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Inquiry report finds child sexual abuse in most major UK religions

2 September 2021

Child sexual abuse has been found in most major UK religions, according to a new report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse; with some found to have no child protection policies in place at all.

The ‘Child protection in religious organisations and settings’ report examined evidence received from 38 religious organisations with a presence in England and Wales, with the figures provided to the Inquiry about known prevalence of child sexual abuse unlikely to reflect the full picture. 

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 purporting to teach right from wrong and yet failing to prevent or respond to child sexual abuse.

Throughout the investigation, the Inquiry heard of shocking failings across a number of religious organisations, and cases of child sexual abuse perpetrated by their followers.

  • PR-A10 was sexually assaulted by a church volunteer when she was 12 years old. PR-A10 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”.

  • PR-A22, PR-A23, PR-A24 and PR-A25 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’ imprisonment.

The report finds that organisational and cultural barriers to reporting child sexual abuse within religious organisations and settings are numerous, varied and difficult to overcome. These include victim-blaming, an absence of discussion around sex and sexuality, and discouraging external reporting, thus prioritising the organisation’s reputation above the needs of victims of sexual abuse.

Comprehensive child protection policies and procedures are essential to ensuring that children are protected against sexual abuse. Whilst the Inquiry found that some organisations do have effective policies implemented, in some settings not even basic child protection procedures are in place, despite serving large congregations.

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 no 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. 

The report makes two recommendations: 

(i) that all religious organisations should have a child protection policy and supporting procedures; and 

(ii) 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, 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.

“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.”

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