Regno Unito. Alta corte di Londra condannata la Società Torre di Guardia a risarcire una donna abusata sessualmente da bambina da un servitore di ministero dei Testimoni di Geova

19 Giugno 2015

Una donna che non può essere nominata ha ottenuto dall’Alta corte di Londra un importante risarcimento in relazione a una causa civile intentata per una vicenda di abusi sessuali commessi a suo danno da Peter Stewart, un servitore di ministero dei Testimoni di Geova. La vittima, secondo quanto testimoniato, fu ripetutamente molestata quando aveva tra i 4 e i 9 anni di età. La chiesa era informata delle accuse mosse contro Stewart poiché questi aveva abusato anche di un altro bambino nella comunità religiosa ma nonostante gli atti di pedofilia perpetrati, l’uomo aveva potuto continuare a essere membro dell’organizzazione e a ricoprire il suo incarico dichiarandosi pentito. Stewart era stato anche condannato nel 1991 per il reato di stupro, in un caso non correlato ma nel 2001, quando stava per essere interrogato dalla polizia a seguito delle accuse della donna, era deceduto. L’Alta corte di Londra ha ascoltato il drammatico racconto della vittima che a causa delle sofferenze subite aveva tentato di porre fine alla sua vita. In una dichiarazione resa alla BBC, la donna ha inoltre affermato che i Testimoni di Geova considerano gli abusi sessuali un peccato che deve essere risolto internamente all’organizzazione. Si tratta della prima causa civile intentata contro l’organizzazione religiosa nel Regno Unito. La Società Torre di Guardia dovrà ora risarcire i danni e un pagamento intermedio per le spese legali ammontante a £455,000

Woman abused as child by Jehovah’s Witness minister wins £275k damages

Peter Stewart admitted to victim’s mother he was a pervert, but when church elders failed to act she went to the police

A woman traumatised by five years of sexual abuse as a child by a Jehovah’s Witness minister has won £275,000 damages at the high court, in what is said to be the first case against the church in the UK.

The woman, now 29, who can only be named as A, was sexually abused from the age of four by Peter Stewart, a ministerial servant at the Limehurst Congregation in Loughborough, where her family worshipped.

The abuse, which began in 1989, stopped in 1994 after Stewart was arrested and jailed for abusing another child in the congregation and another young girl.

The victim remained silent at the time, and her mother gave evidence of Stewart’s good character at his trial. It was only in 1999, just before Stewart’s release, that A told her mother what had happened.

When her mother wrote to Stewart with the allegations, he admitted he was a pervert and told her he was sorry for the hurt and damage he had caused. She contacted an elder at the church and, when nothing was done, she went to the police.

Officers interviewed A in May 2001, but Stewart died a month later.

She claimed that the trustees of the Blackbrook Congregation and the Southwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Loughborough, the successors of the Limehurst Congregation, were vicariously liable for the assaults.

She also claimed they were liable for the actions of the Limehurst elders who, in 1990, failed to take steps to protect her once they knew Stewart had assaulted another child in the congregation.

The defendants claimed that because Stewart was now dead, A had brought her claim too late and they were not responsible, although they accepted he did sexually abuse her.

After a hearing in London in February, Mr Justice Globe said on Friday: “In my judgment the relationship between elders and ministerial servants and the Jehovah’s Witnesses is sufficiently close in character to one of employer/employee that it is just and fair to impose vicarious liability.”

James Counsell, the victim’s barrister, said A’s whole family were Jehovah Witnesses. A’s mother trusted and respected Stewart as a ministerial servant of the organisation, and after he befriended her she left him alone with her daughter.

The abuse took place during bible study lessons and involved touching and sex acts in the living room of A’s home and in the loft at Stewart’s home.

The judge said: “Throughout, he told the claimant it was their secret and that she should say nothing about what was happening. He told her that she would be damned as a sinner if she said anything to anyone.”

A has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. She had hoped to become a lawyer, but after her mental health deteriorated she did not get the qualifications she had hoped for and has not been able to hold down a steady job.

She said the abuse has affected her relationships, “sexual and otherwise”. She once became pregnant but had an abortion. She eventually married in August 2008, and although she and her husband love each other she feels unable to have children.

Globe said that all of the elders and ministerial servants who had given evidence were horrified by the abuse and showed remorse that a Jehovah’s Witness should have caused such harm to A.

He said that, at the very least, the Limehurst elders assumed a responsibility to warn the congregation about Stewart but, despite their good intentions, A’s mother and her children were either not warned at all or were not adequately warned.

After the judgment, A said: “The procedures the Jehovah’s Witnesses follow for dealing with child sexual abuse are the same as it was when I was abused.The one thing I would like to come from this case is that they will feel forced to change their child safeguarding procedures.”

The damages and an interim payment of £455,000 towards A’s legal costs will be met by the trustees of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.




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