Tuesday, June 23, 2015

British Court Holds Jehovah's Witness Parent Body Vicariously Liable In Clergy Sex Abuse Case

A v. Trustees of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, (EWHC, June 19, 2015), involves claims against a Jehovah's Witness congregation (actually its successors) and the Jehovah's Witness parent body by a 29-year old woman who between the ages of 4 and 9 was sexually abused by Peter Stewart, a Jehovah's Witness ministerial servant. A judge on England's High Court (Queen's Bench) held the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society vicariously liable for the failure of the Elders in the congregation to take reasonable steps to protect claimant from Peter Stewart after they became aware in 1990 that he had sexually assaulted another child in the congregation. The court also held defendants vicariously liable for the sexual assault itself, saying:
Whether the abuse took place at or after book study at whoever's home, on field service, at Kingdom Hall or at the Convention, he was ostensibly performing his duties as a Jehovah's Witness ministerial servant. I am satisfied that the progressive acts of intimacy were only possible because he had the actual or ostensible status of a ministerial servant that meant no one who saw him questioned his being alone with the claimant.
Law & Religion UK has more on the decision.