Report finds Major UK Religions Expose Millions of Children to Abuse

A wide range of religious organizations in the UK was subject to an inquiry investigation regarding child abuse. The inquiry revealed “shocking failures” and “blatant hypocrisies” in how these religions handle abuse allegations. Children are subjected to abuse of power and victim-blaming by religious leaders and, as a result, are often not reported.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) reviewed evidence of “egregious failings” of religious organizations who profess to teach children about right and wrong but neglect to protect them.

The IICSA examined child protection within 38 religions in England and Wales that included Jehovah’s Witnesses, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Sikhism, and various Christian groups. The inquiry considered evidence from two weeks of public testimony heard earlier in the year as well. 

According to the inquiry report, the religious groups had a “significant or even dominant influence on the lives of millions of children,” according to the inquiry report. “What marks religious organizations out from other institutions is the explicit purpose they have in teaching right from wrong; the moral turpitude of any failure by them in the prevention of, or response to, child sexual abuse is therefore heightened.”

The report also added: “Freedom of religion and belief can never justify or excuse the ill‐treatment of a child, or a failure to take adequate steps to protect them from harm.”

The report found that religious leaders deterred reporting abuse to protect their reputations, citing that they also blame the victims for their abuse. They rely on religious dogma as they respond to the allegations. The report stated, “The imperative not to speak is bound up with notions of honor, with consequences for an individual’s ability to marry, for their family and the ‘honor’ of their community. In extreme cases, being seen as dishonorable can lead to violence against that individual or their family.”

Lloyd Evans, a former elder of Jehovah’s Witnesses, hosts a YouTube podcast campaigning against the abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization. Evans suggested that, while the inquiry was strongly worded, the report was too restrained regarding the extent of the abuse.

Evans also suggested the IICSA did not review as much data as it should have. He said this is because the IICSA inquiry was “under-funded.”

The inquiry report cited several examples of child victims who were sexually abused over several years. One such case involves three children abused sexually by Todros Grynhaus, a prominent member of Manchester’s Haredi Jewish community. The rabbi, Grynhaus’ father, only sent him for counseling after hearing the allegations. Grynhaus was later convicted and jailed.

Another case cited included four children about nine years old who were sexually abused as the teacher taught them the Quran in a mosque. The teacher was convicted in 2017.

Chair of the Inquiry, Alexis Jay, reflected, “Religious organizations are defined by their moral purpose of teaching right from wrong and protection of the innocent and the vulnerable. However, when we heard about shocking failures to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse across almost all major religions, it became clear many are operating in direct conflict with this mission.

“Blaming the victims, fears of reputational damage, and discouraging external reporting are some of the barriers victims and survivors face, as well as clear indicators of religious organizations prioritizing their reputations above all else. For many, these barriers have been too difficult to overcome.”

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