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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse in the context of religious institutions

Experiences of disclosure and responses by institutions

Only around a third of victims and survivors in this sample had disclosed or reported any of the abuse at the time. Participants who did not disclose the abuse at the time spoke of the fact there was no one for them to tell and there was no encouragement to open up and disclose in any indirect ways either. Barriers to disclosing at the time of the sexual abuse were reported to be: lacking a relationship with a trusted adult; feelings of shame and embarrassment; lack of education around sex and abuse; and fear of the power and influence of the religious community.

Where participants had disclosed at the time of the abuse, this had typically been to a person in authority inside the institution. When disclosing, many participants shared that they were disbelieved, had their experiences of abuse minimised and little or no action was taken.

Participants who disclosed as adults typically reported their experiences of such abuse to the police or a person in authority inside the institution. Generally participants shared that they were disappointed with the response of the authorities they reported to. They described responses from authorities as muted and noted a lack of communication between the authority and the individual.

Barriers to disclosing as adults mentioned by participants were: not wanting their families to find out; fearing hostility from the religious community; and their past experiences of unsuccessfully challenging religious institutions.

Overall, a greater proportion of participants sexually abused in a religious context reported their experiences of abuse to someone in authority inside the institution than participants who were abused in other contexts, both as a child and as an adult. This difference indicated the relative influence religious institutions had in comparison to other institutions.

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