Most of us, I suspect, know the Jehovah's Witnesses only as the men
and women who go door-to-door handing out literature about their faith.
Jehovah's Witnesses are evangelical Christians, with about 1 million
members here in the U.S. The movement was founded in the 1870s in Pennsylvania
. Jehovah's Witnesses believe in the bible as the literal word of God.
They do not allow blood transfusions, do not serve in the military or
celebrate Christmas or birthdays.
Now, some members say that something awful is happening behind closed
doors, a pattern of alleged child abuse that the religious organization
has not only failed to report but, they say, has even helped to keep
from the authorities.
Tonight we'll introduce you to two young women who say they've been
victimized by a Jehovah's Witness member.
Joining us from Minneapolis to tell their s tori es in the first person
are Heidi Meyer and Amber Long. Also joining us is a man who's tried
to bring together alleged victims of abuse within the Jehovah's Witnesses.
He's William Bowen, once an elder within the congregation who resigned
his position two years ago in protest against the way the group deals
with suspected abusers.
Welcome to all of you. Now, Heidi, you were 10 years old when you were
first abused. What happened?
HEIDI MEYER, ALLEGEDLY ABUSED BY JEHOVAH'S WITNESS: The man who abused
CHUNG: Was a Jehovah's Witness?
MEYER: He was a Jehovah's Witness in my congregation. His name is Derrick
Lindelah (ph). He was a friend of the family. He was friends with my
brother and I was friends with his younger sisters, and whenever the
opportunity arose or whenever he created an opportunity, he would pull
me aside and molest me any chance he got.
CHUNG: How long did this go on, Heidi?
MEYER: Until -- into my 13th year. Just after I turned 13.
CHUNG: All right. And you reported this to the elders in the Jehovah's
Witnesses. And what happened?
MEYER: When I was 15, I went to the elders with this, as we're instructed
as Jehovah's Witnesses to do. And I spoke to them in the hopes of discontinuing
this problem, and that they would step in and take care of this person.
CHUNG: Did they?
MEYER: No, they did not. They not only said that they thought I had
misinterpreted his actions, but they also told me that I needed to be
careful who I spoke to about this and what I said about this, because
without two eyewitnesses to the situation, I could be faced with a judicial
committee for gossip or slander.
CHUNG: Basically, do you think they were trying to tell you not to go
to the police? MEYER: Absolutely. They said to go to the police and
bring this matter to court would be a reproach on God's name and God's
CHUNG: So you kept quiet.
MEYER: Absolutely. Under threat of -- under threat of excommunication.
CHUNG: Yes, from the Jehovah's Witnesses. And your whole family, your
whole family belonged, so it meant something to you to belong, as well.
MEYER: Absolutely. Not only my family, but as a Jehovah's Witness, you
associate only with members in good standing. And that leaves you in
a position where everybody you know, everybody you trust, everybody
you've ever known or trusted, is somebody who's inside that organization.
The threat of being thrown out of that and shunned from them is one
powerful enough that kept me quiet for a long, long time.
CHUNG: All right, we'll get back to you, Heidi, in a minute. Amber,
you claim that you were molested by the same man when you were 12 years
old. What happened to you?
AMBER LONG, ALLEGEDLY ABUSED BY JEHOVAH'S WITNESS: Correct. I was at
his parent's home. I was friends with his younger sister. And I was
molested there. After that visit I went home and told my parents immediately,
and we also went to the elders, as is directed in that religion.
CHUNG: And what happened?
LONG: They, you know, insinuated that it was a misunderstanding, that
maybe I was upset, told us to come back and talk about it later. When
I still stuck to my story, they told us there was really nothing they
could do, because there wasn't two eyewitnesses. And again there was
that veiled threat of being excommunicated.
And all my life, growing up after that, they, you know, made insinuations
to the fact that perhaps it was something that I had done that warranted
CHUNG: All right. Amber, we'll get back to you in a minute.
Bill, you've gone so far as saying that you believe that the Jehovah's
Witnesses is a pedophile paradise. You know, are you exaggerating? I
know you've investigated, but I think one would believe that you might
be exaggerating here.
WILLIAM BOWEN, DIRECTOR, SILENTLAMBS.ORG: I've spo ken to over 5,000
victims of abuse either through e-mail or direct phone contact. I have
an abuse hotline that rings into my home, and I get calls every day.
All these people are abuse survivors that tell the same story as Amber
and Heidi do. That is, that they went to the elders and they were suppressed,
they were covered up.
It's a common thread. Yesterday I got a thread or an e-mail from a young
girl, 15 years of age, she went to the elders, she said I am just like
Heidi. And after seeing the recent media, I am angry that they would
do this to me. And that's what most of these young ladies are. They're
angry that they were abused and revictimized by the policies of this
CHUNG: Were you intimidated by the Jehovah's Witnesses?
MEYER: Absolutely. There is no option but to be intimidated. Your entire
life revolves around your involvement in that organization. That is
your entire life. And it's often referred to as such, in the organization.
If you are ousted from that organization, it is a trauma in your life.
There is an enormous upheaval. It is something that affects every single
day of your life.
CHUNG: This is a statement from the Jehovah's Witnesses, and I'd like
all of you to listen to it.
"We abhor the sexual abuse of children and wil l n ot protect any
perpetrator from the consequences of this gross and perverse sin. We
expect the elders to investigate every allegation of child abuse. Unrepentant
wrongdoers are expelled from the congregation. Special care is ta ken
to ensure the victims are given ongoing assistance and counsel that
help them deal with the pain of the abuse. They should never be told
by elders not to report their allegations to the authorities.
Amber, I can see you shaking your head.
LONG: I just -- that's just horrifying that they would write something
like that. It's so untrue.
MEYER: You know, and it's a good practice on paper. But it's just not
-- it's just not applied. In my situation, in Amber's situation, in
countless numbers of situations across the nation, and into other countries,
it's just not applied.
CHUNG: But why would they put out a statement like this which you claim
is not correct?
BOWEN: That statement is a bald-faced lie, in my opinion. These people
know the abuse has been covered up. Ten years ago, research was done
in the organization that they knew multiple little girls were being
molested. They were inundated with mail -- of "Awake" magazine
that was written on this subject.
They refused to acknowledge it then, and the fact that it's went on
this long, if they make any acceptance that there's a problem, then
they admit they willfully have hurt children and not done anything about
Bill, you may very well be disfellowshipped (ph), which is essentially
excommunicated from this congregation. And your father even made a video
condemning you for your investigation of this sexual abuse problem.
Doesn't that hurt?
BOWEN: Yes, it hurts deeply. And I don't hold it against him, because
I know that he was intimidated just like these two young women were
intimidated by the church to make that video, and have it distributed
to the local media in this area...
CHUNG: Well, is it worth it to you to be ostracized by your own family?
BOWEN: You have to do what is ethically and morally right. And because
people are pressured by religion to do what's ethically and morally
wrong, that doesn't excuse that. And so, I'm compelled to go forward,
to let these -- for these victims who have been victimized and revictimized
by this church.
Many young women have been disfellowshipped when they tried to tell
other members in the church that they were molested, simply because
that they wanted -- the molester said that they didn't have two eyewitnesses
when he raped these young women.
CHUNG: Heidi and Amber, what has happened to the member who you claim
MEYER: Absolutely nothing, to this day.
CHUNG: Is he a member in good standing?
MEYER: He is a member in good standing.
LONG: Yes, he is.
CHUNG: You -- both of you may very well be disfellowshipped. Are you
prepared for that? And doesn't that mean that your family wouldn't talk
to you anymore?
MEYER: Yes, it does mean that. But, you know, my parents raised me to
be an independent thinker, a strong person, and someone who is just.
And the evidence is so black and white in this situation, there is no
alternative choice. There is no other avenue I could be taking with
CHUNG: Heidi, Amber, we so appreciate your being with us. And Bill,
thank you as well.
And before we go, we should note that we spoke to the attorney for Derrick
Lindelah, the man accused of molesting Heidi and Amber, and his lawyer
told us that Lindelah would deny all accusations but that no formal
answer has been filed yet in a civil suit brought by the two girls.