Accountability

A predator never apologizes, and a destructive cult will never admit wrongdoing. While dozens of mainstream churches and other organizations are now admitting their guilt, apologizing to the victims, firing those responsible, and working to re-educate their officials, the leaders of abusive groups will never openly accept responsibility for the abuse or the cover-ups. They might pay millions in court costs, but, when talking to their members, they will still maintain that any reports of abuse are “apostate-driven lies,” and that the legal actions against them are the work of Satan.

Lack of Transparency

High-demand groups are notorious for their lack of transparency – recruits are not told what they will be expected to do, to sacrifice, or to believe until they work their way into the “inner circle” of believers. Many abusive groups, such as the Moonies, will claim that those just entering their group are not ready to receive the hidden “knowledge”, and compare telling new members the truth about the group’s more esoteric beliefs (such as Reverend Moon being the new Messiah) to feeding a baby a piece of steak, so they practice “heavenly deception”. Similarly, most destructive cults have a policy of lying to outsiders – particularly judicial and legal authorities – about the realities of group life. Because the “outside world” is controlled by Satan – or a conspiracy bent on destroying them – the leaders of groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses have no problem lying in court – even under oath. They justify this by referring to the Biblical story of Rahab, who lied to protect Israelite spies.

In conclusion, the covering up of child sexual abuse in any setting is despicable. However, in the context of an abusive group, the depth and breadth of the coverup is magnified, with more complex layers of lies, phobia, guilt, and coercion covering any truth. It is imperative that judges, police, lawmakers, and others working to reveal the institutional coverups of sexual abuse understand that they will hear nothing resembling the truth from the representatives of a high-control, destructive cult.

For more information, check out our article on pedophile grooming, and Barbara Anderson’s book, Barbara Anderson Uncensored: Eyewitness To Deceit.

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about covering up child abuse in a high-control group that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 


Spike belonged to an abusive "ritual magick" group. She is a gifted songwriter, performer and novelist. She has made the workings of coercive control her life's study.


  1. Susan September 6, 2018 at 5:09 pm - Reply

    That was an excellent summary of why it’s so dangerous for victims of abuse within religious organizations. Pedophiles are dangerous enough with all their lies and manipulations, but in a high control religious group, they are a recipe for disaster for all the reasons you pointed out.

    • Spike Robinson September 7, 2018 at 5:19 pm - Reply

      Thanks! Yes, sexual abuse in a high-control group is the proverbial “double whammy”.

  2. Diane Lynn September 6, 2018 at 10:09 pm - Reply

    I was abused from an infant by JW’s. I experience Dissociative Identity Disorder. I have been trying for justice and awareness for all of my life to no prevail. I attended the Australian RoyL Commision, I told my story to the Commissioner’s, I write letters, i told the JW elders, Circuit Overseers, District Overseers, Bethal, I told the police on many occasions, I tell people I think may help, or show any level of concern to no prevail. I go to therapy every week over a three hour return trip. I still have DID although I do at times see improvement. I love what you have written and I thank you. I doubt that the minority groups, the extreme religious groups/cults will opt in to the Australian Royal Commision recommendations, and they have two years to do so anyway. Children are still not a priority, the JW’s with their own admission have said that they will not change their beliefs, their rules. The Government has given them two years to opt in and that don’t ever have two. I have tried everything I can to get through to the religion, the Government, and nothing changes. What about the 10% of institutions that didn’t opt in, the collateral damage. What about the biggest institution the family? How many JW children were abused by their JW elder/ministerial servant/ baptised minister father. For them their is no redress or even consideration because just as the JW’s squirm out of accountability so to does the government. Ask any JW child who was abused by their mother or their father if it wasn’t done under JW protection. Any ways I say I will never give up fighting for children’s rights, but I do now believe that I have lost hope that any one who can make a difference will do something about what happened to us, the collateral damage.

    • Spike Robinson September 7, 2018 at 5:13 pm - Reply

      My heart goes out to you! Don’t give up – and keep on speaking out! Remember that there are many of us (myself included) who were never in but, knowing what we know, stand alongside you who had to suffer through the reality of this high-control, abusive group.

  3. Danuta Styczewska September 7, 2018 at 10:57 am - Reply

    Bardzo wnikliwa, rzeczowa, profesjonalna ocena. Należy dać możliwość zapoznać się z niniejsza treścią jak największej grupie ludzi, którzy są w niebezpieczeństwie zniewolenia umysłu lub już zniewoleni i nie potrafią ocenić zagrożeń, gdy każe się im chronić opinię jakiejkolwiek grupy, tuszując każde zło a wykorzystywanie seksualne w szczególności.

    Trans. – Very thorough, factual, professional evaluation. It should be possible to get acquainted with this content as the largest group of people who are in danger of enslaving the mind or are no longer able to assess threats when asked to protect the opinion of any group, covering up every evil and sexual abuse in particular.

    • Spike Robinson September 7, 2018 at 5:18 pm - Reply

      Thanks so much – yes, I hope that the lawyers and judges who are dealing with abuse will be made aware of these facts; it will prevent another travesty like the one that happened in the Canadian Supreme court, where the judges believed the lies.

  4. Mark Foster September 7, 2018 at 11:20 am - Reply

    Great article.
    For high-control groups like the JW’s and scientologists, the kind of remorseless,vicious predatory behavior described in the article is a sacrament and centerpiece of the groups’ social heirarchy.
    Put coarsely, they truly don’t give a fuck; for them, their blinkered, amoral policies and behaviors are badges of moral and spiritual superiority.

    • Spike Robinson September 7, 2018 at 5:13 pm - Reply

      you’re so right – when I saw the Governing Body member (I forget which one) making his announcement about the 2-person rule, it was like he was *proud* that they weren’t budging. Not that they need the 2-witness rule to be dealt discipline when someone’s been staying over at a boyfriend or girlfriend’s house, or (gasp!) hanging up Christmas lights…

  5. Marco Terán September 9, 2018 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    Que se tome como base el relato biblico de Rahab para mentir abiertamente es lo mas asqueroso que puede hacer esta secta…utilisan la biblia a conveniencia.Estos no representan al dios de la verdad de quien dicen ser sus reprecentantes.Esecialmente los autonombrados Eclavo Fiel y Discreto que la única discreción que tienen es para protegerse asi mismos y nunca para proteger a las llamadas ovejitas de Jehová.

    Trans. – To take Rahab’s biblical account as a basis for lying openly is the most disgusting thing that this sect can do … they use the Bible at their convenience. They do not represent the god of truth who they claim to be their representatives. Esecially self-appointed faithful and discreet slave that the only discretion they have is to protect themselves and never to protect the so-called sheep of Jehovah.

    • Spike Robinson September 9, 2018 at 3:29 pm - Reply

      That is a mark of a destructive group – the misuse of scripture and the heavily loaded language. And slaves, no matter how ‘faithful’ or ‘discreet’, don’t generally tell 8 million people how to run their lives.

    • spike September 13, 2018 at 3:08 am - Reply

      Thanks so much for doing this! I’m glad to have as wide an audience as possible for this message.

  6. Adrienne Van Den Tooren September 12, 2018 at 9:34 am - Reply

    Excdllent summary covering all issues comprhensively.
    Every public service institution, government and law establishment should have access to this.
    I was abused for 30 years which happened essentially because of Watchtower policy and procedure and then they went further with incidents of serious buman rights violations even when they knew I am autisc.
    I court publicity although I know I’m on Watchtower radar because everyone deserves to know the dangerous nature of this cult and there are no bounds of moral depravity to which they will not stoop.

    • spike September 13, 2018 at 3:10 am - Reply

      Glad to hear you’re speaking out! As the wonderful Nancy Many (a former Scientologist) says: “The antidote to shame is ‘me, too!'”

  7. JWIntellect September 27, 2018 at 9:29 pm - Reply

    Phenomenally written article and a must read for those involved with the justice system who truly want to understand what they are dealing with as respects Jehovah’s Witnesses.

  8. Jesse November 14, 2018 at 1:07 am - Reply

    Dating Once more After Breaking Up

  9. Aura November 14, 2018 at 4:21 pm - Reply

    Truly loads of terrific data!

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