Documentation, Religion

Child Checks Victoria on Children Check

A child in Victoria, Australia pooled his pocket money together with three other buddies in order to pay $69.70 to launch a private criminal prosecution against the Jehovah’s Witnesses of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in February.

The Victorian and Civil Administrative Tribunal heard a religious vilification complaint against the Watchtower by Mr. Unthank in May, after the Watchtower said people who left the Watchtower, as he had, were ”mentally diseased”.

The Victorian Health Services Commissioner is investigating a complaint by another former Gippsland Watchtower member that a Jehovah’s Witness elder was found alone without permission with a naked toddler in a room at Latrobe Regional Hospital.

The child appearing today, who cannot be named, has asked the inquiry to determine whether the Watchtower’s failure to get working with children checks between July 2008 and December 2011 amounted to criminal child abuse of all 6160 Jehovah’s Witness children in Victoria.

He asks why the government and police let the Watchtower ”get away with” non-compliance, and whether the state will help file a class action against the Watchtower.

The submission suggests the 2000 Jehovah’s Witnesses who worked with children were committing criminal offenses each week. These included ministers, elders, elders, teachers, volunteers, publishers (a term for people who go door-to-door distributing Watchtower publications and soliciting donations ‘for the world-wide work’) and even people who repair the Watchtower premises, called Kingdom Halls, ”as they use child labor to save money”.

The child says he and his family have also been ostracized by the Watchtower and forbidden to attend services.

”Because everyone protected them, I have now lost my religion—The state of Victoria allowed this to happen.”

The four children launched their prosecution with a magistrate’s permission on July 26, 2011. In October 2011 the Watchtower’s Governing Body wrote to all Victorian congregations, telling them to get the checks. At the final court hearing, on February 21, 2012, the Director of Public Prosecutions discontinued the case, saying it was not in the public interest.

”How can [tackling] child abuse not be in the public interest? How can criminal charges be discontinued after the person refused to turn up to court of five separate occasions?” the child asks.

He wants charges reinstated against Watchtower leaders.

A spokeswoman for the Office of Public Prosecutions said the charges were withdrawn because there was no reasonable prospect of conviction.

Vincent Toole, solicitor for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, said the fact that the Watchtower got working with children checks had nothing to do with Steven Unthank, whom he suggested was behind the court case. ”We find it disappointing that he continues to misrepresent our organization.”

Mr. Toole said Mr. Unthank unsuccessfully tried to get authorities to take action against the Watchtower over working with children checks, and ”after none were prepared to pursue the matter, he took the extraordinary step of instituting a private prosecution”.

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Richard Hill is said to have admitted to the woman that he abused her when she was only six-years-old, as far back as 1981, even though he seemed at the time to have escaped punishment.

It was only when his victim turned 14 and developed an interest in the opposite sex that she realised what had happened to her. However, as is so often the case in these instances, her parents’ attempts to pursue the matter with the local elders fell on deaf ears. Under the much-maligned “two witness rule” imposed by the Watch Tower Society, elders will routinely disregard accusations of child abuse unless another person happens to have been on hand to witness the incident.

More than three decades on from the attack, with the victim now 38-years-old, justice appears to be finally being served – albeit following an unexpected turn of events. In a chance encounter on Facebook, Hill was confronted by the woman he is said to have abused. He surprised her with an apology for what happened. ”I confronted him on Facebook [in private chat] and questioned him about it, and he turned around and apologised,” the woman said.

Apparently, at the time of this Facebook exchange, Hill was still a serving elder. However, in the wake of his admission, his position became untenable – especially when criminal charges ensued. ”He became an elder within the church and rose quite high up,” his victim explained. “Since he was charged he has stepped down.”

This development comes amidst a whirlwind of damaging publicity surrounding Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia. The Watch Tower Society faces ongoing legal difficulties over their failure to properly comply with working with children laws between 2008 and 2011. They also face potential scrutiny under a wide-rangingRoyal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse that has been launched by the Australian government.

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