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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child protection in religious organisations and settings Investigation Report


C.4: The use of religious texts and beliefs

13. For many, religious beliefs are strongly held and deeply ingrained. Abusers have been known to take advantage of a victim’s faith in order to facilitate their abuse, and to ensure their silence.

14. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) analysed serious case reviews involving religious organisations and settings, and undertook work in 2017 in relation to Hindu and Buddhist communities. It identified that the use of religious texts and teaching affected attitudes and behaviours in safeguarding children.[1]

15. Dr Lisa Oakley, Chair of the National Working Group on Child Abuse Linked to Faith and Belief, told us that the “use of sacred texts to control and coerce, to silence and to prevent disclosure are common” in her experience.[2] Dr Oakley told us about a victim who experienced systematic physical and sexual abuse involving multiple rapes from a number of different men.[3] The victim said:

“All of the sexual abuse that I experienced was linked to spiritual abuse or religious abuse. Religious scriptures were used as tools of control to force me to conform to their will. I was not allowed to question these religious beliefs. They used their religious ‘moral authority’ … to control me through use of scripture”.[4]

16. MWNUK published a report in 2013 entitled Unheard Voices.[5] This included an account of a young woman who was abused by her Qur’anic teacher and by her father. The teacher used verses of the Qur’an to justify his abuse and that of her father.[6]

17. SBS worked with a victim who had been abused by a baba – a Sikh holy man – who was engaged by a family when the teenage girl became unwell. He would massage her abdomen alongside providing her with advice on her spiritual life, and support that she viewed as paternal. She went to his house one day and he told her that Guru Nanak (the first Guru and founder of Sikhism) had come to him in his dreams and that her health problems would still go away. He gave her some holy water and then said that he would massage her stomach to help the holy water take effect. He then began touching her breasts and put his hands in her underwear, reciting a term of reverence in Sikhism the whole time.[7]

18. John Wilson, a pastor at Keighley Pentecostal Church who was convicted of child sexual offences in 2017, also claimed to be carrying out ‘deliverances’ or internal ministries.[8] While this is a recognised ministry in the Assemblies of God (the Pentecostal denomination with which the Keighley Pentecostal Church was associated), it should not involve the removal of clothing or any intimate touching of body parts, with or without consent.[9]

19. The Inquiry received evidence that belief in spirit possession, witchcraft and folk religion may be used to facilitate or justify abusive behaviours. For example, MWNUK received a call to their helpline from a woman who, when she disclosed sexual abuse as an adult, was told that she had “black magic” done to her.[10] SBS provided an example of someone who was told, in order to get rid of demons telling her to love other women, to have sex with a man while an imam watched. In SBS’s experience, some faith healers, or those who seek to exorcise spirits by way of religious healing, insist that such healing is carried out alone to isolate the victim and then exploit the relationship of trust.[11]

20. There is a governmental national action plan, on which the Department for Education is taking the lead, to tackle child abuse linked to faith and belief, which provides information about child abuse linked to belief in spirit possession, demons or the devil, the ‘evil eye’, djinns (in the Islamic faith context), dakinis (in the Hindu context), and rituals related to magic and witchcraft. Such beliefs are not confined to one faith, nationality or ethnic community. There are examples recorded in Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Pagan faiths, among others. While only a small minority of those who hold such beliefs go on to abuse children, such abuse is seen as being under-reported.[12] There is relatively little known about the nature, scale and frequency of this type of abuse.[13]

21. Part of the action plan to tackle this abuse is to understand the nature of such risks, and to build strong relations with faith leaders to try to be part of the solution.[14] Research undertaken in March 2017 by Dr Oakley and Mr Justin Humphreys, Chief Executive Officer (Safeguarding) at thirtyone:eight, along with the Victoria Climbié Foundation, explored the understanding within statutory bodies of the terminology associated with child abuse linked to faith and belief, and examined whether such bodies knew how to identify and manage allegations.[15] This research identified that the majority of those working in a variety of statutory agencies did not know about the national action plan, and that they had received limited training in these issues.[16]

22. Both thirtyone:eight and Africans Unite Against Child Abuse have offered to assist African churches by providing awareness training for church leaders and parents, and to provide good practice guidelines.[17] Between 2007 and 2011, thirtyone:eight (then known as the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service) trained over 4,000 African church leaders in safeguarding.[18]


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