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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child protection in religious organisations and settings Investigation Report


C.2: Victim-blaming, shame and honour

3. Within some religious organisations and settings, victims are blamed for their abuse. This is particularly the case if they are women: community values may suggest that abuse must have taken place because of their own behaviour, attitudes or approaches. Ms Nazmin Akthar, Co-Chair of the Board of Muslim Women’s Network UK (MWNUK) told us that, in her experience, “misogynistic attitudes play a factor in such dismissal; that is, blaming the victim for not behaving or dressing a certain way”.[1]

4. PR-A5 said that she experienced that blame. She was told by those within the Jehovah’s Witnesses that her clothes were too provocative and “worldly”. This was denied by the elder who was said to have made this comment.[2] PR-A5 told us:

“Most exchanges I had, when I was being counselled, involved them having a good go at me about my clothing and making me feel that I was – I couldn’t say what I felt like. It was incredibly demeaning”.[3]

5. Ms Patel told us of some of the experiences of those in South Asian communities, with whom SBS has worked:

“we have seen the way in which women are blamed, young girls are blamed every time they disclose: they must have done something wrong; it’s the way they have dressed; it’s the way they have looked upon a man or a young person or another person. So this kind of constant blaming, constant attribution of blame, on women is also a way of policing and safeguarding their sexuality.”[4]

6. As a result of the way in which some communities respond to victims and survivors, many begin to internalise those views, to feel ashamed and to believe that their abuse was in some way their fault. Ms Natasha Rattu, Executive Director of Karma Nirvana (a charitable organisation that supports victims of honour-based abuse and forced marriage), suggested that the shame and stigma is “absolutely massive”.[5] This was not limited to any specific religious organisation but seen in examples from Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Jewish religious organisations. Ms Patel referred to cultures “shrouded in secrecy, shame and denial”, which made it “very, very difficult to talk about issues of sexuality and sexual abuse”.[6]

7. In some communities, the relationship between ideas of sexual ‘purity’ and social and familial standing are likely to make abuse markedly harder to report.[7] The imperative not to speak is bound up with notions of honour, with consequences for an individual’s ability to marry, for their family and for the ‘honour’ of their community. In extreme cases, being seen as dishonourable can lead to violence against that individual or their family.[8]

8. Within a close-knit community based, at least in part, on shared religious beliefs – where ties of kinship, friendship, employment and social life may be enmeshed with each other – it may be difficult to keep disclosures of such abuse private.[9] In such communities, the concern that disclosures will not be kept confidential, and therefore may lead to public shame for the victim or survivor, can act as a significant barrier to disclosure.[10]

9. PR-A2 alleged that she was abused while attending a madrasah attached to her local mosque. When she disclosed her abuse to an imam, he discouraged her from reporting the abuse because of the dishonour and shame this would cause to her and to the community.[11] PR-A4 also said that she was abused at a madrasah that was set up as a ‘house mosque’. When she reported her abuse, she suffered harassment from others within her local community. She was called a “dirty tart” and a “slag”.[12]

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