The following is a follow-up to the article submitted on Thursday by “CovertFade” – a non-disfellowshipped subscriber to JWsurvey…
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia has been running its inquiry into the Jehovah’s Witnesses child protection policies for just under a week, and so far it’s been pretty painful to watch. Especially for the Watchtower.
We’ve seen elders caught apparently lying under oath, we’ve seen elders admitting that the policy they are required to follow is flawed, elders admitting that they cared more about protecting their organization than protecting the victim, elders stubbornly insisting that it was perfectly okay for three men to interrogate a loan female abuse survivor in front of her attacker, and to cap it all we had an elder admit that he’d done no preparation for his appearance before the Commission and didn’t really know what the Commission was for. How embarrassing!
Well, just as it looked as though things couldn’t get any worse for Watchtower, day four (July 31st) of the hearings began and Doctor Monica Applewhite took the stand.
Doctor Monica Applewhite is no stranger to those following Watchtower’s child abuse battles. She has appeared in several US cases, most recently in a UK case, always on behalf of Watchtower and against the claimant.
On each occasion, she had been there to present her professional informed opinion as an expert in the prevention of child abuse that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are actually much better than all other religions when it comes to abuse prevention, and that everything is fine in the house that Russell built.
It hasn’t always worked. For example, the UK case was lost by Watchtower despite her testimony, but it did at least allow the organization to release the following face-saving statement.
“We are disappointed with the decision, particularly since the court accepted expert evidence that Jehovah’s Witnesses in the late 1980’s and 1990’s were ahead of their time in addressing the issue of child sexual abuse.”
I don’t think that will be happening this time. In fact, I’d be curious to know if Doctor Applewhite will ever want to work for Watchtower again.
It turns out Doctor Applewhite has become a walking case study on how NOT to approach research. Before the hearings began, Doctor Applewhite submitted a written statement to the Commission in general defense and praise of Witness policies on child abuse, but it quickly became clear when she took to the stand that the Commission again had serious concerns, this time not with the activities of elders, or the polices or Watchtower. Their concern was with her credibility.
For example, her written statement repeatedly asserted that Watchtower compared much more favorably than other religions “throughout the world” when it came to dealing with child abuse, but when pressed to give hard data as to which religious organizations she was actually using for comparison, and the data sets she used to come to this conclusion, she was very vague and apparently unable to produce such.
More to the point, when pressed on what data she had actually used to study Watchtower’s effectiveness when dealing with child abuse, she was forced to admit that her study came not from empirical data collected from real world case studies, but rather, simply from reading Witness publications.
In other words, what she was presenting was not a scientifically researched study, she was just presenting an opinion based on reading cult propaganda and assuming that this propaganda actually depicted reality.
Sounds bad? It gets worse, because it turns out even by the standards of her own flawed methodology, Doctor Applewhite did a terrible job of understanding what the publications actually indicated. Over the course of the day, the Commission identified and proved a large number of factual errors that Doctor Applewhite had made in her report. Here are some examples…
- Doctor Applewhite incorrectly offered the opinion that elders are not viewed as “superior” by the congregation but as “fellow workers.” The Commission found that they could not accept this as the reality of Witness culture, based on many other statements in the publications indicating (1) that elders are considered shepherds rather than sheep, (2) that they have a position of honor in the congregation, and (3) are appointed by holy spirit, and thus whilst some written JW material might try to convey the idea of equality, other JW publications and the clear reality on the ground was that the hierarchy of Watchtower was clearly split into shepherds and sheep.
- Applewhite incorrectly presented the opinion that an elder or a ministerial servant would never be alone with children. The Commission, however, found that the ks10 elder’s guidebook explicitly stated that “Those who are appointed to privileges of service, such as elders and ministerial servants, are put in a position of trust. One who is extended privileges in the congregation is judged by others as being worthy of trust. This includes being more liberal in leaving children in their care and oversight. The congregation would be left unprotected if we prematurely appointed someone who was a child abuser as a ministerial servant or elder.” Doctor Applewhite replied that as a rule this was not supposed to happen. The Commission asked her to point to this rule in the book. She could not.
- Applewhite was unaware of the restrictions placed on Witnesses getting professional psychological help. She stated that she had assumed the counsel was just limited to finding a therapist who respected witness beliefs. Angus Stewart SC demonstrated again with the ks10 book that group therapy, for example (which can be an important form of treatment for abuse survivors), was discouraged by Watchtower. Doctor Applegate conceded her error in this point.
The above errors threw the credibility of Applewhite’s entire report into doubt. None of this was a great start from someone Watchtower was no doubt hoping would be able to turn the tide in what has thus far been a complete debacle for them.
The Commission team, however, was only just warming up.
They then moved into weightier details of concern to them: the two witness rule, the all-male star chamber, the forcing of a survivor to confront her abuser. Justice Peter McClellan and his team were clearly confused as to how Doctor Applewhite, an apparent expert in the prevention and treatment of child abuse, could support these policies. It turned out that Doctor Applewhite had again been pulled in by Watchtower propaganda and had failed to do critical, investigative research.
For example, let’s take the issue of a survivor being forced to confront his/her accused. When Doctor Applewhite was asked if this is acceptable, she first countered that the accuser is not actually forced to face the accused and can instead write a letter detailing their evidence (this is in direct contradiction to all the testimony that the elders had offered thus far). This is happened next:
- Justice Peter McClellan: Doctor, are you familiar with the work that has been done in Australia in the civil justice process in relation to the prosecution of these types of offenses?
- Doctor Applewhite: In terms of how survivors are —
- Justice McClellan: How witnesses are handled and, particularly, how survivors are managed? Are you familiar with those processes?
- Applewhite: I am.
- Justice McClellan: Are you familiar with one of the fundamentals being that the abused person need not confront the abuser in that scenario?
- Applewhite: Absolutely.
- Justice McClellan: This process offends against that principle, clearly, doesn’t it?
- Applewhite: But my understanding is that they can write a letter and that there doesn’t have to be a confrontation at all.
- Justice McClellan: We just looked at all those processes.
- Applewhite: Yes.
- Angus Stewart SC: I don’t know where you get that understanding, whether someone told you that, or what, but you restricted your report and your evidence, now, to what the documents say, and the documents don’t say that, do they?
- Applewhite: So you are saying that in the judicial process today, that evidence can’t be received from a witness through a letter?
- Stewart: Well, according to these documents, yes, I am saying that. There may be some judicial committee somewhere —
- Justice McClellan: I think it probably should be put slightly differently. The words are “however it may be that the witnesses live a great distance away” – you have to ask yourself what is meant by “witnesses” there, whether that includes the survivor, “or for some reason are not able to be physically present.” So we’re talking about an exception, do you understand?
- Applewhite: I do.
- Justice McClellan: Otherwise, the procedure contemplates what Mr Stewart has been putting to you, and that is, that the girl or woman would have to confront ultimately three men in the presence of the abuser and without any moral support. So on her own. Now, is that a good practice?
- Applewhite: Absolutely not. And I – I want to be clear, if there – if it turns out that the practice that they have today does not allow someone to write a letter and they have to confront their offender and they have to sit in the room with no support, it is not going to meet the standards of care. I didn’t understand that that’s the process, and there are probably people more qualified than I am to say whether it is, but it wouldn’t meet the standard of care if that is the fact.
- Justice McClellan: Well, the difficulty for us is that you have proffered to us your written report in relation to all of this.
- Applewhite: Yes.
- Justice McClellan: And we’re trying to work out whether or not what you have said is something that we, as the Commission, should accept, carrying with it of course the consequence that if we say it is a good practice, then others might follow it. Do you understand?
- Applewhite: Absolutely. And in no way am I trying to say that that’s a good practice.
What the above transcript fails to capture, but it is clear in the video footage, is the expression and tone of voice of Doctor Applewhite. Her responses are those of a woman realizing that she has made a terrible mistake, and then frantically trying to distance herself as far as possible from the position she previously held.
The same pattern unfolds when the Commission discusses the two witness rule, and in particular an aspect of this rule that seems of particular concern to Justice McClellan, who has correctly identified that the Watchtower faith requires a person, essentially under pain of destruction by God, to report wrongdoing.
However, when coupled with the two witness rule, a potential situation is created where an abuse survivor is compelled under threat of divine judgement to report abuse, but then the very nature of the system which handles her complaint will not allow the complaint to be believed or dealt with, thus creating a no-win scenario and huge trauma for the victim.
- Justice Peter McClellan: Now, do you see that there may be a problem for a survivor, who has the obligation to report sexual abuse, which very often will happen in private – most often will happen in private —
- Doctor Applewhite: Yes.
- Justice McClellan: and find that because there is not another witness, her allegation is not accepted? Do you see that that might have real difficulties for the survivor?
- Applewhite: Absolutely.
Ouch. Well, at least the day is over and Watchtower can lick its wounds, right? Nope.
The Commission then presents Doctor Applewhite with a checklist of factors in a sociological environment, as proposed by David Finkelhor (a leading researcher, academic and writer in the field of child protection), that would significantly increase the risk to children in that environment. They are:
- Repressive norms about masturbation and extra-marital sex.
- Weak criminal sanctions against offenders.
- Ideology of patriarchal prerogatives for fathers
- Erosion of social networks.
- Mr Angus Stewart SC: This model would certainly raise for you some flashing lights about the social/cultural environment of the Jehovah’s Witness Church insofar as child sexual abuse is concerned, wouldn’t it?
- Doctor Applewhite: Tell me what you mean by “flashing lights.”
- Stewart: These factors come together really in a perfect storm for the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the risk of child sexual abuse occurring there.
- Applewhite: I think I would have to look at this more carefully to be able to say that. I just would have to look more carefully.
Doctor Applewhite might not be certain on this point, but it is clear from the above statements by Mr Stewart that, in spite of evidence submitted by Watchtower and the testimony of elders (or perhaps because of it), the Commission is presently of the opinion that this is the case, demonstrating the grave nature of the trouble that Watchtower Australia finds itself in.
As the day came to a close, with the credibility of Doctor Applewhite under serious doubt and her evidence officially ruled to be so flawed that it was inadmissible, and her client looking worse than ever, Justice Peter McClellan presented Applewhite with the chilling logical consequences of the practices employed by the cult she had been hired to defend.
- Justice Peter McClellan: Just to finish the discussion you and I had previously, doctor, if a woman brings an allegation that she has been sexually assaulted by a member of the Jehovah’s Witness, and she does so because of her strong adherence to the tenets of the church, and believes that she has to report, but she doesn’t want to go to the authorities, she doesn’t want to be involved in a criminal trial, and there is no other witness, and the alleged abuser doesn’t confess, but those listening to her story don’t have any doubt that she is telling the truth, but they can’t take any action because there is only her evidence, what happens, then, within the church? I assume – well, you tell me, does the abuser then stay with all of his rights intact and the woman would be required to, if she wished to remain part of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, interact with him in that environment? Is that what happens?
- Doctor Applewhite: In addition to some other warnings or things of that nature, I would think that that would be what would happen.
- Justice McClellan: It is not a very good place to end up, is it?
- Doctor Applewhite: It isn’t.
In some respects one can feel a degree of sympathy for Doctor Applewhite. She is not the first otherwise intelligent and rational person to have been suckered by manipulative cult propaganda. On the other hand, as an academic working in a field such as child protection, where the stakes are so high and the human consequences for error so appalling, she clearly should have demonstrated the kind of professional diligence and spirit of critical inquiry shown by the Royal Commission. She failed, and instead ended up being an apologist for a cult that has hidden 1006 alleged child molesters from the law in Australia alone.
At least now she finally seems to be aware of it.
The day ended with Watchtower’s lawyer inviting Doctor Applegate to re-submit her report. But despite her expressed willingness to help the Commission, from the expression on her face and the tone of her closing remarks, one wonders if we have seen her final appearance in defense of Watchtower.
- Daily Mail report
- 9News report
- Sydney Morning Herald report
- Updated list of media reports on the Royal Commission
- Download page for exhibits from the Royal Commission
- Australian Royal Commission hears that 1,006 alleged child sex abusers were covered up by Watchtower
- Elders shamed under questioning by the Royal Commission
- JWsurvey articles on child abuse
Watch a playlist of the Royal Commission…