July 26 marks our annual Watchtower Victims Memorial Day. This is a worldwide day of mourning and respect for all victims of the hurtful and hateful policies of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, commonly known as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The idea for this Day was conceived because many former Jehovah’s Witnesses are shunned so severely after leaving the religion, even by close friends and family, that they often feel as if those family members have died, yet they have no grave site to visit, no day for mourning their loss.
Our Day was then expanded to honor and respect all victims of this religion, including those who have been victims of child molestation, domestic violence, sexual violence, and other forms of abuse, as well as those who have lost their lives due to suicide or the religion’s prohibitions against blood transfusions.
UNDERSTANDING THE VICTIMS
What is meant by victims of the Watchtower Society? Note some information about this religion’s policies and practices, to better understand why so many of its members and former members can rightly be called “victims.”
- Jehovah’s Witnesses adhere to a “two-witness” rule in cases of child molestation or pedophilia. If an accused person does not outright confess to child sex abuse, congregation elders require that the [alleged] victim in these cases produce a witness to their molestation before their accused molester is removed from the congregation. Rarely is any other information, including circumstantial evidence or even guilty verdicts in courts of law, accepted as reason enough to remove the accused person from a congregation.¹
- Elders report accusations of child molestation to authorities only when absolutely required by law.
- Confessed pedophiles may be put into positions of authority over others, including children, without parents or congregants being warned of their past actions.¹
- Victims, parents, and others who know of a pedophile’s behavior are counseled against telling other congregants, so as to protect the “confidentiality” of these ones. Only in rare and extreme cases are congregants notified of a known pedophile’s actions.
- Women who are victims of domestic violence are encouraged to stay with their husbands in the hopes of converting them. They are also told to “be more submissive” and “be more loving” to their abusive spouses. See this website for more details.
- Little to nothing is said in the pages of Jehovah’s Witness publications about the effects of this home environment on the women or the children.
- Rape victims are required to scream, fight, and resist during an attack and, if not, they may be disfellowshipped (excommunicated) and subsequently shunned for “consenting to the violation.”²
- Elders are told that “discernment is needed” in considering claims of rape, taking into account the “mental disposition” of the woman, circumstances surrounding the incident, and any “delay in reporting.” Note that these elders have no training in psychology, criminology, post-traumatic stress disorder, or rape counseling.³
- Jehovah’s Witnesses practice a severe form of shunning, forbidding members from speaking to non-family who are excommunicated, and also being told to “not look for excuses” to communicate with these ones, not even through email.*
- This shunning includes friends, children, parents, siblings, and grandparents.
- A person may be excommunicated and subsequently shunned for simply disagreeing with the religious teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, or speaking out about their practices and policies. They are also shunned if they officially and formally leave the religion, no matter their reasons for leaving.³
- Many excommunicated members have been lost to panic, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and even suicide because of being cut off from family and friends.
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not allow blood transfusions even in emergency situations and even for children. See this website for details.
Children are often disciplined severely, and even infants are expected to sit quietly through long sermons and may face physical punishment for simply acting out. Congregants are encouraged to avoid anyone, including teenagers, who do not live up to harsh, dogmatic standards that include constant preaching and bible study.** This can lead to a sense of isolation even for faithful congregants.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have strongly encouraged members to forego higher education in favor of preaching work during what they have called the “last days,” making it difficult for many of their followers to support themselves financially. Many have also given up the privilege of having children, believing the world was soon to end based on these promises. See this website for details.
The Watchtower Victims Memorial Day is meant to honor all these and other victims of the hurtful and harmful policies of this religion. The Day is a peaceful sign of respect for all those who have suffered because of this religion, including friends and family members and those still inside.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE
On July 26 (or any day that week, if more convenient), leave a card or note at a local Kingdom Hall. You might also include a flower, a small teddy bear, or another memorial.
For those who do not wish to visit a Kingdom Hall, leave a memorial in a public park, at a bus stop, on the beach, or anyplace else that is comfortable and manageable for you.
Sample cards have been uploaded to this page, but everyone is certainly free to create their own note or memorial. It’s encouraged that you include this website address so others can know what this day is about, and if possible, take a photo or video of your memorial and share it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and elsewhere. Use a relevant hashtag, such as #WatchtowerVictimsMemorialDay or #WTVMD so that others can find your photos and videos!
Participants have also become very creative in how they observe this day. Some have purchased flowers and handed them out in public squares, along with simple cards, to let the general public know about this Day and warn them of the religion’s abuses. Others have actually set up booths in public fairs or expos and distributed flyers and notes!
The Day is not limited to former Jehovah’s Witnesses but is also an opportunity for anyone who opposes their practices to show support and solidarity for the victims. We strongly encourage other churches and religions, rape crisis counseling centers, victim support organizations, and other individuals to become involved and show their support with a small memorial during this Day.
(Note: The official Facebook page for our Day has been unpublished due to privacy concerns with that site.)
Images from our Day
¹October 1, 2012 Letter to All Elders worldwide
²January 15, 1964 Watchtower magazine
³”Shepherd the Flock of God”
*January 15, 2013 Watchtower magazine
**July 15, 2012 Watchtower magazine