FaithLeaks, a ‘Wikileaks for Religion,’ Releases Documents On Sexual Abuse Among Jehovah’s Witnesses

FaithLeaks, a young transparency organization focused on religious communities, published its first big trophy this week: a collection of 33 letters and documents from an internal investigation into alleged sexual abuse within a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Like other whistle-blower organizations, FaithLeaks provides sources the ability to anonymously submit sensitive documents, which the site then posts publicly. FaithLeaks uses SecureDrop, an encrypted open-source system that is also used by media outlets including the New York Times and ProPublica. SecureDrop uses the anonymizing Tor network to facilitate submissions that leave no trace online. Founded by two former Mormons in November, FaithLeaks believes that “increased transparency within religious organizations results in fewer untruths, less corruption, and less abuse.”

The documents released this week span from 1999 to 2012, and they’re devastating. They include details about accusations by three women against one church member. The first case involves allegations made by the man’s adult daughter, who accused him of sexual and physical abuse that began when she was 5 years old. (Names have been redacted in all the FaithLeaks documents.) Another daughter and an unrelated woman later came forward to make abuse accusations against the same man; the second daughter said her father had begun to “fondle and touch” her at the age of 3, and began raping her at 8.

The first document, a detailed report from the local congregation to Jehovah’s Witness headquarters in Brooklyn, makes clear the church found the first accuser credible. “It certainly appears that these were real events,” the letter concludes. “It is our opinion that these allegations have substance.” But the documents that follow capture Jehovah’s Witness leaders’ attempts to deal with the accusations internally over many years, without intervention from the “worldly court of law”—that is, without going to the police. One of the documents describes an incident in which the accused man apparently violated a restraining order against one of the alleged victims; church leaders criticized her husband for calling the police at the time, accusing him of “bypassing theocratic organization because of his personal feelings.” Church leaders revoked some privileges from the accused man and even excommunicated him, but he was reinstated after only a year.

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SOURCE: Ruth Graham
Slate