Door closes on Jehovah's Witness campaign

Sunday Herald Sun, Australia/July 16, 2011

Jehovah's Witness children will continue to doorknock neighbourhoods with adults who have failed to gain police background checks after a bid to stop the practice failed this week.

Gippsland carpenter Steven Unthank, a former member of the religion who says he was abused as a teen by a church elder, was given approval by Victoria's Chief Magistrate to take the unusual step of launching a private prosecution of the religion over its refusal to require ministers to gain police checks, but says he cannot afford the $350 fee for filing the charges.

Mr Unthank yesterday said he could not pursue the religion on his own.

He said it was a disgrace that neither Victoria Police nor the Justice Department would enforce the Working With Children Act, which requires ministers of religion to gain police checks before working unsupervised with minors.

The religion's corporate arm in Australia, the Watch Tower Society, says it does not believe its ministers need to obtain background checks to work with children because they do not typically work unsupervised with children.

"It's an absolute beat-up," a spokesman said. "We do what we have to under law."

But Mr Unthank said the religion's stance left thousands of Victorian children of Jehovah's Witnesses unprotected from abuse by adults as they accompanied them in cars, in private homes and in one-on-one religious instruction.

He said police seemed afraid to lay charges against a religion.

Victoria Police say they continue to have contact with Mr Unthank over his allegations and are "seeking advice regarding potentially investigating the matter".

A spokeswoman said: "For any charges to be laid police must have evidence an offence has occurred."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.