Jury: Jehovah’s Witnesses must pay $35M to abuse survivor (Source Associated press)
The Jehovah’s Witnesses must pay $35 million to a woman who says the church’s national organization ordered Montana clergy members not to report her sexual abuse as a child at the hands of a congregation member, a jury ruled in a verdict.
A judge must review the penalty, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ national organization — Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York — plans to appeal.
Still, the 21-year-old woman’s attorneys say Wednesday’s verdict sends a message to the church to report child abuse to outside authorities.
“Hopefully that message is loud enough that this will cause the organization to change its priorities in a way that they will begin prioritizing the safety of children so that other children aren’t abused in the future,” attorney Neil Smith said Thursday.
The Office of Public Information at the World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses responded to the verdict with an unsigned statement.
“Jehovah’s Witnesses abhor child abuse and strive to protect children from such acts. Watchtower is pursuing appellate review,” it said.
The Montana case is one of dozens that have been filed nationwide over the past decade alleging Jehovah’s Witnesses mismanaged or covered up the sexual abuse of children.
The case that prompted Wednesday’s ruling involved two women, now 32 and 21, who allege a family member sexually abused them and a third family member in Thompson Falls in the 1990s and 2000s.
The women say they reported the abuse to church elders, who handled the matter internally after consulting with the national organization.
The elders expelled the abuser from the congregation in 2004 then reinstated him the next year, the lawsuit states, and the abuse of the girl who is now 21 continued.
The lawsuit claimed the local and national Jehovah’s Montana law that requires them to report abuse to outside authorities.