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Calling Out Sexual Abuse in the Jehovah’s Witnesses Is a Horrific Struggle

Nov 8, 2019

By Summer Lin

In 2013, after Debbie McDaniel left her Jehovah’s Witness congregation in McAlester, Oklahoma, she went to police and told them members had been sitting outside her apartment, monitoring her every move. The Witnesses, she said, were trying to make the case that she was unfit to parent her son, on account of being in a relationship with a woman. But it was something else she told a detective that most alarmed the cops, she said: “You would think an organization that would allow me to be molested for years could now just let me go in peace.”

Within weeks, cops had arrested Ronald Lawrence, whom McDaniel, 50, accused of molesting her when she was underage, as Reveal News reported. At least two other people came forward with similar allegations. According to the Tulsa-World, Lawrence told prosecutors he had been “disfellowshipped” (basically excommunicated) from the church over sexual abuse allegations, that he had admitted misconduct in the past in order to be reinstated, and that law enforcement had never previously been informed. He has also denied abusing any Jehovah’s Witness children, including McDaniel. When brought before a judge in 2014, 19 charges of sexual abuse against him were deemed to have passed the statute of limitations, and he walked free.

Eventually, Witnesses stopped waiting outside McDaniel’s home.

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3 comments on “Calling Out Sexual Abuse in the Jehovah’s Witnesses Is a Horrific Struggle

  • My name is Tamara Sigmon and I grew up as a witness. I experienced abuse in the congregation in Iowa City Ia. The elders would not talk to police when approached and they only talked to me once but would not talked to me again because no one else had come forward. My sister had come forward years before I did and his stepdaughter fled the country to Canada just to get away from him. Things got so bad that as soon as I could, I moved away from Iowa and now live in Oklahoma.

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  • Tamara

    but would not talked to me again because no one else had come forward.

    I’m so sad to hear of your troubles. Even though no one else came forward, that doesn’t mean that you’re alone in this. There are countless women, girls and boys who have been subjected to abuse by immoral men in power.

    I’ve never been in this type of difficulty so I can’t say that I know how it is, but I imagine that victims of this abuse are frightened and feel trapped. I’m encouraged that you got away. People always think it’s easy to get away but it’s not easy. It’s very difficult or impossible for children and young people to get away from this problem.

    I hope you’re getting some talk therapy to work through this. I hope you stick around here and work through any issues that we can address here.

    Best of luck to you.

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  • Tamara

    There is a recent news article featuring this issue of covered-up abuse.

    At least 20 former Jehovah’s Witnesses are suing the group over historical sexual abuse they say they suffered.
    The group has a policy of not punishing alleged child sex abuse unless a second person, alongside the accuser, has witnessed it – or an abuser confesses.

    It says its elders “comply with child-abuse reporting laws even if there is only one witness”, though, and always tell police if a child is in danger.

    But one former elder said it had been failing to involve the authorities.

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