The Independent Inquiry Into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) has a total of 13 separate investigations that are on-going. Two of the biggest investigations to be taking place are those into abuse allegations brought against both the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church.
Religious Abuse: Which Religion?
Abuse within the Catholic Church has been at the forefront of investigations and therefore the press, for some time now and it is reported that 3,000 priests had sexual abuse cases brought against them between the years of 2001 and 2010.
Survivors continue to come forward with painful stories of past abuse and so the true extent of abuse within the Roman Catholic Church may never be fully understood. Since then, other religious institutions have been brought into question over mass allegations of abuse.
The Anglican Church has been investigated by the IICSA and will undergo a public hearing in November 2017. Child Abuse within the Orthodox Jewish Community has been investigated and more recently, abuse within Jehovah’s Witnesses’ congregations. 400 allegations of abuse within Islamic madrassas made headlines in 2010, and in 2011 Warren Jeff, leader of Fundamentalist Mormon church was given a life sentence for the abuse of young girls.
But what is it about religious institutions that appear to foster child abuse?
Is Religion To Blame?
It is undeniable that abuse has been uncovered within religious organisations. Therefore, it is important to understand the past and learn lessons from it.
It is vital to highlight again that child abuse is not the issue of one particular religion. It is prevalent within all religions. But what commonalities between faiths mean that child abuse was and sometimes still is present within religious institutions?
According to Janet Heimlich, author of ‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light On Religious Child Maltreatment’ an authoritarian culture is to blame. “There are three perfect-storm factors that identify a religious culture or community as authoritarian:
- The culture has a strict social hierarchy
- The culture is fearful
- The culture is separatist
The more intense these three factors are – the more authoritarian the culture is – the more likely children will be harmed.”
To blame religion itself is a mistake. It is perhaps more the culture that is cultivated within religious institutions that creates a troublesome environment where reporting never makes it as far as the police.
The reasons for non-reporting are many, but include:
- Pressure from the order itself to behave in a certain way and not betray it
- Fear of not being believed if a complaint is made
- Threats made by the abuser as to what might happen if disclosure takes place for example, religious punishments such as going to hell or banishment from the religious order.
- If a child is involved heavily in the religion with his/her parents, who believe intensely in the religion, then to disclose might mean alienation from not only the family but the community upon which the religion is based
Abuse often takes place in cloistered environments where someone in a position of power (perhaps a religious leader or figure) can be alone with a child who is part of that religious order. Unfortunately, this can provide the opportunity and setting for the abuse to take place.
Beyond Religious Abuse
Another area of investigation of the IICSA is within Residential Schools. There are similar cultural characteristics that foster abuse between religious institutions and educational institutions.
When there is a strict social hierarchy, young people find it more difficult to come forward. There is also a huge expectation both within educational and religious institutions for people to conform and follow rules.
The social hierarchy means that young people are told to follow the instruction and leadership of their elders, often without question. With this sort of cultural pressure, it makes coming forward with accusations of abuse even harder, if not impossible.
“Child abuse is bigger than religion. But it is undeniable that the social hierarchy within these cultures cultivates a belief that if you protest against wrong-doing, you may not be believed or worse, punished further.”
“There have obviously been huge developments in understanding and in the processes of safeguarding both within religious and educational institutes but there is always more to be done, namely awareness.”
“It has to be made clear to survivors of abuse that it is a good thing to come forward, that they will be believed and justice will be served and this is where the IICSA is going to find mistakes were made in the past. I just hope to see future criminal investigations learning from the mistakes of the past.”