In September 2017, the Sussex County Attorney General's Office filed a lawsuit against the Seaford Congregation branch of the Jehovah's Witnesses for allegedly failing to report sexual abuse of a child committed by an adult congregation member. According to Justice Department authorities, in January 2013 a 14-year-old boy told his mother that he and Katheryn Harris Carmean White, a teacher's aide at Seaford Middle School, were involved in a sexual relationship. The same day, the boy and his mother met with congregation elders Joel Mulchansingh and William Perkins.
The DOJ says that the same two elders met with Carmean White a few days later, who admitted to an ongoing sexual relationship with the teen. Authorities say that the elders never contacted a child abuse report line, and this is the base of their lawsuit. They say that the organization should be held liable because they knew that the two elders had spoken with the boy and failed to properly supervise their activities, along with failing to fulfill their legal duty to report the suspected abuse.
Carmean White was sentenced to six years in prison for rape and child endangerment.
Unfortunately, there are many other alleged child sex abuse coverup cases like the one involving the Seaford Congregation. The Jehovah's Witnesses organization is known for discouraging victims from contacting authorities, instead pressuring them to report the abuse directly to church elders. Unfortunately, many of these elders fail to contact law enforcement.
Sexual abuse victim lawsuits half been filed against Jehovah's Witness branches in several states.
A $2 million verdict was levied against a California branch that refused to turn over a secret list of known sexual predators.
In September of this year, a Montana judge levied a $35 million verdict against the group in a case involving two women who claimed the church's national organization ordered Montana clergy not to report their sexual abuse as children, committed by a congregation member who was also a family member.
Another woman reached a settlement for an undisclosed amount in a Philadelphia courtroom.
Attorney contributor Phil Edwards helps the survivors of sexual violence get the support they need and fight for justice against their abusers and the organizations whose negligence contributed to the abuse. Here are some of his thoughts on the legal options available to survivors of sexual violence in the Jehovah's Witnesses community:
Religious organizations have an obligation to report allegations of sexual abuse, but unfortunately, many clergy members fail to do so. The Jehovah's witnesses have faced several lawsuits for alleged attempts to cover up abuse by congregation members and clergy. For many survivors, taking legal action against these parties can help provide a sense of justice and demand accountability from these groups, which can in turn prevent others from being abused in the future.
If you or a loved one has been sexually abused in the Jehovah's Witnesses community and are curious about your legal options, you can learn more by speaking with one of our experienced sex abuse survivors lawyers.