Chessa Manion says that shortly after her family moved to the Havana, Illinois area, another Jehovah’s Witnesses family invited her over to a sleepover at their house. During that sleepover, Manion says that the family’s then-14-year-old son raped her.
Manion has also accused the church of mishandling their response to these allegations, which is a common claim among numerous survivors of sexual assault in the church. She says that her parents were pressured by Witnesses elders to avoid using the word “rape” when describing what happened.
In a 1989 memo, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York (the Witnesses’ nonprofit corporation) told church elders to never allow police to search a Kingdom Hall or any other area where secret records were held. Reports of child sexual abuse were supposed to be referred directly to the Watchtower’s legal department, instead of police. Additionally, the religion instituted a policy requiring abuse victims to produce two eyewitnesses before elders would consider acting on sex abuse allegations.
When the family went to police, they were advised that Chessa may need to undergo additional examinations and testify in court. Based on concerns that this would traumatize the girl a second time, Mason County State’s Attorney Alan Tucker agreed to arrange a no-contact agreement prohibiting the alleged perpetrator from interacting with Chessa and other small children.
Manion Continues to Seek Justice
Today, Chessa Manion has become an advocate for justice for herself and other survivors of sexual abuse in the Jehovah’s Witness community. Illinois recently scrapped the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse survivors to report their abuse to the police. The previous statute of limitations, which applies to Manion’s case, allows survivors to file reports until their 38th birthday. Manion recently appeared at a Harrisburg rally demanding that lawmakers improve laws for protecting child sexual abuse survivors.
Legal Recourse For Survivors of Jehovah’s Witnesses Sexual Abuse
Brian Kent specializes in helping survivors of sexual violence find the justice and support they deserve. Here are some of his thoughts on the legal rights of those who have been sexually abused in the Jehovah’s Witnesses community:
While the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal may be better known, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have their own troubles with sexual abuse. The survivors of these crimes often struggle to find justice, as the Watchtower Society is infamous for pressuring victims to stay silent and discouraging reporting abuse to law enforcement. However, many survivors have been fighting back by filing lawsuits against the religious organization and multiple multi-million dollar lawsuit verdicts and settlements have been reached.
If you or a loved one is the survivor of sexual abuse in the Jehovah’s Witnesses community, you can learn more about your legal options by speaking to an experienced sexual abuse survivors lawyer.
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