Abuse in religious institutions
Dino Nocivelli considers the issue of abuse in religions separate to the Roman Catholic Church and Church of England
Posted on 06 July 2022
Further to my recent article about how the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Court Bill will expand the law which makes it illegal for those in a position of trust to engage in sexual activity to now also include sport coaches, it is important to note that the new law will also cover religious leaders.
Abuse happens in every area of society and can take many forms to include sexual, physical, emotional and also spiritual.
There are numerous reasons why victims and survivors of child abuse are unable to disclose their abuse for decades, if at all.
One of the most common barriers is the fear of being believed and this is worsened when the abuser has a position of trust in a religious setting.
There has been and continues to be coverage in the media of sexual abuse by priests within the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England of children in their care, but sadly abuse permeates every religion, so I want to consider three in this article.
To date, there remains only a relative few Muslim survivors of childhood sexual abuse that have been able to obtain criminal convictions for their abusers although sadly this does not show the true extent of the issue.
Those who have been convicted include:
- Mohammed Haji Saddique – An imam who sexually assaulted four girls during Quran lessons at a mosque in Cardiff and he received a 13-year prison sentence for his crimes.
- Hafiz Fazal – A teacher in a mosque in Oldham who was convicted of seven charges of indecent assault and seven charges of rape against children. He was jailed for 23 years.
- Hafiz Azizur Rehman Pirzada – An imam from Northolt who was appointed to teach children the Quran but sexually assaulted them. He was convicted of seven charges of sexual assault and two charges of causing a child to engage in sexual activity, and sentenced to eight years in prison.
The Charity Commission published a report in 2017 detailing the failings by the Manchester New Moston Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses to deal with child abuse allegations which as a result led to improvements in safeguarding.
These views were echoed by the Independent Inquiry into Childhood Sexual Abuse’s (IICSA) report into religious organisations which was published in 2021. IICSA found that the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ safeguarding policies were outdated and unsafe, their internal disciplinary process when dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse is not survivor focused, while any punishments are inadequate and those who do raise allegations are often shunned by their community.
A Jewish teacher, Todros Grynhaus, was convicted in 2015 of seven charges of indecent assault against children and he was sentenced to 13 years in prison. As noted when he was convicted, the allegations of abuse were dealt with within the religion with him being referred to therapy and the allegations were not reported to the police for two years.
The extent of abuse within the Jewish community means that there is a specific charity that supports Jewish victims and survivors of sexual abuse called Migdal Emunah. Their support includes Independent Sexual Violence Advocates (ISVAs), individual counselling, support groups, couples counselling and family therapy.
As can be seen from the above, abuse is present in every religion regardless of the religious beliefs of the organisation, the abuser or the victim or survivor.
It is important for victims and survivors to know that the police are there to investigate allegations of childhood sexual abuse regardless of when the assaults took place and that there is help available.
Safeguarding risks remain for children who take part in acting, ballet and wrestling – these gaps must be closed
Dino Nocivelli, partner specialising in representing survivors of child sexual abuse, welcomes forthcoming changes to position of trust laws but argues that gaps remain which put children at risk of sexual abuse