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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse in the context of religious institutions


This is the first publication in a series of thematic reports examining what victims and survivors have shared with the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (‘the Inquiry’) as part of the Truth Project about their experiences of child sexual abuse and the institutional context in which it occurred. It details the research findings in relation to experiences of sexual abuse that occurred in ‘religious contexts’, based on the location or perpetrator of the abuse. This includes both sexual abuse that has taken place in a religious institution and sexual abuse that has taken place in a different setting but where the perpetrator was a member of the clergy or other staff affiliated with a religious institution (see section 1.2 of the full report for a more detailed discussion of our inclusion and exclusion criteria).

The accounts in this report are from victims and survivors who came to the Truth Project between June 2016 and November 2018. The majority of participants reported sexual abuse by individuals from Anglican and Catholic Churches in England and Wales. However, such abuse within other Christian denominations and other religions – including the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Islam and Judaism – was also reported and is included in the analysis. The analysis was undertaken by members of the Inquiry’s Research Team between November 2018 and May 2019.

In particular, the analysis aimed to address the following topics:

  • The nature of child sexual abuse experienced by participants in religious contexts.
  • What victims and survivors said about whether anything could have been done to prevent the abuse at the time and how much institutions knew about the abuse at the time.
  • Victims and survivors’ experiences of disclosing the abuse and the responses, including barriers and facilitators for disclosure.
  • The impacts of child sexual abuse in religious contexts and victims and survivors’ suggestions for improving the protection of children in religious institutions in future.

A full list of the specific research questions for this report can be found in Chapter 1.

This thematic report complements Child sexual abuse within the Catholic and Anglican Churches: A rapid evidence assessment (IICSA Research Team, 2017), and the Inquiry’s investigations into the institutional response to allegations of child sexual abuse in the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches in England and Wales.

This report describes the experiences of participants who told us they were sexually abused in religious contexts between the 1940s and 2010s. Given that the most recent case of abuse included in this analysis occurred almost a decade ago and most of the experiences shared relate to experiences occurring in the 1970s and earlier, it is not possible to make any comparisons with current-day experiences in religious contexts on the basis of Truth Project data.

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