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IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

Shame and guilt stop survivors reporting child sexual abuse in religious institutions

30 May 2019

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has published a research report on child sexual abuse in religious institutions, based on accounts shared by survivors at its Truth Project.

The report includes data on religions with a significant presence in England and Wales, including the Anglican and Catholic Churches, Christian faith communities such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists and Methodists, and Islam and Judaism.

The report’s key findings include:

  • Those sexually abused in religious institutions were less likely to report the abuse at the time (69 per cent) than survivors (54 per cent) in the same institution.

  • Over half of survivors did not report the abuse due to feelings of shame (37 per cent) and guilt (18 per cent).

  • Half of victims (48 per cent) knew of others being abused by the same perpetrator.

  • One fifth (18 percent) of survivors reported a loss of faith as a consequence of the abuse.

The report also examines institutional failures, with most participants firmly believing others were aware of the perpetrator’s behaviour but did nothing. Sexual abuse was most frequently perpetrated by an individual with an official religious title, such as priest, vicar, imam or elder.

At the Truth Project, survivors are invited to make recommendations for change. Participants told the Inquiry that it needs to address the secrecy that comes from the sanctity of religious institutions and the assumption that religious figures are automatically moral.

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.”

Angharad, who was sexually abused as a child by a Church of England chaplain says:

“The Truth Project was a major turning point for me. It was almost like being granted freedom to talk openly without being criticised or judged. As a survivor, my experience is unique, and I believe that by talking out I may be able to help others in a similar situation. I would encourage all others to do the same.

The Inquiry is also publishing a further 60 anonymous accounts shared with its Truth Project, which has now welcomed more than 3,000 participants.

Meanwhile, a new investigation into safeguarding in religion was launched earlier this month.

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