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Jury: Jehovah’s Witnesses must pay $34M to abuse survivor

The Associated Press
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The iconic Watchtower sign is seen on the roof of 25-30 Columbia Heights, then world headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Two women who were sexually abused as children say the Jehovah’s Witnesses failed to report their abuser to authorities in Montana, and instead expelled him from the congregation as punishment until he repented.

HELENA, Mont. — A Montana jury has ruled that the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization must pay $34 million to a woman who says the church covered up her sexual abuse as a child at the hands of a congregation member.

Neil Smith, an attorney representing the 21-year-old woman, says the jury’s verdict in the lawsuit Wednesday sends a message to the New York headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to stop prioritizing church secrecy over children’s safety.

Jehovah’s Witnesses officials did not immediately respond to a call and email for comment. The monetary award must be reviewed by the trial judge.

The jury dismissed claims by a second woman who alleged abuse by the same man in Thompson Falls in the 1990s.

The jury concluded church elders did not receive notice of the 32-year-old woman’s abuse and therefore did not have a duty to tell authorities.

The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they are a victim of a sex crime.

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