"It's difficult to put into words the effect the sexual abuse has had on me," Miranda Lewis said.
Lewis says she suffered at the hands of a leader at the Bellows Falls congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses.
|Miranda Lewis, her mother and lawyers|
Lewis, now 23, says she was sexually abused when she was 5. Her sister Annessa, now 27, says she was also abused by the same person when she was 4.
Now, the sisters are bringing civil lawsuits against not only the alleged abuser, but the Bellows Falls congregation itself and the national governing body of all Jehovah's Witnesses-- the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York-- who they say covered it up.
The girls' mother, Marina Lewis, says she went to her local congregation's elders, the leaders within the Jehovah's Witness religion, when she learned of the allegations. She says she was told to keep quiet. And church doctrine teaches that anyone outside the religion in the outside world could be harmful. Sounds like cult doctrine to me.
These two pictures are of Miranda and her sister, Annessa. I'm not sure which is which.
Marina says she and her daughters immediately left the Bellows Falls congregation to get away from the abuser and joined a new church in Vermont. She also says despite church teachings, she went to the police in 1996, but no charges were filed.
The family hired lawyers with experience going after hierarchies accused of protecting abusers.
"We don't know how much they knew about this particular individual and what they covered up. The only way we'll find out is when we get the records," attorney Jerry O'Neill said.
O'Neill (on the left in the photo above) won millions for Vermont sex abuse victims by suing the Catholic Diocese of Burlington. And California attorney Irwin Zalkin has filed more than 15 complaints of sexual abuse within the Jehovah's Witness community all over the country. He says the abuse often goes unreported due to what he calls the religion's strict code of silence.
"If an elder of the congregation receives a report of sexual abuse of a child, or indeed of any sin, they must have either a confession from the abuser or two eyewitnesses to the event in order for any action to be brought," Zalkin said.
Marina Lewis and her daughters have now left the Jehovah's Witness community entirely. But say they hope bringing attention to the alleged sexual abuse will help save others.
We reached out to both the Bellows Falls congregation and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, but had not heard back yet when this story was published.
This is a civil suit, but the mom says she talked to police. We did confirm with state police that they investigated the case back in 1996 and forwarded it to the Windham County state's attorney at the time, Dan Davis. Davis told WCAX News that he cannot recall the case and couldn't say why charges weren't filed.