Millions of children involved in religious organizations, including Sunday schools and madrasas, are vulnerable to sexual abuse in cultures where victim blame, abuse of power and distrust of outside authorities are common, according to a report.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) said that “there is no question that child sexual abuse takes place in a wide range of religious settings.”
He found evidence of “egregious flaws” and highlighted the hypocrisy of religions that claim to teach right from wrong but fail to protect children.
The IICSA research examined child protection in 38 religious organizations and settings in England and Wales, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, Methodists, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and non-conformist Christian denominations.
The organizations had “a significant or even dominant influence on the lives of millions of children,” according to the research report. “What distinguishes religious organizations from other institutions is the explicit purpose they have in teaching right from wrong; therefore, it increases the moral depravity of any failure of theirs in preventing or responding to child sexual abuse. “
He added: “Freedom of religion and belief can never justify or excuse the mistreatment of a child, or the lack of adequate measures to protect him from harm.”
The report, released Thursday, followed previous investigations into the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches that detailed widespread abuse and cover-ups.
Among the cases cited in the report are three children abused by a prominent member of the Haredi Jewish community in Manchester, who was eventually convicted and imprisoned; a girl who was abused and raped in a madrasa between the ages of eight and 11; a girl who was abused by a volunteer at a Methodist church who later pleaded guilty to sexual assault; and a girl who was abused between the ages of four and nine by a “ministerial servant” with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Organizational and cultural barriers to reporting child sexual abuse within religious organizations and settings were common, the report said. They include blaming victims rather than perpetrators, reluctance to discuss issues related to sex and sexuality, excessive deference and respect shown to religious leaders, and distrust of government and outside bodies.
The report recommends that all religious organizations have a child protection policy. It also calls for legislation to amend the definition of full-time education to include any setting that is a student’s primary place of education.
Alexis Jay, chair of the investigation, said: “Religious organizations are defined by their moral purpose of teaching right from wrong and protecting the innocent and vulnerable. However, when we learned of dramatic failures in preventing and responding to child sexual abuse in almost all major religions, it became clear that many are operating in direct conflict with this mission.
“Blaming victims, fears of reputational damage and discouraging outside reporting are some of the barriers faced by victims and survivors, as well as clear indicators that faith-based organizations prioritize their own reputations above all else. For many, these barriers have been too difficult to overcome. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism