Survivors call for end to secrecy in religious settings to stop child sex abuse

Child sex abuse survivors have told of the shame and guilt that stopped them reporting their ordeals, and called for an end to the secrecy of religious institutions which they say enabled abuse.

People who were sexually abused in religious institutions were less likely to report the abuse at the time than survivors of abuse in other settings, a report by the Truth Project found.

More than half of those who took part in the project, which is part of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), said they felt shame, embarrassment or guilt around what happened to them.

The report, which brings together responses from 183 individuals who were sexually abused as children in religious institutions or by clergy or church staff in other settings, found that victims in almost half of cases (48%) knew of someone else being abused at the time.

More than two thirds (68%) of those abused in religious institutions said they had not reported their abuse at the time, while this figure was lower (54%) for people abused in non-religious settings.

Survivors said secrecy in religious organisations and an assumption around the morality of perpetrators must change, to stop abuse happening in future.

The report said: “Culturally, participants stated that the secrecy that comes from the sanctity of religious institutions and the assumption of the automatic morality of those involved in them had to be addressed.

“Politically and professionally, it was suggested that victims and survivors needed to be at the centre of all concerns, actions and support relating to sexual abuse.

“Religious institutions and their leaders needed to take responsibility for abuse that has happened, come together to effect required change and ensure child protection policies and procedures were fully implemented in the best interests of the child.”

The report said survivors from “particularly closed religious communities” had described how inquiries by outside bodies had been hindered by community members and leaders.

One survivor told how they had been “pretty much fobbed off with a cup of tea and biscuits” after disclosing their abuse, while another said they had been blanked – “no return call, no missed calls, no messages, no letters, nothing” – when they tried to follow up their report with the institution.

More than half of survivors – all of whom shared their experiences in person, in writing or on the phone between June 2016 and November 2018 – said they had engaged with the Truth Project because they wanted change to prevent abuse happening to someone else.

More than two thirds (36%) of survivors said there needs to be an increased awareness within communities, and for parents and children, around abuse to prevent it happening in future.

Less than a fifth (18%) of those abused said they had lost their faith as a result of the abuse, with one survivor even telling how he went on to become a priest.

He said: “I do (enjoy being a priest) because I can do something about the institution from the inside out and I love God. (The abuse) was about (the perpetrator), not about God.”

Dr Sophia King, principal researcher, said: “This report examines their accounts in order to paint a clear picture of abuse in religious settings. It is clear that feelings of shame and embarrassment created a huge barrier to children disclosing abuse, as did the power and authority bestowed upon their abusers.”

Most participants reported sexual abuse by individuals from Anglican and Catholic Churches in England and Wales, but abuse within other Christian denominations and other religions – including the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Islam and Judaism – was also reported and is included in the analysis.

Earlier this month the IICSA announced its 14th strand of investigations, which will review the current child protection policies, practices and procedures in religious institutions in England and Wales.

A preliminary hearing will take place in July and public hearings are expected to begin next year.

Anyone who wants to get in touch with the Truth Project can visit, call 0800 917 1000 or email [email protected].

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