Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Filed Against Pierce County Jehovah's Witnesses Congregation

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A survivor of childhood sexual abuse by a member of a Jehovah's Witnesses congregation in Pierce County recently sued the organization.

Moriah Hughes, 24, filed her lawsuit last month in Pierce County Superior Court against the Milton Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses.

It says her abuser was a "baptized publisher," that he used his position to perpetrate the abuse, and that the church had information about similar allegations made against him by another congregation. He was later charged and sentenced in King County Superior Court for abusing Hughes and another girl.

"... the Milton Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses knew or should have known that he posed a threat of foreseeable harm to Moriah Hughes, but it failed to take reasonable steps to protect Moriah Hughes from that harm," the lawsuit said.

It also names other organizations as part of the church's hierarchy: the Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses and Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses.

"I wanted to bring awareness to the fact that this is a reality," Hughes told The News Tribune last week. "And even though it is a heartbreaking reality in the organization, we will never be able to ensure this type of thing doesn't happen again and to other people unless we bring that awareness forward."

No one responded to a request for comment that The News Tribune sent to the church's Office of the General Counsel.

The lawsuit gives this account of what happened:

Elihu Rodriguez abused Hughes from 2012 to 2014 when he was an adult and she was between the ages of 14 and 16.

His position with the church gave him access to Hughes and allowed him to "ingratiate himself" with her family, the lawsuit said.

"Rodriguez abused plaintiff on multiple occasions, including during and after church events such as field service, Bible study and congregation social gatherings," the lawsuit said. "Before Rodriguez abused plaintiff, defendant congregation received a letter from another congregation indicating that he had engaged in similar sexually abusive acts with four girls at that congregation prior to coming to defendant congregation."

Devin Storey, one of the attorneys representing Hughes, said there's a history of abuse in the organization dating back to the '90s.

"They weren't taking any steps to try to prevent the kind of thing that happened here with our client," Storey said.

His law firm has handled similar lawsuits across the country, he said.

"It absolutely is widespread from top to bottom throughout the whole organization," Hughes said.

She also said: "I do have hope that they can change ... My genuine hope is to bring the truth to light."

Steven Reich, another attorney representing Hughes, said the organization "blamed her for what happened as opposed to pointing the finger of responsibility at the perpetrator here."

Rodriguez pleaded guilty to three counts of third-degree child rape in King County Superior Court and was sentenced to five years in prison in 2019 for his abuse of Hughes and another girl, NBC News reported. He was 32 at the time he was sentenced.

"We are more than our hard days and definitely stronger than our circumstances," Hughes said. "Of course even now there are absolutely hard days, but I will continue to push forward because we absolutely deserve justice and I am hungry for justice and I won't stop until my appetite is full."

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