Shame and guilt stop religious children reporting sexual abuse, according to the damning findings of a two-year investigation by the Independent Inquiry.
The conclusions draw on the anonymised testimony of 1,697 people who experienced child sexual abuse in religious institutions, including 183 survivors. It also heard from 1,514 people who experienced abuse in non-religious settings.
They came forward as part of the ‘Truth Project,’ the Inquiry said on Thursday, as it published its landmark report.
It found that children abused in a religious setting were far less likely to report it than those abused in a non-religious setting. Only three in ten reported sexual abuse in a religious institution, whereas just under half reported it elsewhere.
It also found that the type of abuse can alter quite dramatically. In religious settings, fondling was almost twice as likely as penetration (62 percent compared to 32 percent), whereas in non-religious settings fondling was reported in 54 percent of cases and penetration reported in 50 percent.
More than a third of those who did not report the abuse in a religious setting said “shame” was the primary reason while a fifth said “guilt” was the main reason.
Dr Sophia King, principal researcher, said: “It is clear that feelings of shame and embarrassment created a huge barrier to children disclosing abuse, as did the power and authority bestowed upon their abusers.”
Those abused in a religious institution were almost five times more likely to report it to a person of authority within that institution, and less likely to report it to the police.
Almost a fifth of survivors reported a loss of faith as a result of the abuse, while 48 percent said they “knew of others being abused by the same perpetrator”.
Stamford Hill-born Yehudis Goldsobel was abused by Chabad supporter Menachem Mendel Levy, who was jailed for it in 2013. She now leads an organisation dedicated to helping Jewish survivors of sexual abuse and said the Inquiry’s finding that half knew of others being abused by the same perpetrator was “not a surprise”.
Speaking to Jewish News about the report, she said: “It is on a par with our own findings and just shows how we have serial offenders in the Jewish community that institutions know about but continually fail to respond appropriately because they prioritise their institutions and reputations over the welfare of young people.”
Alongside the report, the Truth Project published 60 accounts of survivors, including one from a girl who was sexually abused by a family friend she approached to report her earlier sexual abuse from a music teacher.
The report adds to growing pressure on the Government to tighten safeguarding in religious institutions, and comes just weeks after the Inquiry announced a new investigation into child protection in religious organisations and settings, with shuls and yeshivas now included.
This new investigation will look into child protection policies and practices at places of worship, such as synagogues, as well as “places of tuition,” such as yeshivot, and “places where children and young people gather in connection with their religious beliefs,” such as youth groups and summer camps.
“We encourage every Jewish victim and survivor to get involved and send evidence to the new strand, which is clearly a response to what the Inquiry has heard in the last two years,” said Goldsobel.
“It will look at almost every institution in our community, including youth groups, shuls, camps and schools. We’ve needed something like this for years.”
Asked if the Jewish community was prepared, she said: “At the moment the reaction is to shrug the shoulders and say ‘it’s not relevant, we’re up to standard.’ But if we looked honestly and reflectively we would see we could be doing things better, and that we weren’t doing something we should be.
“Whether the community is proactive and takes that look itself, or whether it waits to be scrutinised by the national Inquiry, remains to be seen.”