A former Jehovah’s Witness is calling for a change to practices within the church which he says do not help sex abuse victims.
Steve Rose, 51, from Hartlepool, believes policies of the church, based on what the Bible says, make it difficult for allegations of child and other sex abuse to be uncovered or acted upon.
He wants to see the end to a “two-witness rule” which says church elders are not allowed to take action against allegations of wrongdoing unless it has been witnessed by at least two people.
The church say its rules do not prevent allegations being taken seriously or issues being reported to police.
Mr Rose, who used to be a member of Hartlepool’s Kingdom Hall, in Ashgrove Avenue, is also concerned that convicted sex offenders – like Richard Ogilvie, who was recently sentenced for grooming a girl – are allowed to remain part of the church.
Ogilvie, 32, of Scott Grove, Hartlepool was spared jail but made the subject of an indefinite sexual harm prevention order, limiting his contact with children.
Meanwhile, Mr Rose, of Rift House, who says he was disfellowshipped for speaking to the congregation about a concern he raised with an elder, says he is shunned by the church.
The Charity Commission is carrying out a statutory investigation into the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the UK, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain, around safeguarding issues.
Mr Rose, of Rift House, said: “They do everything biblically,” he said.
“No abuser is going to ask for two witnesses to be present.
“My main concern is people [who canvass for new members] in the town centre don’t know about the two-witness rule.
“Their (the church’s) favourite saying is Jehovah will bring the truth out. But while we’re waiting for God to make up his mind all these children could be getting abused. In eight and a half years that I was part of the church we never talked about safeguarding or the two-witness rule.”
And regarding convicted offenders being allowed to remain part of the church, he said: “In the Jehovah’s Witness community, if you are repentant you can still mix with the public and congregation, and things need to change. It is more than likely if anyone is going to abuse a child, they are going to do it again.”
The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Child Safeguarding Policy states: “The care and safeguarding of children and the promotion of their welfare is of the utmost concern and importance to the congregation.
“In recognition of this responsibility, our policy objectives are to ensure that if ever a matter requiring the protection of a child should arise within the congregation, it will be dealt with promptly and properly and that children in the congregation will be protected from avoidable harm.”
Regarding the ‘two-witness rule’, a church spokesman said a sin does not have to be witnessed by two or more people at the same time. They added: “We don’t feel the scriptures give us authority to act on an uncorroborated complaint but a similar complaint by a different individual constitutes corroboration.
“If someone has been a victim of a crime and wants to go to the authorities, they have got many investigating powers we haven’t got.
“Essentially, we don’t think this gentleman’s assertion that it can prevent alleged sexual abuse being reported is correct and don’t think it prevents it being taken seriously.”
On the issue of convicted sex offenders being allowed to remain part of the church, the spokesman said they are very carefully monitored and not allowed to be alone with children.
But he added: “I don’t know any church that closes their doors and vets people and stops them coming into religious services.”
Cleveland Police said: “We would encourage anyone who suspects child abuse to contact police straight away.”