“I Testimoni di Geova hanno una politica basata su un codice del silenzio quando si tratta di protezione dei bambini. Sono più preoccupati dello scandalo e di evitare lo scandalo, piuttosto che della tutela dei bambini affidati alle loro cure..”
Avvocato Irvin Zalkin
Lawsuit: Jehovah’s Witness official molested girls
By Sam Hemingway
Two sisters, one of them a Vermonter, filed lawsuits Tuesday alleging they were sexually molested as young girls in the mid-1990s by a Jehovah’s Witnesses official in Bellows Falls.
“These very courageous and brave young women have decided that they need to do something about what happened to them as children that has been kept silent by the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” San Diego attorney Irwin Zalkin said at a Tuesday news conference in Burlington.
According to court papers, Miranda Lewis, 23, of Chester and Annessa Lewis, 27, of Austin, Texas, claim Norton True fondled them on several occasions when they were little girls living in Bellows Falls.
True, who still lives in Bellows Falls, was a ministerial servant with the church, a deacon-like position that performs clerical and other duties. The alleged abuse occurred either at the Jehovah’s Witnesses hall in Bellows Falls or at True’s barn.
Multiple efforts to reach the defendants for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Annessa Lewis was 4 years old and Miranda Lewis was 5 when the molestations began, the lawsuits stated. The abuse of the two preschoolers allegedly spanned more than a year.
Both women were Jehovah’s Witness members at the time, along with their mother, Marina Lewis.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses, with 14 million members worldwide, are a close-knit Christian denomination best known for door-to-door evangelism by members and for its Watch Tower and Awake publications.
Zalkin, the lawyer, said his law firm is involved in about 20 cases alleging sexual abuse of children by Jehovah’s Witness officials across the country. He said one case, now on appeal in Oregon, resulted in a damage award of $21 million.
Miranda Lewis appeared with Zalkin at the news conference, along with her mother, Marina Lewis, also of Chester. Miranda Lewis told reporters that True abused her for the first time as she was leaving a congregation meeting in Bellows Falls sometime in 1995 or 1996.
“As everyone was leaving, Norton took my hand and held me back,” she said. “He waited for the room to clear out, and that’s when the abuse started.” The initial abuse, the complaint states, involved True touching Lewis inappropriately.
The Burlington Free Press generally does not identify alleged victims of sexual assaults, but the Lewis family is speaking publicly about the case
According to the lawsuit, the abuse ended when Lewis’ mother saw True trying to isolate Miranda Lewis in his barn during a going-away party for a church member.
Marina Lewis took both of her daughters to her car with True following behind. Miranda Lewis then asked when True was going to touch her again, according to the lawsuit.
True denied inappropriately touching her, at which point Annessa Lewis told her mother she believed her younger sister, because True had done the same thing to her, the lawsuit stated.
According to Annessa Lewis’ lawsuit, True first fondled her when she was in his barn and he lifted her up to show her his horses.
The lawsuits also claim True molested at least three other children prior to the abuse of the Lewis sisters, but the elders in the Bellows Falls congregation “chose not to warn … congregation members of the danger defendant True posed to children.”
“The Jehovah’s Witnesses have a policy that is grounded in a code of silence when it comes to the protection of children,” Zalkin said. “They are more concerned about scandal and the avoidance of scandal than they are the protection of the children that are entrusted to their care.”
Marina Lewis, a single mom at the time of the events in question, said she notified church elders about True’s conduct. She said no action was taken against True. Instead, she and her daughters were shunned by the church.
“They wanted me to keep quiet about what happened,” Miranda Lewis said. “It was very strange. There was almost no support for my family. No understanding at all.”
Said Miranda Lewis, “We were told we were liars by a lot of people.”
Her mother said she and her daughters soon left the Bellows Falls congregation and became involved with another, nearby Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation. None of the Lewises remain members of the church.
True could not be reached by phone Tuesday. Officers of the Jehovah’s Witnesses hall in Bellows Falls, also a defendant in the case, did not respond to a request for comment, nor did attorneys at the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in Brooklyn, N.Y., the church’s parent organization, another named defendant.
Marina Lewis also said a family therapist notified the Vermont State Police about the abuse, and a worker for the state Social and Rehabilitation Services — since renamed the Department for Children and Families — looked into the allegations against True.
“The allegations were substantiated by SRS at one time, and then there was a reversal of that decision shortly after,” she said.
Ken Schatz, the newly installed DCF commissioner, could not be reached for comment Tuesday about the past handling of the abuse claims.
Miranda Lewis said she and his sister decided to file their lawsuits now against True and the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization both to help themselves heal and to make sure similar conduct won’t happen to others.
“I think it’s important that this stops,” Miranda Lewis said. “This is one way of helping achieve that goal.”
The Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Bellows Falls on Tuesday. (Photo: CHRIS GAROFOLO/THE EAGLE TIMES )
The two Lewis women also are being represented by Burlington lawyer Jerome O’Neill, who during the past decade represented dozens of Vermont victims of priest sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.
Miranda Lewis’ lawsuit was to be filed at Windsor Superior Court in Woodstock. Annessa Lewis’ case will be heard in U.S. District Court because she is a Texas resident, O’Neill said.
Fonte: BURLINGTON FREE PRESS