Evidence confirms historical and current cases of unreported violence against children within religious institutions across multiple faiths. In efforts to maintain a positive reputation or due to a lack of knowledge on child rights, faith communities have perpetuated violence against children through their historical silence. Faith communities and actors have a responsibility to “break the silence” and publicly acknowledge and challenge this secrecy in all its forms.

This page links to case studies on how faith communities and actors are working to break this pattern by reporting violence and improving their safeguarding approaches against child abuse within religious institutions. This page also provides resources that detail the historical perpetuation of violence against children within religious institutions. 

“(T)hey organised a conference on the faith-based organisations and the sexual abuse of children and the engagement and they called it “breaking the silence” with the intention of bringing a strong message that we need to end the silence around this topic because there was a feeling that in Peru it is still very much a taboo and that faith leaders don’t want to talk about it” (ST, Practitioner in global interfaith network focused on children, Panama)

Practice Examples

Example 1: The Tamar Campaign 

  • Organization: The Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in the Great Lakes and The Horn of Africa
  • The Project: The Tamar Campaign consists of a contextual Bible and a series of Bible studies that focus on gender-based violence and violence against children with the aim of breaking the silence surrounding such violence.
  • Results: The manual has since been reviewed by additional scholars (male and female) and is being used broadly in the region, in ecumenical settings (WFDD 2016). One notable aspect is the local level link to the World Council of Churches, St. Paul’s University in Kenya and FECCLA who are leaders in the Tamar Campaign.
  • Read more in JLI’s Scoping Study (Rutledge, K. and Eyber, C. 2019, pg. 14), or find The Tamar Campaign’s contextual bible here.

Example 2: The Covenant House

  • Organization: Covenant House, a Catholic Organisation that works in the U.S and in several Latin American countries
  • The Project: The Covenant House works to provide medical care, counseling, addiction support, social work assistance, residential care, and a myriad of other services to homeless children and youth. A unique aspect of this group is that it references LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/questioning) youth and recognizes that the risk of homelessness among LGBTQ youth is higher and that a large proportion of youth who are homeless are from the LGBTQ community. As a result of this recognition, Covenant House rolled out an assessment tool (True Inclusion Assessment), developed with the True Colors Fund that measures inclusivity of policies, physical space, programs and practices. As a result of the surveys, Covenant House US and Latin American has worked with external consultants to develop an inclusivity training curriculum and action plan, with modules focusing on helping to develop understanding of the staff and how to provide a safe and welcoming space in each area.
  • Results: The Covenant House reportedly supports an estimated 80,000 children. Further, in taking LGBTQ issues into account and working towards greater inclusion and protection of LGBTQ youth, the Covenant House is set apart from many Catholic/Christian organizations found in the literature. Therefore, in shedding light on a traditionally untouched subject within Catholic/Christian initiatives, the Covenant House is working to break a culture of silence around violence against LGBTQ youth.
  • Read more in JLI’s Scoping Study (Rutledge, K. and Eyber, C. 2019, pg. 20)

Example 3: The Safer Sikh Partnership

  • Organization: UK Sikh Council established the Safer Sikh Partnership
  • Timeline: Established in 2015 and is ongoing
  • The Project:  The Safer Sikh Partnership was established to combat sexual abuse, grooming and violence in Sikh places of worship and within Sikh communities and organizations.
  • Results: In coordination with the NSPCC, trained practitioners and police authorities, the Safer Sikh Partnership is working to support Gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship) to advance child protection, through tailored training, provision of educational tools and facilitating development of policies and procedures for safeguarding and responding to reports of abuse. This is reportedly the first initiative of its type within the Sikh community, as sexual abuse is usually a taboo issue and carries significant stigma in communities, with many families keeping quiet about abuse.
  • Read more in JLI’s Scoping Study (Rutledge, K. and Eyber, C. 2019, pg. 28).

See Scoping Study’s next key message 

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Related Resources:

Amy Neustein & Michael Lesher A Single-Case Study of Rabbinic Sexual Abuse in the Orthodox Jewish Community
Child Rights International Network (CRIN) 2015 Annual Report: The Year in Children’s Rights 
David Katzenstein Twice Silenced: The Underreporting of Child Sexual Abuse in Orthodox Jewish Communities
Elisabet le Roux, Selina Palm (Stellenbosch), Brenda Bartelink (University of Groningen), and Shereen El Feki JLI GBV Hub No more Harmful Traditional Practice
Jane F. Gilgun & Gwendolyn Anderson Mothers’ Experiences with Pastoral Care in Cases of Child Sexual Abuse
Joint Learning Initiative on Faith & Local Communities JLI 2019 Scoping Study Literature Review & A Mixed Blessing: Roles of Faith Communities in Ending Violence Against Children 
Lees and Devries Local Narratives of Sexual and Other Violence Against Children and Young People in Zanzibar 
The Covenant House https://www.covenanthouse.org/
Tishelman and Fontes Religion in Child Sexual Abuse Forensic Interviews