Decades ago, at least two girls were allegedly abused by one of their family members. They handled the situation the only way they knew how: They told elders in the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Those elders didn’t alert outside authorities. Instead, they expelled the abuser from the congregation for all of one year before letting him back in. The abuse continued, as anyone would expect.
He never faced any real punishment.
The girls later filed a lawsuit against the religious organization claiming the Witnesses were “negligent and violated a Montana law that requires them to report abuse to outside authorities.”
A jury has now ruled in favor of one of the victims, saying the Witnesses owe her $35 million for what they did:
The jury awarded the 21-year-old woman $4 million for her injuries, plus $30 million in punitive damages against Watchtower and $1 million in punitive damages against the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, another Jehovah’s Witness corporation that communicates with congregations across the U.S.
The monetary award must be reviewed by the trial judge and could be reduced. A Montana law caps punitive damage awards at 3 percent of a company’s net worth or $10 million, whichever is less. A legal challenge to that law is pending before the Montana Supreme Court.
The Witnesses also say they will appeal the ruling. (The jury dismissed the claims of the other victim, concluding that the elders were never told about her abuse as she had said.)
Even if they get it overturned or reduced, though, this is hardly the last we’ll hear about the Witnesses and abuse. There are two major class-action lawsuits against the organization for similar abuse claims. It comes years after an Australian commission concluded that kids are not “adequately protected from the risk of sexual abuse” within the organization.
That is, in part, due to the Watchtower Society’s own policies, like the “Two-Witness rule,” which says church elders shouldn’t take a victim’s account of abuse seriously unless another person witnessed it… even though the only other person around may have be the abuser himself.
Maybe these victim payouts continue until the Witnesses change their ways or bankrupt themselves out of existence.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Tawreos for the link)