This is a guest post by Lloyd Evans, who writes at JWsurvey.org under the moniker “Cedars.”
On December 1, 39-year-old Velicia Alston stepped forward and told the world her “secret” — one that is becoming all too familiar for those like me who follow the Watchtower organization (the entity that controls the affairs of Jehovah’s Witnesses).
Along with another plaintiff, Alston had filed a $10.5 million lawsuit against Watchtower and her childhood congregation in Hillsboro, Oregon, for the abuse she claims to have suffered at the hands of a fellow Witness, Daniel Castellanos, between 1986 and 1987 when she was 11 or 12 years old.
Alston was supposed to be receiving piano lessons from Castellanos, an ordained (baptized) minister in the congregation, when she claims he kissed and fondled her under her clothes multiple times. Local elders are said to have known about the threat posed to her by Castellanos despite doing nothing to prevent it.
Alston’s fellow plaintiff, referred to as “John Roe,” was between 8 and 10 years old at the time that he was also abused by Castellanos, the suit alleges.
One of Alston’s lawyers, Irwin Zalkin, warned the media that there is a “crisis of silence in the Jehovah’s Witness organization,” and that the leadership is “more concerned about protecting its reputation than it is about protecting its children.”
According to Zalkin, Alston stands a significant risk of being shunned by her believing parents and other family members as a result of taking this action. During her own tearful statement to the media, Alston appealed to other victims, who she says are too afraid to step forward.
“I know that there are other victims… I know that you’re scared because you’re worried about being punished by God. But God would never do something like this. So it’s OK to say something. Because if you don’t say something it’s going to keep happening.”
Over the last few years Zalkin has become a major thorn in the side of Watchtower, representing numerous current and former Witnesses from across the United States.
Incredibly well-versed in the Witness religion and how it operates, Zalkin has become a key advocate for victims of Watchtower’s extremely negligent “two witness rule,” which states that Witness elders can only act on accusations of child molestation if someone other than the victim witnessed the abuse (or if a second victim of the same perpetrator steps forward).
Based on a rigid interpretation of laws from the Old Testament, the two witness rule lies at the heart of the Jehovah’s Witness problems with child sex abuse. If Witness elders cannot satisfy themselves that the “sin” of child abuse happened, page 72 of their secret elder’s manual Shepherd The Flock of God (published in 2010) instructs them to “leave matters in Jehovah’s hands.”
This disturbing policy is becoming increasingly costly for Watchtower. Another of Zalkin’s clients, Jose Lopez, was awarded $13.5 million in damages against the organization earlier this year for the abuse he suffered during his Witness childhood. This followed a 2012 judgment of $28 million against the organization (later reduced to $11.8 million) in the Candace Conti case. Watchtower is appealing both judgments.
The new case in Oregon is the 15th to be filed against Watchtower by the Zalkin Law Firm, which has similar cases pending in California, Connecticut, New Mexico, Vermont, and Ohio.
In a recent interview with JWpodcast, a show which I’m involved with, Zalkin revealed his motivations for pursuing Watchtower so persistently, and why he is despondent about the likelihood of the organization implementing reforms in the near future.
“Our goal is not to destroy the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They may think that’s what we’re after — we are really after trying to get them to change what are really just antiquated and dangerous policies. And when we resolved our first few cases with them, one of the things I asked their lawyers, and Mario Moreno in particular, was ‘what can we do to change this, so that this doesn’t keep happening?’ And he looked at me and said, ‘we’re never changing this.’”
(via Religion Clause)