Scranton, Pa

Four Jehovah’s Witnesses Charged with Child Sex Abuse Crimes

Posted: November 7, 2022

Attorney General of Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro, announced criminal charges on October 27, 2022, against four individuals: Jesse Hill, formerly of Berks County and now a resident of the state of Georgia, Jose Serrano of Lancaster County, Eric Eleam of Butler County and Robert Ostrander, formerly of Cambria County and now a resident of New York, for the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. In each case, the defendants and the minor victims were all members of Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations.

Jesse Hill was charged with three counts of rape of a child, two counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, one count of indecent assault, and one count of corruption of minors. He is accused of using his milling business to attract minors from his Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation. Hill would entice his victims to his property for parties and then would later expose himself to the minors and sexually abuse them, such as forcing them to perform oral sex and groping them. We recommend that Hill be prosecuted under Chapter 30 of 18 Pa. C.S. § 3001, Pennsylvania’s Comprehensive Anti-Trafficking Statutes.

Jose Antonio Serrano was charged with one count of aggravated indecent assault, one count of indecent assault with a child less than 13 years of age, and one count of endangering the welfare of a child.

Robert Ostrander was charged with two counts of indecent assault, two counts of indecent assault with a child less than 16 years of age, two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, and two counts of corruption of minors.

When agents from the PA Office of Attorney General and police from Butler County attempted to take Eric Eleam into custody, he retreated into his bathroom and died by suicide. He was alleged to have sexually abused his daughter and additionally, sexually molested her as a form of punishment when she was a child. He was charged with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, and endangering the welfare of a child.

As Attorney General Shapiro recognized, “These children deserved to be protected and grow up in peace, not to be preyed upon.” Unfortunately, this predatory behavior has been seen before. Similar religious institutions or nation-wide organizations, such as the Roman Catholic Church or the Boy Scouts of America, have been accused and found guilty of crimes comparable to those of which the four Pennsylvania men above have been charged. In all three groups—the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Boy Scouts of America—individuals in these groups have utilized their positions of power to sexually abuse and sexually exploit those who are vulnerable. Sexual misconduct and assault arise most often in asymmetrical power dynamics, where the perpetrator occupies a dominant position relative to the victim.

We commend Attorney General Shapiro for pursuing several criminal charges against these child sex abusers. We also commend the Investigating Grand Jury for revealing the sexual exploitation and child sex abuse of 19 minors in this case. Under Shapiro’s time as Attorney General, the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General has arrested over 500 child predators.

The CSE Institute will provide updates on this matter as it proceeds.

All views expressed herein are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or of Villanova University. 

Category: News

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