silence of the Lambs
By C.D. Bradley firstname.lastname@example.org -> 270.575.8650
BENTON , Ky. --Bill Bowen, the former Jehovah's Witness elder who made news when he resigned last year and criticized the church for its position on pedophiles in the congregation, has started a support group for victims.
"Our purpose is to give a voice to those who have been silenced by the organization," Bowen said of his group, Silent Lambs. "We want to let them know they do have a place they can go to. We don't perform any miracles. We just give them resources and information, sources of counseling and help."
The nonprofit group's work centers around its Web site at www.silentlambs.org. The site, which Bowen said is visited by about 200 Internet surfers a day, provides a variety of information and resources.
It includes a place for victims to share their stories, often told in brutal detail. Bowen said the site now has about 400 stories split between a victims page and guestbook.
The page also keeps tabs on alleged Witness molesters in the news, provides tips on how to "pinpoint a pedophile," picks up church writings on the issue, and offers resources for victims who are looking for help.
"Only one out of five post their stories," Bowen said of the site's visitors. "Four remain silent. I tell the ones who do that they're really the heroes of the Web site. They are the ones that show that I'm not just some crazy guy in Kentucky who's made up a story.
"That's why I put up the elders' letters (outlining church policy). That way, they're not about taking my word for it. They can read it themselves."
Bowen said the church requires members to report anything, including molestation, to the congregation's elders, who then advise them what action to take. Church doctrine requires two witnesses for any type of disciplinary action, and there are generally not two witnesses to pedophilia. Church representatives have said they always follow the law, but Bowen said that does not go far enough. Only 16 states, including Kentucky , require clergy to report accusations of sexual abuse to authorities, and Bowen said elders in the other states generally choose not to report it.
Bowen has also posted audio from testimony by Erica Rodriguez, who said she was raped and molested by a church elder when she lived in Washington state from the age of four until her family moved when she was 11. Now 23 and living in Sacramento , Calif. , she has sued the Brooklyn , N.Y.-based church headquarters — the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society — claiming church policy protects pedophiles.
Bowen said when Manuel Beliz, the former elder convicted last year of raping Rodriguez was sentenced a second time, 29 members of the church sent letters supporting him. He said Rodriguez and her family were shunned after she took the matter to legal authorities.
"Three simple things would make it a better organization," Bowen said. "One, if a child is molested, they should be required to go to the police first, not the elders. Two, if a child molester comes into the congregation, don't put him in a position of responsibility. Three, stop child molesters from going door to door."
The denomination is known for proselytizing by knocking on doors.
Bowen said he's not out to destroy the church, and is not making any profit from the support group, which he helps fund and run with the help of volunteers nationwide.
"It's a meaningful effort, and I'm glad for what it has been able to accomplish," he said. "If anything has been accomplished, it's a growing awareness among people at the Watchtower that they'd better do this right. They've been made aware they need to be careful, and if they mess up, we're going to find out about it and let everybody know."
The organization can also be reached at 1-877-WTABUSE.
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