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Vulnerable to abuse – millions of children from religious groups in England and Wales

The IICSA (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse) has reported that it found abuse of power, victim blaming, and mistrust of authority to be commonplace in several institutions.

Religious organisations such as Sunday Schools and Madrasas (which are Arabic Schools) where vulnerable children were brought together were found to be places where different types of sexual abuse took place regularly, the report states.

The report said that the IICSA found that there ‘was no doubt’ about the sexual abuse of children taking place in several religious environments.

The report went on to say that they had found evidence of ‘egregious failings’ and they highlighted the ‘hypocrisy of religion’ where they purported to teach children right from wrong, while failing to protect them from abuse.

The IICSA investigation covered 38 religious organisations where vulnerable children were abused. These included, in England and Wales, Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Methodists, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism along with some nonconformist Christian organisations.

It was found that the organisations which were investigated had control ranging from significant to complete dominance over the lives of millions of children.

The report noted that the issue which sets the religious organisations apart from others is the ‘explicit purpose’ they have in teaching children right from wrong. This makes the moral turpitude of their failings in preventing abuse even more alarming and horrific.

In summing up the report, it was stated that freedom of belief or religion can never become the excuse or the justification for abuse and ill-treatment of children. Neither can it be the excuse for not taking adequate steps to protect any and every child from harm.

The report, which was published last week, came after earlier investigation into the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches which were found to be rife with abuse and cover-ups.

Todros Grynhaus, a prominent member of the Haredi Jewish community in Manchester was sent for counselling after allegations that he abused three children. He was later convicted and jailed.

Another case was found where a young girl was abused and raped at a madrasa which took place in a house mosque. The abuse took place from 8 to 11 years old. When the girl disclosed the fact that she had been abused, she was called a ‘slag’ by other community members.

A ‘valued member’ and a volunteer of a local Methodist church abused a young girl. Following her disclosure, he later pleaded guilty to sexual assault. The girl was given no support at all by her local minister.

Yet another case was found where a young girl was abused between the age of 4 and 9 by a ‘ministerial servant.’ This abuse took place constantly within the Jehovah’s Witnesses community after Bible study sessions. A civil claim was brought against the Jehovah’s Witness organisation, which they defended vigorously despite the perpetrator being later convicted.

After 16 days of public hearings held in 2020, the IICSA report stated that there was very likely to be huge under-reporting of child sexual abuse in many religious organisations.

Under-reporting child sexual abuse in religious organisations was shown to be very common and many of the time the blame fell on the abused rather than on the perpetrator. There is also a great reluctance to disclose abuse because of an underlying mistrust of government and external organisations.

Chair of the inquiry, Alexis Jay stated that it has become clear that many religious organisations are operating in direct conflict with their mission statements, which is both shocking and unacceptable.

‘Religious organisations are defined by their moral purpose of teaching right from wrong and protection of the innocent and the vulnerable.’

Mr Jay stated that for many people having the blame placed on them, along with fear of damage to reputations, discouraged them from disclosing abuse. For some abuse survivors the barriers were simply too difficult to overcome.

A specialist abuse lawyer at Slater & Gordon, Richard Scorer, acted for seven victims and survivor groups, and said that the report confirmed that several religious organisations had ‘catastrophically failed to protect the vulnerable children in their care.’

Mr Scorer went on to say that the report indicated that there were too many organisations focused on protecting the reputations and authority of their leaders, rather than the rights of children.

Rev Jonathon Hustler from the Methodist church stated that the church was ‘truly sorry’ that it had failed children. The Methodist church will continue to review and improve their support for victims and survivors. The church apologised for the cases where it had not done this.

A statement from the Jehovah’s Witness organisation said that they were ‘committed to the protection of children. They focused on providing spiritual comfort and support to any person who has suffered from child sexual abuse.

A spokesperson from the Muslim Council said that the protection of children should be at the centre of all Muslim organisations. It is deeply rooted in their religious traditions. ‘Crucially, all children should feel safe and confident in reporting any concerns they may have.’

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