Jehovah's Witnesses child abuse scandal: "Only the tip of the iceberg"

Pascal Mertens, an activist against child sex abuse among Jehovah's Witnesses, claims that the number of complaints in the public domain are only the tip of the iceberg.  Earlier this week VRT's Pano programme probed the extent of child abuse among Jehovah's Witnesses.

Pascal Mertens helped to set up "Reclaimed Lives", a helpline for Jehovah's Witnesses experiencing child sex abuse.  He says that he is confronted with stories of child abuse on a daily basis: "It's always the same story.  Victims are chucked out of the community. The organisation never refers cases on to the justice department”.

The number of victims is unclear.  There is talk of three reports in Belgium, while in the Netherlands 300 reports have been made.  With 25,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in Belgium, compared to 29,000 in the Netherlands, the two communities are of a comparable size.  Pascal Mertens hopes the scale of abuse in Belgium isn't as high as in the Netherlands, but fears it is.

In Pano several former Jehovah's Witnesses spoke out about child sex abuse that was swept under the carpet by the organisation.  The Jehovah's Witnesses, labelled a sect by some, operate their own law system.  Child sex abuse suspects are brought before a judicial committee.  It's alleged that the names of perpetrators are kept in a blue envelope at Jehovah's Witnesses HQ in Kraainem, but it's thought the information isn't always handed on to the judiciary.  Federal prosecutors are now heading an investigation, while parliament last week established a special committee.

Pascal Mertens has called on the Jehovah's Witnesses to break the silence and take matters to the justice department.