Jehovah's Witnesses criticised over handling of sex abuse

BBC News/July 3, 2014

A woman who was sexually abused by a Jehovah's Witness elder as a child has criticised the way the church handled her complaints.

Karen Morgan said elders should have acted to stop the abuse when she first reported it and wants the way it deals with allegations investigated.

Mark Sewell, 53, was jailed for 14 years for abusing women and girls at his Barry congregation.

A Jehovah's Witnesses spokesman said it takes sex abuse claims very seriously.

Ms Morgan, told BBC Wales that Sewell, who is her uncle, started abusing her when she was aged 12.

He would buy her alcohol in exchange for kisses and would get into bed with her and rub himself up against her.

She reported the abuse to her parents who confronted Sewell but he denied any wrongdoing.

Later, after another complaint, she claims she was made to face Sewell and explain the abuse in front of other church elders.

She said: "Those group of elders sat me down as a child in front of a guy who had been abusing me for years and expected me to talk about it in front of him and hear him call me a liar. That has probably had the most effect on the rest of my life.

"What Mark did to me I have had to try and deal with but I have also had to try and deal with... how the whole thing was handled and it's that part of this that I want answers for."

"I blame them for what continued to happen to me because no-one dealt with it," she said.

Since waiving her right to anonymity and speaking out about Sewell's abuse, Ms Morgan said she had been "inundated" with responses from Jehovah's Witnesses all over the world telling of similar experiences.

"There seems to be this whole thing among the Jehovah's Witnesses that everything remains within the Jehovah's Witnesses and gets dealt with by elders, but the thing is it isn't being dealt with properly and that's why this really needs investigating and it needs to be changed," she said.

She also said a policy which prevents congregation members being told the reasons why members are expelled should be changed.

Sewell was jailed on Wednesday after being found guilty of eight sex offences, including one of rape, for a string of attacks between 1987 and 1995.

Merthyr Crown Court heard he was a trusted and respected member of the Jehovah's Witness church in the Vale of Glamorgan, who used his role to "exploit and abuse" members of his 120-strong congregation.

He raped one woman, leaving her pregnant, but she later miscarried.

A statement on behalf of Jehovah's Witnesses said: "Following recent reports regarding the conviction of Mark Sewell, Jehovah's Witnesses want to make it clear that all sex offences are repugnant to them, especially when the victims are children."

"Persons who practise child abuse are not welcome in our fellowship and are formally expelled when detected.

"We support victims, their families, and any who know of such crimes when they choose to report their ordeal to the police with a view to the punishment of offenders."

A spokesman for the church added that members of the church were not told the reasons why another member is expelled for confidentiality reasons.

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