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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child protection in religious organisations and settings Investigation Report


B.1: Overview

1. Child sexual abuse affects all parts of our society. According to the Office for National Statistics, an estimated 3.1 million adults in the UK experienced sexual abuse before the age of 16.[1] Evidence submitted to the Inquiry from victims and survivors, and the organisations that support them, has been clear that child sexual abuse occurs within religious organisations and settings.

2. Reliable evidence about the scale or prevalence of the abuse within religious organisations and settings has been difficult to obtain.

2.1. The Inquiry’s Truth Project published a thematic report in May 2019, Child sexual abuse in the context of religious institutions. This was based on the experiences of 1,697 participants who stated that they were sexually abused in religious contexts between the 1940s and 2010s. Of these participants, 11 percent (183 individuals) said that they had been sexually abused as children in religious institutions, or by religious leaders or staff related to a religious organisation elsewhere.[2] While the majority of those who provided accounts were from an Anglican or Catholic background, there were also individuals from other faith communities.

2.2. Mr Phillip Noyes, Chief Advisor on Child Protection at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), told us that between April 2015 and March 2019 Childline provided 39,238 counselling sessions to children in which child sexual abuse was mentioned. Of those, 51 counselling sessions (0.13 percent) involved abuse in a religious setting.[3]

3. Any figures collected to demonstrate the scale and prevalence of child sexual abuse are likely to be a significant underestimate. As discussed in Part C, the barriers to reporting child sexual abuse within religious organisations and settings are numerous, varied and powerful. Those barriers are both organisational and cultural. We also heard specific evidence about distrust between some victims and survivors in religious communities, or some religious organisations on the one hand and the statutory authorities on the other. Work carried out in the Church of England suggests that those who are religious believers find it difficult to contemplate that fellow members of a congregation or religious leaders could perpetrate abuse.[4] This can lead to victims being belittled, ignored or blamed, which may in turn make disclosures of abuse less likely.[5]


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