Sexual Violence in Religious Institutions
In recent years, several high-profile investigations have uncovered a scale of sexual abuse in religious institutions that most Americans struggle to comprehend.
It is estimated that in the Catholic Church alone, tens of thousands of children worldwide may be affected.
Sexual abuse is one of the most serious violations of any person’s rights – let alone a child’s rights.
It is rightly condemned in all quarters of society but when it happens in religious institutions in which we place our trust and faith, it seems all the more horrific.
As further reports come to light, the main questions that need answering center on how to tackle sexual violence in religious organizations, hold the perpetrators accountable for their actions, and provide justice and support to the victims?
Child sexual violence in the Catholic Church and beyond
Child sexual violence is not just wrong. It is a human rights violation that sickens most right-minded Americans and may even be a violation of the UN’s Convention Against Torture.
That abuse has affected many children within the Catholic Church around the world is now widely accepted – but the abuse stretches far beyond the jurisdiction of The Vatican.
The Church is an institution that parents, children, and people in all walks of life have historically placed a huge amount of trust in – and many still do.
In recent years, the institution has been pressured into releasing more details about sexual abuse against children by Catholic clergy but, in many cases, it has been less than transparent.
In the worst cases, rape and other forms of sexual violence against children have been uncovered.
Children have a right to bodily integrity, freedom from violence and sexual exploitation. The actions of employees and leaders in the Catholic Church violate children’s rights on many levels and this needs to be treated as a criminal act.
Victims frequently carry their experiences into their adult years and suffer psychological and behavioral problems as a result. Obtaining justice can bring a small measure of comfort.
Unfortunately, more information has come to light about the extent of the cover-ups and denials of justice for victims, serving to make the problem even worse.
The well-documented problems within the Catholic Church have also led to a light being cast upon other religious organizations in America and around the world.
The cover-up of abuse in religious institutions
The extent of the abuse problem within respected organizations in our society has surprised many.
Cases of sexual violence are not merely isolated incidents. A culture of impunity has helped the problem grow in religious institutions everywhere.
Perpetrators have been permitted to continue with their despicable acts due to a lack of accountability and transparency, entrenched power structures that do everything possible to protect the “status quo”, and a propensity to simply “sweep the problem under the carpet” rather than addressing it.
It is unfathomable for most Americans that, in many cases, the leaders of the institution in question were aware of a problem existing but did not act to stop it or simply “relocated” the problem elsewhere.
In many cases, the institution itself (including prominent and powerful leaders at the time) knowingly harbored perpetrators of sexual violence against children or covered up what they knew.
The urgent need for accountability, justice and reform in religious institutions
There has never been a greater need for more transparency and accountability within organizations that are meant to present our values as a society.
Our children’s right to protection from violence must be upheld at all costs.
This starts with holding perpetrators accountable for their actions, bringing justice to victims, compensating them for their losses, and then reforming institutions to reduce the chances of the same mistakes being made in the future.
Religious institutions – and all organizations that we entrust our children to (including educational and sporting institutions) – must be scrutinized more closely to prevent the types of cover-ups we have seen in the past.
All religious institutions are against violence and should be prepared to change in order to practice what they preach rather than maintain outdated policies that have not worked to protect children in the past.
The Catholic Church recognizes that the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child is “the most important among the rules of international law”.
Yet, the Church and many other religious organizations have shown a historic failure to deal effectively with people who repeatedly violate the basic rights of children.
If the Church is serious about its human rights obligations, it must hold itself to the tenets of the convention – and other religious organizations must also commit to them. It should start by choosing full disclosure of information over the self-preservation strategies that it has chosen in the past.
The more that victims come forward and seek justice, the more pressure will be put on religious institutions to introduce policies that affect real change – rather than just paying “lip service” to the idea of change.
The lawyers at Andreozzi & Foote are committed to helping victims of sexual violence and child abuse hold their institutions to account.
Rest assured that if you contact us, all the information provided will be treated confidentially, including your identity.
Start with a free and confidential consultation with one of our sexual abuse attorneys.