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Child sexual abuse found in most major religions in UK

‘Blatant hypocrisy and moral failing of religions’ has been highlighted following an investigation which found child sexual abuse had been found in most major religions in the UK.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse report ‘Child protection in religious organisations and settings’ examined evidence received from 38 religious organisations with a presence in England and Wales. Child sexual abuse was found in most major UK religions with some having no child protection policies in place.

Professor Alexis Jay, Chair of the Inquiry said: “Religious organisations are defined by their moral purpose of teaching right from wrong and protection of the innocent and the vulnerable. However when we heard about shocking failures to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse across almost all major religions, it became clear many are operating in direct conflict with this mission.”

Religious organisations play a central and even dominant role in the lives of millions of children in England and Wales. The report highlights the blatant hypocrisy and moral failing of religions claiming to teach right from wrong and yet failing to prevent or respond to child sexual abuse.

The report highlights that an estimated 250,000 children in England and Wales receive ‘supplementary schooling’ or ‘out-of-school provision’ from a faith organisation. However, there is very little reliable information on how many settings there are, how many children attend them and for how many hours, what activities are provided and who runs them. As there is no requirement for such schools to be registered with any state body, they have no supervision or oversight in respect of child protection.

Shocking failings across a number of religious organisations emerged during the investigation, and cases of child sexual abuse perpetrated by their followers.

One 12 year old child was sexually assaulted by a church volunteer and disclosed the abuse to her mother, who reported it to the police. After being made aware of the allegations, a church minister told her mother that the abuser was “valued” and must be considered “innocent until proven guilty”.

The investigation also heard a case where four children were all sexually abused when they were approximately nine years old whilst they were being taught the Qur’an by a teacher in a mosque. In 2017, the perpetrator was convicted and sentenced to 13 years’ in prison.

Cultural and organisational barriers to reporting child sexual abuse within religious organisations and settings include:

  • Victim-blaming
  • An absence of discussion around sex and sexuality
  • Discouraging external reporting, thus prioritising the organisation’s reputation above the needs of victims of sexual abuse.

While the Inquiry found that essential comprehensive child protection policies and procedures were in place in some organisations, other settings didn’t even have basic child protection procedures implemented despite serving large congregations.

The report makes two recommendations:

  • That all religious organisations should have a child protection policy and supporting procedures.
  • That the government should legislate to amend the definition of full-time education to bring any setting that is the pupil’s primary place of education within the scope of a registered school, and provide Ofsted with sufficient powers to examine the quality of child protection when undertaking inspection of suspected unregistered schools.

Professor Alexis Jay said: “Blaming the victims, fears of reputational damage and discouraging external reporting are some of the barriers victims and survivors face, as well as clear indicators of religious organisations prioritising their own reputations above all else. For many, these barriers have been too difficult to overcome.”

“We have seen some examples of good practice, and it is our hope that with the recommendations from this report, all religious organisations across England and Wales will improve what they do to fulfil their moral responsibility to protect children from sexual abuse,” she concluded.

Child protection in religious organisations and settings

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