What is Church abuse?
Church abuse and religious abuse are types of abuse that take place either within a place of worship or religious setting or under the guise of religion. It can be sexual or physical abuse and can involve a single incident or a pattern of abuse and often includes grooming.
If you have suffered abuse in a religious setting our institutional sexual abuse compensation calculator will show you what compensation you could claim.
Why is abuse within religious organisations so damaging?
Places of worship should be safe environments for both adults and children. Sadly, we have dealt with many claims of sexual abuse and assaults by priests, religious leaders and those in senior positions within the church. These individuals are perfectly placed to take advantage of the trust placed in them and the influence they have over the members of the congregation. It is particularly difficult for someone who is abused by a figure in authority to speak out, especially against a member of the church who may be held in high esteem in the religious organisation or even using a person’s faith to mask any wrongdoing. It can be particularly devastating to be abused in these circumstances.
Who is vulnerable to abuse in the church?
Basically, any member of the congregation or the particular religious faith, including those who do not attend the church or place of worship regularly. As specialist abuse lawyers we see a high number of abuse claims being brought by adults, who were abused as adults in a religious context. Children and young people are also vulnerable as their parents and carers often leave them entrusted to members of the church, such as Sunday school teachers and Choirmasters.
Should I report the abuse to the church itself or to the police?
You can do both. Many religious organisations do have safeguarding procedures and of course, if you feel able to then you should report the abuse to the relevant person in the church. This however is not always as easy as it sounds and, particularly within the Catholic Church, it is often perceived that the church will close ranks and support the accused. We have all read about the many scandals surrounding abuse in the Catholic Church. It is important, however, where you can, to report matters internally if only to test the safeguarding policies and procedures so that they can be held further accountable if these procedures are not followed.
The police are independent of the church and it is their job to investigate crimes of abuse and assault. We always encourage our clients, if they have not done so already, to report matters to the police. They have the power to criminally prosecute, to ensure that the abuser receives appropriate punishments for their crimes and to ensure that they are unable to commit further offences in the future. The police investigation can also turn up useful evidence that we can use in your civil claim for compensation.
I do not know how to report to the police and I am nervous about doing this, what advice do you have?
All police forces in England and Wales have dedicated Units and dedicated officers who are used to investigating crimes of this nature. They have close connections with victim support and the feedback that we get from our clients and those who have had to go through this police reporting process is that, whilst it can be stressful and difficult to talk about the abuse, the officers they have dealt with are generally very supporting and sympathetic.
You should contact your local police station, by phone if you prefer and ask to speak to someone in the Child Protection Unit or Family Protection Unit as these are the specialist units that will deal with crimes involving sexual abuse and assault. It does not matter if the incident happened recently or many years ago. You may get referred to the relevant police force for the area where the abuse occurred, but your local police force is always a good starting point if you are unsure.