Child sexual abuse inquiry to be held into religious organisations

Investigation will include Christian, Islamic, Jewish and Buddhist organisations

The Guardian
Harriet Sherwood Religion correspondent

Child sexual abuse in a wide range of religious organisations and settings, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Buddhists, is to be scrutinised in an official inquiry.

The investigation by the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA) will review child protection and policies in organisations belonging to nonconformist Christian denominations, Baptists, Methodists, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism and Hinduism.

The investigation will also cover religious settings such as mosques, synagogues, churches and temples. Places where children are taught about faith, such as Muslim madrasas and Christian Sunday schools, will be investigated, along with faith-based youth groups and camps.

The investigation is separate from the inquiry’s ongoing examinations of child protection and abuse in the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches.

More than one in 10 survivors of child sexual abuse who contacted the inquiry’s truth project reported sexual abuse in a religious institution. Of those, almost a quarter said they had been abused in religious organisations included in the latest investigation.

Last year, several people contacted the Guardian with allegations of child sexual abuse and other mistreatment in Jehovah’s Witness communities in the UK.

They described a culture of cover-ups and lies, with senior members of the organisation, known as elders, discouraging victims from coming forward for fear of bringing “reproach on Jehovah” and being exiled from the congregation and their families.

The Charity Commission is also conducting an investigation into child protection issues in the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain, the UK’s main Jehovah’s Witness organisation, which the commission regulates.

Nick French, a survivor of child sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses, said the investigation was “a positive step in looking into the systematic failings of a group who say they abhor child sexual abuse but in practice silence the victims”.

John Viney, whose daughter was abused by a Jehovah’s Witness, said: “We have waited a long time for this.” Many former Jehovah’s Witnesses had been campaigning for an investigation for years, he added.

One of the largest Buddhist organisations in the west, Shambhala International, which has more than 200 meditation centres across the world, including in the UK, last year pledged to take action to tackle sexual abuse by its teachers.

There have also been allegations of abuse in other faith organisations and movements, some of which have led to criminal prosecutions.

The IICSA was set up in 2015 to investigate institutions that failed to protect children from sexual abuse. It has held several hearings into abuse in the Church of England and Catholic church.

Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Church of England, and Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster and most senior Catholic cleric in England and Wales, have both given evidence in person, apologising for abuse and its cover-up.

The inquiry will hold a preliminary hearing into religious organisations in July, with public hearings planned for next year.