Four members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, all in Pennsylvania, have been charged with sexually abusing a total of 19 kids (including some of their own) over the course of several years. It’s the result of “hundreds of hours of grand jury testimony” and three years of investigation.
“These cases are disturbing, the allegations hard to imagine, and all share one common tie. The 19 victims and the four men who are being charged with sexually violating them are all members of Jehovah’s Witnesses. These children deserved to be protected and grow up in peace, not to be preyed upon,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “My office will not stop until these defendants are held accountable for their crimes against innocent children and until justice is achieved for these courageous survivors.”
Shapiro, of course, is currently running for governor of the state, but this isn’t his first investigation into faith-based sexual abuse. He’s also the AG whose investigation into six Pennsylvania dioceses—and the subsequent report issued in 2018—unleashed a series of lawsuits against the Catholic Church as a result of its ongoing child sex abuse crisis. Shapiro, arguably more than any other AG, has built his reputation on taking action against faith-based abuse.
This time, the Jehovah’s Witnesses in question are just as heinous as some of those priests.
69-year-old Jose Serrano allegedly abused six girls, including his own daughter.
52-year-old Jesse Hill allegedly lured boys to his congregation “with promises of alcohol, marijuana, and pornography,” after which he exposed himself, touched them inappropriately, and forced them to perform oral sex on him. There were at least 10 victims.
56-year-old Robert Ostrander allegedly sexually abused at least two kids: “his own step-daughter and her friend.”
61-year-old Eric Eleam allegedly sexually assaulted his daughter as a form of discipline when she was being naughty. (When officers tried to arrest him earlier this week, he took his own life.)
Remember that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have a long disturbing history of ignoring or downplaying sexual abuse claims. Some of that stems from their own awful policies, like the “Two-Witness rule,” which says church elders shouldn’t take a victim’s account of abuse seriously unless another person witnessed it… even though the only other person around may have been the abuser himself.
In 2016, Australia’s Royal Commission issued a report saying kids were not “adequately protected from the risk of sexual abuse” in the organization. And in 2017, there was a $66 million class action lawsuit filed in Canada against the Witnesses. These stories aren’t new. This is what the Witnesses have become known for.
If these men are convicted, they would likely spend the rest of their lives behind bars.