Breaking news out of the United Kingdom has once again raised questions about abuse in religious communities. According to The Daily Mail, “Britain’s biggest Islamic authorities believe that child sexual abuse within the Muslim community is ‘underreported’ because it is a ‘taboo subject’.”
The Muslim Women’s Network (MWN) provided the information to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). Their recent analysis suggests that the problem is largely underestimated because victims are often unlikely to report the abuse.
Unfortunately, the Muslim religion is not the only one where abuse is believed to be underestimated.
Sexual Abuse in Religion
There are more than 42 million survivors of sexual abuse in America. While that number is staggering it may be underestimated as statistics indicate that as much as 30% of sexual abuse against children is never reported or reported years after the abuse has taken place.
But recent studies have also shown that there is a greater lack of the reporting of sexual abuse within the confines of religious organizations.
The stigma associated with sexual abuse is great, but the additional stigma associated with accusing someone in a religious organization may be even greater for victims. Many religious leaders are seen as an extension of their faith, so reporting a member of a religious organization can bring additional challenges. Religious organizations themselves may also be less likely to act when abuse is reported within the organization. According to the UK’s Truth Project, researchers found that children sexually abused in a religious organization were less likely to report the abuse than children whose abuse was linked to other institutions.
No One Is Innocent
The research shows that the lack of reporting is not limited to a specific religion. It was not the doctrine of any particular organization, but the cultural context of the religious organization in the victims’ lives.
“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,” according to Truth Project.
The systemic hiding of abuse among religious organizations was also noted as a factor. When victims did report abuse to authorities within religious organizations they were often discredited. The Truth Project notes, “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.”
The construct of organized religion may also enable greater access to victims.
“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,” according to the report.
Many organizations like Truth Project in the UK and National Children’s Alliance in the United States are working to bring this issue to light. The hope is to reduce the stigma around any kind of sexual abuse and to encourage victims to report, while providing healing to those who have been abused.