The Jehovah’s Witness community is reportedly being investigated for allegedly keeping a secret database that listed thousands of “undocumented” child molesters within the community, The Atlantic reports.
According to the latest report, the information was obtained after the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, which serves as the head of the Jehovah’s Witness organization, sent a survey to its 10,883 U.S. Kingdom Halls seeking information about members of the community accused of sexual abuse in 1997. The survey was reportedly comprised of 12 questions, including how the community viewed the alleged abusers, whether the abuse was a one-time occurrence, and more.
The responses were then mailed back to the Watchtower in a blue envelope and scanned into a Microsoft SharePoint. It was never shared with the police, however.
In 2014, a man filed a lawsuit against the Watchtower, claiming he was molested by a Jehovah’s Witness leader in 1986. During that case, the Watchtower disclosed that its U.S. headquarters had received 775 blue envelopes from 1997 to 2001.
In 2012, Candace Conti, a former member of the community, was awarded $28 million by a jury after claiming a man she worked with for a community service project sexually abused her when she was nine and group leaders ignored her because of the “two-witness rule.”
According to The Atlantic, the organization’s “two-witness rule” requests that two people bare witness to the crime being alleged. “Barring a confession, no member of the organization can be officially accused of committing a sin without two credible eyewitnesses who are willing to corroborate the accusation,” the rule states. Critics have said that the rule makes it easier for child molesters to abuse kids.
According to estimates, the number of accused Jehovah’s Witness child molesters listed in the secret database could range from 18,000 to 23,000. It’s unclear how police are proceeding in light of the new report.