3 People Accuse Former Jehovah’s Witness Elder of Sexual Abuse
In November 2013, a then-76-year-old former church elder with the Jehovah’s Witnesses of McAlester was arrested and charged with 19 counts of sexual abuse. Police say they were notified of claims that Ronald Lawrence sexually abused several children while in a position of authority with the church more than 30 years ago.
Three accusers, now all in their 40s, all told detectives similar stories of abuse. The first victim told detectives that Lawrence abused her when she was 8 years old. He allegedly invited her to his home, where he abused and raped her in his bathtub. Two other accusers then came to police with similar stories. Both said that Lawrence sexually abused them when they were very young. One of the victims said the abuse was ongoing from the time she was 10 to 13 years old.
Detectives met with Lawrence shortly after these allegations were made. He denied sexual contact with two of the three alleged victims, but admitted to inappropriate behavior with one of them. He also told detectives that he was “dis-fellowshipped” from the Kingdom Hall when two allegations were made within the community.
After this interview with detectives, Lawrence also called a McAlester detective and told him that he confessed to the Kingdom Hall in 2005 in an effort to be reinstated. He says that Kingdom Hall never notified law enforcement – the withholding of this information would itself constitute a crime.
Do The Jehovah’s Witnesses Have A Pattern of Mishandling Abuse Allegations?
Unfortunately, cases involving Jehovah’s Witnesses elders failing to report sexual abuse by clergy or congregation members are somewhat common. The church’s policies encourage survivors to report abuse directly to church elders before contacting authorities. They also have a “two-witness policy”, which requires the testimony of two material witnesses in order to establish an abuser’s guilt without a confession.
Several survivors of sexual abuse within this community have filed lawsuits against the Jehovah’s Witnesses for allegedly attempting to cover up their abuse. In a recent case, a Montana jury awarded a $35 million verdict to a survivor who said that the group’s national organization ordered Montana clergy members not to report her sexual abuse as a child by a congregation member.
Legal Recourse For Survivors of Religious Organization Sex Abuse
Attorney contributor Brian Kent of AbuseGuardian.com represents the survivors of sexual abuse and assault in civil court. Here is his perspective on the options for legal recourse available to survivors of abuse involving religious organizations:
When people in positions of authority are notified of sexual abuse, they have a responsibility to pass that information along to law enforcement. In many states, including Oklahoma, individuals who are aware of sexual abuse can be held criminally responsible for failing to report it. Additionally, the victims of such abuse may have grounds for a lawsuit against an organization who withheld knowledge of suspected abuse.
If you or someone you love has been sexually abused by a clergy or congregation member in the Jehovah’s Witnesses community and are struggling to find justice, you can learn more about your family’s legal options by speaking to one of our experienced sexual abuse survivor attorneys.
Local Coverage From KJRH Oklahoma