Hotline for victims of sexual abuse by Jehovah's Witnesses
Victims of sexual abuse within the Jehovah's Witness community will soon have access to the 'Breaking the silence' hotline set up by Slachtofferhulp Nederland (Victim Support Netherlands). The initiative was announced in a letter that Minister for Legal Protection Sander Dekker submitted to the Dutch House of Representatives. The hotline will be expanded to offer specific expertise on sexual abuse within closed communities. The Minister saw himself forced to take this measure in light of the Jehovah's Witnesses' continued refusal to set up an easily accessible internal hotline.
The WODC Research and Documentation Centre conducted a study on sexual abuse and the degree to which members of the Jehova's Witnesses community are willing to report such incidents to the authorities. Based on the outcomes, there is reason to believe that the closed nature of the community deters members from reporting sexual abuse. Crucially, victims of sexual abuse need support and guidance in finding professional help and reporting abuse. Among other recommendations, the study proposes the establishment of a hotline within the faith community. The ruling council of Jehovah's Witnesses has been unwilling to accommodate this request. The Minister subsequently made several appeals to the council, which were all rejected. The Minister has voiced his displeasure over the council's position:
'I expect every community and organisation to do their utmost to prevent sexual abuse and help and support victims. The Jehovah's Witnesses have failed to do so, which I find extremely objectionable. This is why we are now extending a helping hand, so that victims from this community will soon be able to turn to the 'Breaking the silence' hotline run by Slachtofferhulp Nederland. Victims are entitled to professional help and a sympathetic ear; it is simply unacceptable that they should come up against a wall of resistance. We should never leave victims out in the cold.'
Financial support for Reclaimed Voices
In addition to the new hotline, financial support will also be provided to the Reclaimed Voices Foundation, so that they can continue to help victims of sexual abuse within the Jehovah's Witness community. The research findings will also be actively communicated to the Municipal Health Service and police, so that they can recognise potential signs of abuse more effectively.
Legal obligation to report signs of abuse
Administrators who fail to report sexual abuse within their organisations must face consequences. This is also reflected in the recommendations from the WODC study on a broader obligation to report, and should help to prevent future abuse within organisations.
'No organisation should turn a blind eye to internal misconduct. Victims of sexual abuse must be offered help in their efforts to reach out to the police and social services. These abuses should never be hidden from the outside world. In order to address this situation, we will now be assessing whether these organisations can be legally required to report suspected cases of abuse'.
explained Minister Dekker.
Efforts are currently underway to assess how best to introduce such legislation. The Minister expects to inform the House of Representatives about the plans before the end of 2020.