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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child protection in religious organisations and settings Investigation Report

Contents

C.7: Distrust of external agencies

40. In many religious organisations, there can be a mistrust or fear of the involvement of government bodies in the religious organisation and people’s personal lives. This may emanate from a variety of sources, including:

  • concern about religious persecution or religious or racial discrimination;
  • a view that such involvement is contrary to religious teachings or law; and
  • a view that governmental bodies are insensitive to, and judgemental about, religious practices and beliefs, and so will either not understand them or seek to dismiss them in a crude and heavy-handed way.

Research published by the Inquiry in June 2020 identified that cultural stereotypes and racism can affect how child sexual abuse is understood, identified and disclosed.[1]

41. The persecution of religious minorities by state bodies throughout history has generated a strong fear of outside authorities within certain communities. For example, the Jewish Charedi community recognises this, particularly among those whose families are Holocaust survivors or Jewish refugees who fled from persecution to the UK.[2] Such inhibitions have historical roots that stretch far back in Jewish history, from times when the Jewish community was persecuted under Roman, Persian, Western European, Nazi and Soviet rule.[3]

42. Fear of racism or racial stereotyping is another factor that causes certain religious communities to avoid the involvement of external agencies in their affairs. Those in the Jewish community who do not have Charedi affiliation may also be concerned that speaking publicly about sensitive issues such as child sexual abuse could fuel antisemitism.[4] Mr Waks told us that there is:

“a widely-held belief across many (but not all) Jewish institutions and among their leadership, that Jewish people must ‘protect their own’. This manifests, in large part, in efforts to prevent Jewish Community ‘dirty laundry’ from being aired in public as it may incite anti-Semitism.”[5]

43. Religious organisations and those within religious communities can also be reluctant to report abuse because of a belief that local and central government bodies lack an understanding of their religious faith and practice. This gives rise to a fear that they will deal with faith communities in an insensitive way. Such fears can make religious organisations reticent to involve external bodies when faced with allegations of child sexual abuse.

44. PR-A17 was allegedly abused when he was 10 years old by a teacher from his Chabad Lubavitch Jewish school. Even as an adult, PR-A17 said he felt unable to report the alleged abuse to the police because the Charedi Jewish community of which he was a part had a culture of discouraging members from complaining to the police. The alleged perpetrator was subsequently tried and acquitted of the allegations.[6]

45. In Ms Patel’s experience, there are many within minority ethnic communities who would discourage speaking out about abuse within their communities:

“Forty years ago, when we raised issues of domestic violence, when we raised issues of forced marriage and all those … other forms of gender-related violence, the charge that was levelled against us … was, ‘You are being racist. You are raising the issues. You are showing up our community in a bad light. You are doing this and it is fuelling racism. It will fuel racial stereotypes about our communities. It will fuel a racist backlash’. So now, instead of the racist backlash, the charge is, ‘You are fuelling Islamophobic backlash or a Hinduphobic backlash. You are fuelling hatred and hate crimes towards our communities’.”[7]

She noted that these concerns have not deterred the work of her organisation:

“We do not want to fuel racism … any form of racism is abhorrent and we need to tackle that, but that should not stop us from talking about the abuse that’s going on in our own communities, the injustice that’s going on in our own communities … the cause of anti-racism, will not be helped by remaining silent because silence is complicity.”[8]

46. In some religious communities, insularity is encouraged as a form of protection from perceived temptations or evils within secular society. Historically, members of the Jesus Fellowship Church lived in communes – “large hostel-like complexes” with everything shared among members.[9] Ms Sally Hirst, who appeared on behalf of the Jesus Fellowship Survivors Association, told us that within the Jesus Fellowship Church there was next to no contact with wider society:

“Apart from the children going to school, there was no contact with the outside world; there really wasn’t. Even the GP was part of the church”.[10]

Ms Hirst explained how adherents were “taught to be very suspicious of outside organisations … It was very, very insular”.[11]

47. In some cases, the impulse dissuading disclosure may be more subtle. In 2020, the High Court heard a case concerning alleged child sexual abuse within a Jehovah’s Witness family where issues were raised about what certain elders in the congregation knew about the alleged abuse.[12] The mother in that case told us:

“The Elders informed me that I had to think about the consequences of my actions as mentioned, I wanted to go to the police but the message I felt I was receiving was that police involvement was not the appropriate thing to do. I fully accept that this was not … being said to me but this is what I was feeling”.[13]

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