Isn’t the answer to that, ‘Of course we do. We care greatly about our children’?
That is a question to everyone and not just to parents. It’s a question to teachers, to leaders of organisations, youth leaders, professionals and neighbours; anyone who has contact with children. My concern is this. Do we care enough to act?
How many were abused as children?
The figures vary and are often underestimated due to under reporting. But the Office for National Statistics estimated that 3.1 million adults in the UK were victims of sexual abuse before the age of 16. That is roughly 1 in 20 of the population. The Crime Survey for England and Wales estimated that one in five adults aged 18 to 74 years experienced at least one form of child abuse before the age of 16 years (8.5 million people). The Independent reported that almost 19,000 children had been sexually groomed in England in 2018-19, as identified by local authorities. That would represent 372 children in each of the 51 cities in England. Yes, 372 children in each of our 51 cities! Don’t you agree that these are outrageous figures?
Almost weekly in the news we hear of another loop hole which predators have used. The other week it was 216,000 victims of 3000 priests in France. This week it is the immunity given to the Vatican by the European Court of Human Rights who rejected a case brought by 24 victims of alleged sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Belgium. And today, ‘Bleeding for Jesus: John Smyth and the cult of the Iwerne Camps’ (an exposé of the abuse by Anglican priest John Smyth), by Andrew Greystone.
All this is historic. These incidents are in the past (except for the victims who live with the fallout today). What will we do about it in the future? Are we doing enough as groups and organisations to protect the vulnerable? Aren’t these the unspoken questions?
One of the findings from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) was that some organisations did not have a child protection policy and many who did, it was inadequate or largely ignored. Children are abused when the signs are ignored and when young people are not listened to.
What did Jesus do for children?
As a Christian I see Jesus leading the way. He didn’t just speak about children but engaged with them. He cared in a significant way for the children around Him. He didn’t want them shrugged off or batted away. He wanted them to have access to Him, to be able to approach Him and to know that they are prioritised (Matthew 19:14). He raised up their importance and put an eternal government health warning on them, making it clear that whoever deliberately led one of them to sin, would face deadly consequences. To harm a child’s soul is a grave offence to God (Matthew 18:6). Do we follow Christ’s lead in giving children access to information and in giving them support so that abuse is prevented. Or, is this a blind spot which urgently needs addressing?
These appalling statistics and the action Jesus took, makes me realise that we cannot afford to ignore this issue and inspires me to action. The question I am asking regularly is “what is the right action”? Please pray for me and others who are working to equip organisations to take right actions.
An Idea of Numbers
But what kind of numbers does this involve? The most recent report from The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) refers to various religious groups. I spent some time searching the internet to get an idea of the numbers involved. Known cases range from none in Scientology to 3,300 in the Church of England. All other organisations found clear indications of cases but some were not aware of what was happening, whilst others denied that it was happening.
When looking at numbers we also need to consider that many victims don’t come forward. The IICSA found that 11% of victims and survivors disclosed an experience of abuse for the first time through the Truth Project. Secrecy obviously skews figures.
The numbers we have remind us that child abuse still exists. But they do not begin to equate to the UK’s Office for National Statistics figure of 3.1 million adults who were victims of sexual abuse. Child abuse is a bigger challenge than we think. In 2015 the Office of the Children’s Commissioner reported that 85% of sexual abused young people are not getting help because they do not speak out. What all this really shouts out to us is that we need more supportive environments for young people to disclose abuse.
There is more being said about child protection these days. But what is being done? There are many organisations that have grown up to support young people. For example – NSPPC, ChildLine, Stop It Now, CHUMS, and our organisation FACES (that is now five years old). But what can we do in everyday situations? In the wake of recent investigations organisations are reviewing their policies and looking at good practice. There are signs that this is now becoming a whole community responsibility and not just the specialism of a few.
The caring, active and constructive side of religious practice is shining through. The godly foundations which have historically built societies are needed today more than ever. This is not for a specialist few but the responsibility of the whole organisational community. Surely, this begins with bravely and humbly facing the situation of child abuse as it really is. I wonder if we make little progress until we shine light on this as communities, so that perpetrators can no longer hide in the shadows.
There is an injustice that has been staring us in the face for decades and it seems, generally, to be ignored. More and more cases of sexual abuse are coming into the open. Most of these cases have thrived in our young people’s activities. Sports organisations, religious groups, youth organisations, schools and homes are among the different contexts for child abuse. When will we, as these organisations, realise that this has been happening under our noses. The injustice is the avoidance of the subject because it is uncomfortable, the inadequate protection of the vulnerable, the lack of quality education to equip young people, the ignoring of victims and survivors, and the favouring of the perpetrator or the organisation over the victim. These omissions are a rampant injustice for our young people.
Why is there such institutional secrecy about the abuse of children when the issue is so vast? I wonder if it is an overprotective motive to be seen as right, good and honourable. The protection of the institution’s reputation is one reason. What has been shrouded with secrecy and silence should be shouted from the roof tops. Our fears and anxieties need to be put to one side and instead we need to take up the difficult questions now. We would do well to listen carefully to young people’s concerns without judging them. They deserve to be heard properly. We want to make an investment in their lives for their lifetime. How are we educating ourselves and equipping them to be safe against predators?
Equipping communities and young people
My question was ‘Do We Care About Children?’ And I mean all children not just our own. Do we care enough to ask searching questions and implement the necessary procedures and training? Here are some starting points.
Have we implemented a whole community procedure to protect and support the vulnerable so that it is a normal part of every activity? How are we going to inform, inspire and equip our children and young people so that they know how to respond? Perhaps your organisation already has this in place and revisits it so that your youngsters are protected. Do these children know what personal safety looks like? Do they have alternative places to go to if they need advice or need to report? Are they proficient in spotting the signs of grooming? And, for those who have been abused, do we understand Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Post Traumatic Growth (PTG)? Can we support them on their journey of restoration? Then there are the more subtle issues like harmful attitudes. How does your organisation defend against victim blaming, racial misconceptions, cultures of secrecy, toxic gender labels that normalise violence? How do we keep the focus on the root causes of abuse and away from changing the victim’s behaviour?
What concerns us about raising awareness and educating our young people? Do our procedures favour our organisation and the perpetrator above the victim? There is a fine balance between making young people aware of the dangers and delivering an overload of information; or of providing age-appropriate information without causing them to mistrust everyone.
We care greatly about our children, so we pray for them and we train them and we are available to them. If you want to know how FACES can support you in this, please get in touch.
 From the Office For National Statistics Report, Child abuse in England and Wales: March 2020 https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/childabuseinenglandandwales/march2020
 Almost 19,000 children have been sexually groomed in England in the past year, according to official figures that have prompted warnings of an “epidemic”.. More than 18,700 suspected victims of child sexual exploitation were identified by local authorities in 2018-19, up from 3,300 five years before.
Sarah Champion, the Labour MP for Rotherham, said the figures show that grooming “remains one of the largest forms of child abuse in the country”. Too many times, government has said it will ‘learn lessons’, yet 19,000 children are still at risk of sexual exploitation,” she told The Independent. The Independent, 28 December, 2019
 Child Protection in Religious Organisations and Settings’ The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), 2021
 Declared UK cases linked to religion in the last 10 years
Baptist Churches https://www.iicsa.org.uk/news/over-six-thousand-victims-and-survivors-share-their-experience-truth-project
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints https://www.iicsa.org.uk/reports-recommendations/publications/investigation/cp-religious-organisations-settings/part-b-child-sexual-abuse-religious-organisations-and-settings/b4-records-kept-religious-organisations-and-settings
Church of England https://religionmediacentre.org.uk/factsheets/sex-abuse-in-christian-churches-in-the-uk/ https://www.thedailybeast.com/hundreds-of-church-of-england-figures-have-been-convicted-of-child-sex-abuse
Jehovah’s Witnesses https://www.iicsa.org.uk/news/over-six-thousand-victims-and-survivors-share-their-experience-truth-project
Judaism https://www.timesofisrael.com/prestigious-jewish-schools-in-london-reel-over-allegations-of-sexual-abuse/ https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/feb/21/sexual-abuse-claims-orthodox-jewish-community
Roman Catholic https://religionmediacentre.org.uk/factsheets/sex-abuse-in-christian-churches-in-the-uk/ https://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/13856/church-faces-reckoning-as-new-abuse-cases-emerge
 “About 50,000 cases of sexual abuse were recorded by police and local authorities in the two years to March 2014 but the findings indicate that official figures vastly underestimate the true scale of child sexual abuse. The actual number of children abused in that period is thought to be as many as 450,000.” https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/nov/24/85-percent-child-abuse-england-remains-undetected-study