Yes, I know! To state the obvious, I realize how overdue this article is. It’s been a work in progress for many months now, in part because I have this very annoying perfectionist streak, which does not help! I also wanted to take the time to do the results of the 2018 Survey justice and looking back at all that happened during that year was quite the rabbit hole! The results of the survey itself are fascinating and if you would like to download the full results in PDF form, you can do so here:
As we review the year I have interspersed some of the statistics that came from the 2018 Survey below, so let’s begin!
2018 started explosively with the online release of confidential Watchtower child sexual abuse documents by non-profit organisation Faithleaks (now known as The Truth and Transparency Foundation). The 33 documents were a compilation of letters sent between Watchtower and individuals in the Palmer Congregation, Massachusetts, USA. They were a very distressing read to say the least, revealing the awful accusations of child sex abuse from three Jehovah’s Witness women against a Ministerial Servant in their congregation. Exposing a pattern of behavior that has become sadly predictable, the documents shed further light on the terrible mishandling of abuse by Watchtower. Jennings Brown, Senior Editor and Reporter at the Gizmodo website well summarized the 69 pages of documents, saying:
The leaks became known as the “Palmer Leaks” and the Watchtower in Focus team devoted Episode 8 to discussing the previously confidential documents: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxe-pnKv3n0.
However, Watchtower decided to launch the new year with a Watchtower study article discussed by all congregations in January 2018 that explained why the words of one of their songs had been changed. In the November 2017 Study Edition, the first article “Make a Joyful Sound!” stated in paragraph 17:
“The change of the title “Guard Your Heart” to “We Guard Our Hearts” was most considerate. Why? In the audience at our meetings, assemblies, and conventions are many new ones, interested ones, young ones and sisters who by singing the words would be put in the awkward position of telling others what to do. So the title and the lyrics were modified.” [italics ours] https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/2017641#h=1:0
If only Watchtower gave as much careful attention and consideration to the protection of children and their internal policies of dealing with child sexual abuse accusations as they do the wording of their “Kingdom Melodies” and the terrible danger that women pose when it comes to singing words at men!
JW Survey’s Covert Fade covered this lyrical nugget in his article: https://jwsurvey.org/mind-control/watchtower-says-beware-danger-women-singing-instructions-men while Lloyd Evans explored the deeper underlying issues in his video on the John Cedars channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jZ2ERLa1lE
In the State of Delaware, USA, Jehovah’s Witnesses were fined and paid $19,500 for failure to report child sexual abuse. On January 18th, 2018 a formal agreement was signed between attorneys representing Jehovah’s Witnesses and the State of Delaware settling the case where two elders and one congregation were held responsible for withholding detailed knowledge of child sexual abuse. Included in the signing of the agreement was the stipulation that Jehovah’s Witness elders must comply with all Delaware statues involving the reporting of child abuse. In addition, the body of elders from the Laurel Congregation in Delaware were required to attend the Stewards of Children training program and to pay the associated costs. JWsurvey’s own Mark O’Donnell reported the details of this case: https://jwsurvey.org/child-abuse-2/jehovahs-witness-elders-fined-for-failure-to-report-child-abuse-watchtower-settles-with-delaware
January was far from done as news, unsurprisingly not to be found on JW News or JW.org, was released that Watchtower had abandoned their legal defense in the Lopez v Watchtower lawsuit and had agreed to settle the case. During the six years of hearings Watchtower displayed a dazzling array of appalling tactics, from Governing Body member Gerrit Lösch claiming that he had nothing to do with Watchtower in order to avoid testifying, to blunt refusal to comply with court orders to produce the secret child sexual abuse database (resulting in a $4,000/day fine until the court order was complied with). Covert Fade covered the news of the victory for Jose Lopez and the cases’ settlement in this JW Survey article: https://jwsurvey.org/child-abuse-2/breaking-news-watchtower-surrenders-settles-lopez-lawsuit.
Still in January, Watchtower announced the addition of an eight Governing Body member – Kenneth Cook – to its beleaguered leadership group.
Speaking of the Governing Body, who could forget the visit to Trinidad of Anthony Morris III and his shocking talk intended to encourage Jehovah’s Witnesses, but which did more to mortify those of us who have left with threats and scathing dictates. See Lloyd Evans’ rebuttal to the talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCN1w9-i3Ug&t=6s
January climaxed with the bizarre, unforgettable spectacle of two leaked videos intended for the induction of bethelites as part of the Bethel Entrants School. These videos came to be known colloquially as – “Pillowgate!” I have no doubt that you were all just as shocked and disgusted as I was, but if perchance you do not know what I’m referring to, this is something you must see for yourself! Please set aside at least a couple of hours, grab the popcorn and watch Lloyd’s takedown of the madness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xh6JdkXn5VY. (Episode 9 of Watchtower in Focus was devoted to these two videos and was fetchingly called: “Pillow Talk”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zq7GrpfHBvE&t=6s)
Brave Watchtower organization insiders leaked six videos to JWsurvey that were as yet unfinished convention video files slated for the 2018 “Be Courageous” Regional Convention Program. The material gave us an insight on what was to come in the approaching convention season. We’ve come to expect jaw-dropping overt manipulation and blatant guilt-tripping with video material at Watchtower’s annual propaganda gala and these six leaked videos promised more of the same. The leaked videos were reported on by Lloyd Evans on JWsurvey: https://jwsurvey.org/cedars-blog/leaked-2018-convention-videos-celebrate-anti-lgbtq-bigotry-unquestioning-obedience-doomsday-fear-mongering.
The entire convention program was analysed by Lloyd on the John Cedars Channel:
Saturday – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTysL1beSGA
On February 16th, 2018, tragedy struck Keego Harbour, Michigan USA when former Jehovah’s Witness, Lauren Stuart, shot dead her husband and two children before turning the gun on herself. Sadly, as details emerged, it became clear that the power of Watchtower teachings and policies were significant contributing factors to the depth of Lauren’s depression and mental health issues. Investigators into the tragedy learned that Lauren’s fear and conviction of Armageddon combined with the lethal effects of being shunned for a decade had proved to be a fatal cocktail. Covert Fade analyzed how the Armageddon teaching and shunning likely affected Lauren Stuart in his JWsurvey article: https://jwsurvey.org/suicide-2/shunning-depression-and-armageddon-loophole-lead-to-tragic-jw-murder-suicide
In April 2018, the Watchtower In Focus team returned in Episode 11 to discuss growing concerns over the way Watchtower harvests and maintains data. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation came into effect in May 2018 and in preparation for this Watchtower circulated “consent” forms that appeared to threaten or coerce JWs with ramifications if they refused to grant Watchtower unfettered access and control over their personal data. In this episode, the team shared a leaked video revealing a new data-sharing system known as “Publisher ID” which would allow the Governing Body unprecedented access to detailed information on their loyal followers. To view the video of this discussion, see this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUn-DmvinlQ
On 25th April 2018, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a damning article by investigative reporter David Gambacorta, which comprehensively detailed the mishandling of child abuse among Jehovah’s Witnesses. Gambacorta’s sources, Martin and Jennifer Haugh, told the harrowing story of their own daughter’s abuse on multiple occasions in a kingdom hall and of the subsequent cover-up. This must-read article can be found here: https://www.inquirer.com/news/inq/jehovahs-witnesses-silent-history-child-sex-abuse-20180425.html
Jennifer, left, and Martin Haugh sit for a portrait at their home in New Cumberland, Pa., on Tuesday, March 27, 2018. Their daughter is pictured around age five in a family photo album. When their daughter was four, she was molested by a family member at their Jehovah’s Witness congregation in Red Lion. The couple has since left the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which urged them to keep the abuse a secret.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer – The Philadelphia Inquirer
In September 2018, the December 2018 issue of the Watchtower Study Edition was released – and it outraged many. Within the pages of the study article “Honor What God Has Yoked Together” there was extremely disturbing and shocking advice for women who find themselves in domestic abuse marriages. The article confirmed that divorce is only permissible in cases of adultery. Separation is inferred as less desirable since a couple would still be marriage mates, albeit living apart. The article stated in paragraph 15: “if sexual immorality is not involved, the goal should be reconciliation. The two could seek Bible-based help from congregation elders. While the elders avoid taking sides, they could offer Scriptural advice.”
Leaving aside the painfully obvious lack of education and training qualifying elders to provide such mediation, the tone of the article appeared to praise those who remain with an abusive mate inferring that by doing so there is a chance of the unbelieving mate becoming a “true worshipper.” Also note that the scenario painted by Watchtower involves an unbelieving mate doing the abusing. Craftily, Watchtower sets the narrative and completely ignores and turns a blind eye to the many anecdotal cases of domestic violence involving believing Witnesses!
“17 Admittedly, there have been instances where an “unbelieving husband” seems to prove that he is not “agreeable to staying with her.” He might be extremely physically abusive, even to the point that she feels that her health or life is in danger. He might refuse to support her and the family or severely endanger her spirituality. In such cases, some Christians have personally decided that, despite what he might say, the mate is not “agreeable to staying” together and that a separation is necessary. But other Christians in comparably difficult situations have not; they have endured and tried to work at improving matters. Why? “
“18 In such a separation, the two are still marriage mates. If they lived apart, each one would face challenges, as mentioned earlier. The apostle Paul gave another reason for staying united. He wrote: “The unbelieving husband is sanctified in relation to his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in relation to the brother; otherwise, your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.” (1 Cor. 7:14) Many loyal Christians have remained with an unbelieving mate under very trying circumstances. They can testify that doing so was worthwhile in a special sense when their mate became a true worshipper.—Read 1 Corinthians 7:16; 1 Pet. 3:1, 2.” WT Dec 2018
The JWsurvey team receive countless emails from people telling horrific stories of domestic abuse from believers – and yet, in this article, Watchtower sidesteps this very real issue and places it in the realms of fantasy by only allowing for the possibility of domestic abuse in religiously divided households. Such advice, as seen in this article, is grossly irresponsible, damaging, harmful, and life-threatening. It reveals an organisation that is tone-deaf, ignorant and uneducated as to what domestic violence actually is and how it proliferates.
On September 26th, 2018, a Montana jury handed down the largest-ever punitive damages award for a single abuse victim. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, along with the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, were found guilty of both negligence and malice in connection with the intentional failure to file police reports on behalf of plaintiff Alexis Nunez and two additional victims. Four million dollars was awarded to Nunez on the count of negligence, followed by a 31 million dollar punitive verdict on the count of malice. Sadly, the jury’s verdict was later overturned on a technicality. Nevertheless, JWsurvey editor Mark O’Donnell was in the courtroom observing the proceedings and you can read his blow-by-blow account here: https://jwsurvey.org/child-abuse-2/jehovahs-witnesses-found-guilty-of-malice-and-negligence-victim-awarded-35-million-in-montana-lawsuit
The Watchtower in Focus team further discussed the Montana verdict in Episode 15: https://youtu.be/oaUK1gnVWu8
On November 13th, 2018, we all excitedly watched the A&E airing of Leah Remini’s: “Scientology and the Aftermath” Special Episode focussing on Jehovah’s Witnesses. For so many of us who have suffered abuse from cruel, cold and heartless Watchtower policies, it was cathartic and healing to see Leah use her formidable and informative platform to raise awareness of those abuses. You can stream the episode from aetv.com here: https://www.aetv.com/shows/leah-remini-scientology-and-the-aftermath/season-3/episode-0
To process and debrief the enormity of the special episode’s impact, the Watchtower in Focus team assembled to discuss this welcome exposure: https://youtu.be/WimTjKLjfGI
With the organization still reeling from the Aftermath Special Episode, on November 19th, 2018, Dutch police raided Watchtower’s branch office at Emmen along with two kingdom halls and a number of other properties connected to Watchtower – all with the aim of finding evidence of possible neglect concerning child safeguarding. Again, the Watchtower in Focus team came together to discuss the Dutch raids: https://youtu.be/NyRCU0Kl-Wo. They also had opportunity to talk with Neil Smith, a member of the legal team involved in the Montana case, who offered some very interesting insights into that case.
On a personal note, December 17th, 2018, was a special day for Sacha and I – as that was the day that Lloyd invited us to join the JWsurvey team. We both feel incredibly privileged to be a part of this hard working volunteer team and we very much enjoy our respective roles (my role as the Survey Editor and Sacha as the Aftercare & Support Manager) and the platform it affords us to do exactly what we want: to help as many as we can.
Finally, I would like to thank all of you for participating in the 2018 Survey and for your support of the Global Survey. 568 of you took the time to offer comments and suggestions and I read through them all – there are some excellent suggestions there so look out for a fresh 2020 Survey soon (and yes, I’ve noted the typos!).
Please be assured that you will not have as long to wait for the 2019 Survey results. I’ve been wanting to work on these for some time, but I first wanted to do justice to the 2018 Survey. The 2019 Survey shattered the record number of participants (2015 Survey had 6,083 respondents) with 7,180 taking part! I’m incredibly excited to share those results with you soon. In the meantime, please stay tuned for the release of the 2020 Survey. We want as many voices as possible to be heard and I very much look forward to hearing yours!