Emails reveal Jehovah's Witnesses response to child sex abuse allegations

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania -- The Jehovah’s Witnesses organization is facing scrutiny in Pennsylvania over its handling of alleged widespread child sexual abuse by members. An email sent to some members is offering a glimpse into how the organization is responding to that scrutiny—and the whistleblowers who helped bring concerns to light.

Martin and Jennifer Haugh first spoke with FOX43 in May 2023 to discuss their frustrations trying to get justice within Jehovah’s Witnesses for their daughter’s molestation in 2005.

Martin Haugh, a former Jehovah’s Witness elder, was so devoted to the faith that even after he walked in on another member sexually molesting his 4-year-old daughter, he didn’t go to the police for another 11 years.

Now that the Haughs have gone public with their story, Jehovah’s Witnesses have labeled them apostates and warned other members not to engage with them.

An email sent out in early July instructed members providing security for a Jehovah’s Witnesses convention in Reading to keep photos of the couple on their phones.

The convention was one of 6,000 being held across the world this year with the theme “Exercise Patience.” The convention began July 14 and was scheduled to run three consecutive weekends.

The email reminded attendants, the name for members who provide security for these conventions, that the Haughs were “not one of us.”

“I learned that I was on a list, a watch list, of all the attendants or the brothers who handle security at that convention, not to be allowed in any building,” Martin Haugh said.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses expert and founder of Cult Education Institute Rick Alan Ross, the email showed that the organization was responding defensively to whistleblowers and critical media coverage of their handling of alleged child sexual abuse.

“This is really something that is not shocking to me because I’ve watched the organization for decades and dealt with them in court,” Alan Ross said. “They basically go after these whistleblowers and can disfellowship them, shun them and punish them for speaking out... Jehovah’s Witnesses should be listening to them in an effort to try to correct what’s wrong and deal with the situation of child sexual abuse within the organization.”

The email also claimed the Haughs had attempted to get into past conventions by “mingling with the crowd upon entry dressing and acting as if one of us.”

Martin Haugh said he did attend one protest outside the 2018 Reading convention but had never tried to enter a convention under false pretenses.

“We got permission before we even went. The police knew we were coming. The city of Reading knew we were coming,” Haugh said. “We were respectful. We didn’t engage with any Jehovah’s Witnesses and we didn’t try to enter the building.”

Media coverage of the 2018 event shows Haugh outside the building holding a sign and marching with other protesters.

Haugh said in his opinion, the email showed whom Jehovah’s Witnesses were choosing to target.

“It really hurt me because again, it’s their convention. They can determine who can come and who cannot,” he said. “But on the other hand, when I was an elder, I was not allowed to inform members of the congregation that there was a known child abuser in the congregation.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses responded to our questions about the email with a statement:

“Our congregants expect and value a peaceful learning environment at our conventions. To ensure the well-being of all who attend we may at times revoke a person’s privilege to attend our Bible education programs when we believe that their goal is to disrupt our peaceful gatherings.”

The Pennsylvania grand jury investigation is moving forward. On July 25 Jesse Hill, one of 14 Jehovah’s Witnesses charged by the attorney general in the last year for child sex abuse, became the first to plead guilty.

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