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

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — 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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This story has been corrected to say the plaintiff is 21, not 32.

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