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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse in the context of religious institutions

Key findings from the research

The research findings from this study indicate particular features and characteristics of sexual abuse in religious contexts in the past. Although this is the first of our published thematic reports, ongoing analysis and review of wider Truth Project sessions data suggests that abuse in religious contexts features some particularly notable characteristics[1]:

  • Those sexually abused in a religious context often did not report the abuse whilst it was ongoing due to feelings of shame or embarrassment.
  • The types of sexual abuse reported by participants in religious contexts typically involved fondling or other forms of sexual abuse involving non-penetrative contact, rather than penetrative abuse.
  • Victims and survivors of child sexual abuse in a religious context often shared that they knew of others being abused in the same institution or by the same perpetrator.
  • Participants considered that the power, authority and reverence bestowed upon religious institutions and the individuals working within them meant that the conduct of perpetrators was not questioned. This made it relatively easy for them to find opportunities to abuse and they were able to act with relative impunity.
  • The reported extent of influence and involvement the religious institutions had over their communities and the daily lives, culture and background of victims and survivors and their families was more pronounced than typically seen in other institutions. This provided more opportunities for the abuse and made it particularly difficult for victims and survivors to be able to tell anyone about what was happening. Connected with this was the way in which perpetrators were able to use the child’s spirituality and religion to manipulate them.
  • When disclosing sexual abuse as a child or as an adult, participants abused in a religious context often shared that they reported their experiences of abuse to someone in authority inside the institution. This indicates the level of influence religious institutions often have.
  • The protection of the reputation of the religious institution and individual perpetrators at all costs meant victims and survivors said they were often disbelieved, discredited and not supported after disclosing their experiences of sexual abuse both as children and as adults. Participants perceived that these protections were offered by religious leaders as well as community members and were viewed by participants to be more extensive than seen in other types of institution.
  • There was an apparent contradiction in some cases between victims and survivors being told their disclosures were not believed or being actively discredited and the perpetrators being moved elsewhere within the religious institution, including overseas. Participants knew at the time or found out later that those in the new location were not advised of the known concerns about the perpetrator, creating further risk of abuse.
  • The spiritual impact of the abuse upon victims and survivors is evident in these accounts of sexual abuse that occurred within religious contexts. This can have a particularly damaging impact on victims and survivors, particularly where their religion provided the foundation to their morality, beliefs, social relationships and the way they lived their daily lives.



  1. Please note that these research findings are not necessarily representative of the wider population and that differences found between abuse in religious and non-religious contexts have not been tested for statistical significance.
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