Aug 27, 2018

Former Jehovah's Witnesses protest outside convention in Reading

The activists accuse the denomination, which has been holding meetings in the city, of silencing abuse victims.

Reading Eagle
August 27,2018

One moment Martin Haugh's daughter, 4, was at his side, the next moment, she no longer was there.

"I looked down and my daughter was gone," he said of that day in 2005.

It took just a few minutes for Haugh to find her behind a large potted plant in the lobby of the Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall in Red Lion, York County.
He said those few minutes were enough for a pedophile to abuse the girl.

Haugh, 41, and his wife, Jennifer, 43, were among a group of former Jehovah's Witnesses who gathered Sunday outside the Santander Arena.

They were protesting during the fifth and final Sunday of the regional convention in Reading that drew a total of about 26,000 from 218 congregations in Pennsylvania and Maryland over five weekends.

They and other activists contend the denomination is silencing victims.

The Haughs, who grew up in the faith and felt safe in the Kingdom Hall where Martin Haugh served as a deacon and, later, an elder, now say they feel betrayed.

They left the denomination in 2016 after learning of what activists call a widespread cover-up of abuse and relocated to the Harrisburg area.

A media spokesman for the conventions in Reading did not respond to an email request for comment about the protests.
According to the denomination's website, Jehovah's Witnesses follow the Bible's advice not to respond to all accusations and instances of ridicule.

"We respond to sincere people who are interested in finding out the truth, but we avoid getting into pointless arguments. We thus follow the teachings and examples of Jesus and the early Christians," a statement on the website says.

Haugh was handing out assignments for the religion's door-to-door campaign, called pioneering, that Wednesday in 2005 when he noticed his daughter was missing.
When he found her minutes later, she was with a teenage boy.

"He had both hands up my 4-year-old girl's dress," the father said.

Haugh took the girl home and said nothing about the incident.

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"I thought I might have made a mistake and didn't want to jump to conclusions," he said. "I didn't think it would happen again."
He was wrong.

The next time she went missing, Haugh found her behind a locked door, sitting on the lap of her abuser, who had his hands in her underwear, the father said.

This time, Haugh went to the church elders and told them everything.

"They said they would handle it," he said. "They did not. They told me not to call the police, so I did not."

It took a third time before the elders took action, he said.
"They did punish him," Haugh said of the teen, "but I was viewed as the bad guy for making a scene."

Activists say the family's experience is typical of what they call a conspiracy of silence in the denomination's hierarchy.

Chessa Manion relates experiences that are similar to the Haugh girl's story.

Manion, 29, now of Dover, Del., said that at age 5 she was raped by the 15-year-old son of an elder during a night's stay with his family during her family's move to Chicago.

"His family invited me to stay the night at their home because my parents were exhausted from moving all day," Manion said. "My parents decided it was OK. I was raped that night."
Her parents, she said, were told not to call police because it would reflect poorly on the organization.

"It is not just the Jehovah's Witnesses," she stressed. "There are other religions that silence the victims."

Manion founded Use Our Voice, an organization that advocates for survivors of sexual abuse.
She, the Haughs and others urge survivors to break their silence, speak out and notify legal authorities.

Manion also urges victims of abuse to seek therapy.

"The theme of the convention is 'Be courageous,' " Manion said. "I am urging survivors to be courageous and to speak out."

Contact Michelle N. Lynch: 610-371-5084 or

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