A bit of a stir has been made in recent weeks about the latest version of Watchtower’s UK child safeguarding policy, which was revised by the organisation for 2017. For those not aware, every charity in the UK is required to have a printed child safeguarding policy that members of the charity and the public can read, and as Watchtower is a charity they are required to comply.
The policy, which can be veiwed on the letters page of the Avoidjw.org website, at first glance appears no different from Watchtower’s previously stated (and officially discredited) polices and positions on reporting child sexual abuse.
However, point 13 has caught the eye of some. It reads:
If any congregation elder learns of a case of child abuse in which a child may still be at risk of significant harm two elders must contact the legal department at the branch office for legal advice on compliance. A report to the police or other appropriate authorities will be made immediately by the congregation elders if it is determined that a child is still at risk.
Now, some have taken this paragraph to mean that Watchtower has shifted its policy of not reporting child abuse allegations (or even actual confessions to crimes and or/allegations with multiple witnesses) to the police.
And trust me, if this was genuinely the case, I’d be a very happy Covert Fade.
But lets actually look at the wording of this paragraph, and the circumstances surrounding the release of the document to see if this is really the case.
What does this policy actually say?
I mean, that’s what you’d expect if this document finally allows what on the surface it may appear to allow, right? After all, if the elders are concerned for the safety of a child, contacting law enforcement should be the first step.
So is this what the first sentence says?
If any congregation elder learns of a case of child abuse in which a child may still be at risk of significant harm two elders must contact the legal department at the branch office for legal advice on compliance.
The first step is to contact the branch.
This should be a huge red flag to anyone familiar with the previous policies of Jehovah’s Witnesses in this area. It is the branch who will decide if the child is “at risk,” not the local elders, and without branch authorisation these local elders cannot contact the police even if they wanted to. Moreover, this policy does not state the criteria the branch will use to assess the risk to the child, or the level of training in child protection and law enforcement possessed by the people who will be making this assessment.
Thus, one cannot say with any confidence that the risk to the child will be accurately assessed, or that elders will make a report to the police even if they disagree with the branch assessment and maintain that there is a danger to the child. Remember how every Elder who gave testimony at the Australian Royal Commission stated that they had more or less no scope to follow their own consciences when it come to these matters; that they followed branch direction to the letter.
Also consider the following; it would not be hard to imagine that, given its previous refusal to report to law enforcement any case of child abuse at all, that Watchtower’s criteria for designating a child to be at risk and thus worth reporting to the police may be very VERY narrow. In fact, possibly so narrow that they are never used in real life.
In other words, the actual real world result of this policy is still to cut the authorities out of the loop.
An additional point to keep in mind; this apparent allowance for the branch to authorise elders to report abuse to the police if they suspect a child is in danger, only appears in this UK specific document.
At this time, there is no general letter that has been sent to other bodies of elders worldwide mentioning this process, or even a letter separate to this public policy to bodies of elders in the UK. No update or modification has been made to the KS-10 Shephard the Flock of God book (the elders manual) to this effect. In the event of a clash between this public-facing safefgaurding policy, and the KS-10 book, the KS-10 book will assume precedence. And the KS-10 book does not authorise elders or the branch to report to the police in the absence of legal compulsion.
Additionally, it should be noted that Watchtower has been very happy in the past to give public statements that are demonstrably misleading, both during the ARC over child absue, and on jw.org as regards shunning and other matters.
What is the goal?
So what are we looking at here?
We are looking at a document that attempts to feign a change in policy towards a more reasonable stance, whilst in reality allowing Watchtower leeway to carry on in real terms more or less as before.
Why have they done this?
Well, it’s entirely possible that this addition to the safeguarding policy has been made as an attempt to placate the UK Charity Commission, who are currently investigating Watchtower over the issue of their child sex abuse handling, or perhaps as a result of pressure from some other legal body or compliance regulation in the UK. As we have previously, Watchtower is not adverse to releasing misleading descriptions to the public or to the legal system when it suits their purpose.
It may be that in the UK, enough Witnesses have been asking to see this policy that the branch have amended it to appear as though it does allow for the police to be contacted by the elders, and thus attempting to placate any Witnesses concerned that their religion is engaged in something unethical.
Whatever the case, this document appears to have been carefully crafted to present the appearance of change, whilst hiding a complete lack of it in real terms. Remember, when dealing with Watchtower one can never take what is said at face value: It’s always wise to keep your eye on the ball.
Watchtower is very good at the shell game.
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