Leading US abuse lawyer launches two lawsuits against JWs

Leading US abuse lawyer launches two lawsuits against JWs August 16, 2019

A LAW that came into effect in New York this week temporarily lifts the statute of limitations for civil suits alleging abuse, regardless of the age of the plaintiff or how long ago the abuse allegedly occurred.

Image courtesy Zalkin Law Firm

The Child Victims Act, according to Newsweek, opened the way for attorney Irwin Zalkin, above, to announce at a press conference that he was launching two lawsuits against eight members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Governing Body on behalf  of Heather Steele and Michael Ewing, who allege that they had been abused as children by JW members.

While the “window” the CVA opens expires after one year, legal experts expect thousands of lawsuits to be filed in the coming months.

Zalkin first took on the the JWs in 2010, when he was approached by an ex-member who had heard of his work representing victims of abuse in the Catholic Church.

That was the beginning of what he calls “an odyssey” of investigating the cult.

These guys have been flying under he radar for far too long. They’ve very insular – they don’t interact much with the outside world and they try to keep their dirty laundry in-house, too.

In a video posted to YouTube on Tuesday, Zalkin thanked New York’s Governor and the legislature for passing the law, which made it possible for him to launch the two lawsuits.

He says Steele and Ewing could be the first of many cases filed against the Witnesses in New York, where the group’s national headquarters are located.

His legal career has largely involved representing victims of child mistreatment and abuse. He’s also helped clients sue other religious groups – including the Baptist Church, the Episcopal Church, Hasidic Jewish organisations and the Living Word Fellowship. But of the Witnesses, he says:

It’s a matter of scale. Any organization where you have adults in a custodial role, there’s a potential for abuse. But with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the scale is massive.

Zalkin with at Heather Steele and Michael Ewing at press conference this week. Image via YouTube.

Steele, 48, says her first memories are of being molested by an elder, Donald Nicholson, in the mid-1970s when her family lived in New York. At the age  of ten she finally told her mother, who went to the elders instead of police. The elders’ response was to tell the family to pray for Nicholson.

Eventually Steele’s parents notified secular authorities and Nicholson served three-and-a-half-years in prison. When he got out, though, he was quietly moved to another congregation, where few knew of his past.

Ewing was 14 when he was paired with a Ministerial Servant (equivalent to deacon) to work as “pioneers”, going door-to-door to proselytise. Over the next four years, he says, the older man raped him repeatedly.

At 21, Ewing reported the abuse to his father – who, like Steele’s mother – approached church elders. At a religious tribunal both he and his abuser were accused of engaging in homosexual activity and disfellowshipped, a severe form of excommunication where family and community cut all ties.

In a statement to Newsweek, the US Branch Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses said it would not address the cases.

Out of respect for the judicial process and the privacy of those involved. [Our] stand on the subject of child abuse is very clear: we abhor child abuse in any form. Over the years, Watchtower’s publications have addressed this topic with a view to equipping parents to protect their children. In addition, Watchtower’s practice is to always follow the law, and we support the efforts of elders in congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses to do the same.

In the past decade Zalkin represented 24 former or current Witnesses, plus about 10 more that settled out of court

The Governing Body purportedly maintains a database of suspected molesters that, Zalkin alleges, “dates back decades.”

Exactly how many are named is unclear – a former elder told the BBC there were records on 23,720 alleged paedophiles – but the church has repeatedly refused court orders to turn it over to authorities.

William Bowen knows about the database. He’s the founder of Silent Lambs, an organisation that works to connect victims of abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He said that any member alleging any wrongdoing must present two witnesses to be believed. If they can’t “the perpetrators are considered innocent.”

If your claims of abuse are disbelieved, you could face being disfellowshipped, an extreme form of excommunication.

Your own parents won’t speak to you – they’ll put you on the street or act like you’re dead. It puts children in real danger. It makes them unable to have a voice.

Zalkin has worked with clients who were disfellowshipped as young as age 13. “They’re shunned in their own homes,” he says. For adults, being disfellowshipped can have its own consequences.

Many Jehovah’s Witnesses work in businesses owned by church members, says Bowen.

So if you’re disfellowshipped, you’re gonna be fired, you’re gonna be cut off from everyone you know.

Bowen, who has worked with more than 10,000 victims since founding Silent Lambs in 2001, says the danger of abuse is more pernicious among Witnesses than in the Catholic Church. He was an elder himself for 15 years before being disfellowshipped in 2000 for reporting abuse he had uncovered. But he insists Silent Lambs isn’t a “vigilante group” out to get Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I’m not against them –I want them to be a better church. If we can just do away with this two-eyewitnesses rule and automatically report abuse to the police. But for 20 years they’ve refused to do it. It’s beyond comprehension – just report it to the police!

Bowen says the “opening of the window” the Child Victims Act provides could have massive ramifications for victims who grew up Jehovah’s Witnesses. But he doesn’t believe it’ll change how the Governing Body operates.

I believe they’ll just keep fighting these cases. They’ll just wait out [the year]. We’ve helped file more than 50 suits against them for the last 20 years, and the church has paid out more than $100 million. But to a religion that takes in $2 billion a year, that’s just a parking ticket. They’ll fight these suits to the last man and use donations to do it.

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  • Jim Jones

    Considering the behaviour of almost all religious groups over the years, I believe all limitations should be.dropped or paused where crimes against children are concerned. Leave it up to the judge to decide if the case can proceed or not. There will be some bad decisions, however that will be more just than these arbitrary rules.

  • Broga

    “we abhor child abuse in any form.”

    That’s the theory. What is practised seems very different. As usual.

  • Wisdom, Justice, Love

    Well it’s a very public statement, so you know it was sincere. /s

  • Wisdom, Justice, Love

    …but the church has repeatedly refused court orders to turn it over to authorities.

    Wait, what?

  • Broga

    Oh yes, they are very concerned about good child care. A few years ago I had a little girl, perhaps 8 years old, come to the door and ask, “Would you like to know Jesus?” I asked where her parents were and they were parked, out of sight, a couple of hundred yards away. Poor kid. I turned her away as gently as I could. They were JWs.

  • Wisdom, Justice, Love

    Possibly cowardly sending the child, knowing people will be kind to kids. It could have been a do-it-by-herself thing where the kids wanted to try, but I doubt it.

  • VinnyT

    Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) predicted the end of the world, IN WRITING, numerous times. Not once did they come true. They truly are known for their ‘False Predictions’ the world over.

    JWs are taught that they alone are TRUE Christians and that all other people not JW will soon be destroyed. This is no exaggeration.

    JWs will allow their own children TO DIE rather than accept a life saving blood transfusion even in severe medical emergencies. It has already happened THOUSANDS of times!

    Just like this mother died unnecessarily! http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/shropshire/7078455.stm

    Two recently in Canada! http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-42002996

    Or this teenager that also DIED: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/west_midlands/8690785.stm

    This pregnant JW and her baby died.


    JWs NEEDLESSLY die for this sorry blood policy today.

    From the same organization that has an entire 100 + year history of similar bad and embarrasing policies.

    As a 15 year active JW (and an elder) here is my own story: http://www.bibletoday.com/archive/JW_Disassociation_letter_by_Vinny.htm#.W0E7_K2ZMVc

    JWs used to forbid Vaccinations and Organ Transplants (calling a life saving transplant “Cannibalism”) for a combined 33 years.

    This JW elder refused a kidney transplant and DIED only to have JWs say transplants are now OK 2 years later. http://ajwrb.org/debbie-shards-story

    JWs enforce extreme shunning for any JW that decides to leave their religion or who sins without showing enough repentance to the elders.

    I have literally seen parents cut off all ties with their children solely because the kid did not want to remain a JW but went in another direction.

    Even ex-JWs who leave the religion on their own, are 100 percent truthful, sincere, love God, pay taxes, help others and more are still SHUNNED by all current JWs and marked as godless, proud, sinning apostates. The Awake magazine recently called them “mentally diseased”.

    And MANY contemplate suicide because the penalties of losing everything are TOO MUCH TO TAKE.

    But an honest question is: Why do so many JWs leave after being one time followers?

    As I eventually found out, the JW religion did say, IN WRITING, that the end would come in 1914 and then again in 1925. Was Jehovah directing all that? 1914 and 1925 came and went! They were proven false predictions. Period.

    They also said the end very likely would happen in 1975 and even commended (in the watchtower) witnesses for selling their houses and pioneering because of it.

    But 1975 came and went!

    They also said (for many decades) that the end would come before the generation born in 1914 passed away. In fact up until 1995 it was written inside each Awake magazine cover. Only they then had to change that meaning as well (including the Awake masthead) because that generation CAME AND WENT TOO.

    I was an active JW (and elder) for 15 years before leaving because of the blood policy 13 yrs ago. Today I’m shunned by all JWs simply because I left the religion.

    Most JWs accept everything the Watchtower teaches and says as “food from God”. Just like I did.

    Most believe God has chosen the Watchtower Society as his “channel”, which provides food from God Himself to their religion and ONLY their religion.

    But an honest look at the facts of the JW religion shows God has not chosen the WT for anything!

    Take a LOOK: https://jwfacts.com/watchtower/changed-watchtower-teachings.php


    Pages and pages of mistakes, embarrassments, false predictions, medical disasters, weird science, doctrinal failures and more for over 100 years now!

    Obviously ‘GOD’ would not get things wrong like this. Obviously ‘GOD’ did not provide bad food like that for their entire history.

    But most JWs have no idea about these things. They’re told to stay away from anything critical of their religion.

    For example: Was God’s spirit with JWs when they said Organ Transplants were a “conscience matter” in 1961?


    Was God”s spirit with WT when they THEN SAID Organ Transplants are same as “Cannibalism” in 1967 and forbid them?

    OR, was God’s spirit with the WT when they THEN SAID Organ Transplants are NOT the same as cannibalism in 1980 and now allow them?

    Was God behind all those changes each time? Did ((GOD)) get all those things wrong each time? How many JWs like that elder above DIED by refusing kidney transplants, only later on to be told they’re OK to have now?

    Which is why some end up taking their lives due to losing their family or feel compelled to speak out about it, like me right now.

    And because I walked away JWs are demanded to shun you for life (including your very own family).

    Examine this religion and ask as many questions as you can!


  • Raymond Metcalfe

    This ex JW agrees with you

  • Raymond Metcalfe

    Oh the parents will get plenty of praise and browny points for doing this poor kid.

  • Raymond Metcalfe

    When a case comes to court they will not co operate with the authorities.

  • Raymond Metcalfe

    JW believe that the whole world that’s every one that isn’t a jw and all governments are controlled by Satan.I have seen there eyes glaze over when you mention something that means they have to think.This will just become another case of satan having a go. That all this is done by evil Apostates like me and all the other ex jw who speak out against them. There is a growing movement of ex JW trying to get this problem brought to the attention of the public and support the victims who very often do not get the professional help they need.

  • Wisdom, Justice, Love

    Right. God’s law beats Secular law. And they’ve got the Legal structure to prove it.