Jehovah’s Witnesses Found Liable For Sexual Abuse of 2 Girls in $35 Million Verdict
On September 27 of this year, a jury in Helena, Montana ordered the Jehovah’s Witnesses to pay $35 million to one of the two women who accused the church’s national organization of ordering local Montana church elders not to report her complaints of sexual abuse as a child by a fellow congregation member. This penalty must still be reviewed by a judge and the national organization, known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, will appeal the ruling.
The now-21-year-old survivor’s lawyers have said that they hope this ruling will result in the church reporting child abuse to law enforcement authorities.
This case involved two female victims, now 32 and 21 years old, who said that a family member and congregation member named Max Reyes abused them and a third family member in Thompson Falls in the 1990s and 2000s. They said that they reported the abuse to church elders at the Thompson Falls Kingdom Hall, who spoke with the national organization and decided to handle the allegations internally, instead of contacting law enforcement.
According to the lawsuit, the elders banned the perpetrator from the congregation in 2004, only to reinstate him the following year. The abuse of the now 21-year-old woman continued after this reinstatement.
The lawsuit was filed on the basis that both the local and national Jehovah’s Witnesses organizations were negligent and in violation of a Montana law which required them to report suspected child abuse to law enforcement.
Legal Recourse For Survivors of Jehovah’s Witnesses Sexual Abuse
Attorney contributor Brian Kent of AbuseGuardian.com specializes in helping survivors of sexual violence find justice and support by filing lawsuits against abusers and negligent third parties who enable abuse. We’ve asked him to add some information on the legal options available to those who have suffered abuse in the Jehovah’s Witnesses community:
Sadly, this case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization allegedly covering up sexual abuse is not unique. Dozens of others have filed lawsuits against the Watchtower and local Jehovah’s Witnesses organizations for their refusal to report allegations of child sexual abuse to outside authorities. In many states, this withholding of information is against mandatory reporting laws for child abuse. It is also a clear case of negligence, as this refusal to report or reprimand abusers often results in repeated incidents of abuse.
If you or someone you love has been sexually abused within this community and are curious about your legal options, you can learn more in a free consultation with one of our experienced sexual abuse survivor lawyers.
Location of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Thompson Falls