Sexual abuse and pedophilia is a rampant issue within religious settings, and not enough is being done to stop it. A damming report was published just a few months ago that found at least 330,000 children were abused at the hands of priests within France’s Catholic Church.
Not only are these numbers shocking, but they are also damming. With the exception of abuse found at the hands of immediate family and friends, religious institutions sit at the number two environment where children are sexually abused.
The Scandal Goes Global
The failure of the Catholic Church goes beyond borders. An investigation in 2020 found that the Catholic Church in both England and in Wales failed to properly deal with and stop sexual abuse perpetrated by their own clergy members. Instead, the report shows that the efforts were focused on repairing its reputation rather than caring for and protecting the children.
The issue is found in all religious settings and in every country. In California, for example, the Los Angeles diocese is finally being investigated after years of dodging accusations. The Catholic Church has worked hard at covering up these crimes for decades, and only recently have the ongoing scandals from all corners of the globe finally been taken seriously.
With new laws and a more informed society, countries are finally taking the issue of sexual abuse within religious settings seriously. Understanding the changes, how to spot signs of sexual abuse, and what to do if you have experienced abuse yourself are all imperative to finally stamping out the sickness within religious settings.
Increase the Statute of Limitations
One of the key ways that many countries and states can tackle the issue of sexual abuse in religious settings is by expanding the statute of limitations. In the United States, several states, including California and New York, have pending legislation that would expand the age a victim can file a claim from 26 to 40. As part of the legislation, those who could not file a claim due to the old statute of limitations, but could have under the new rules, have three years to make a claim.
These cases are very complex, so even with these new rules and legislation, it is imperative that victims hire a state-specific attorney specializing in cases like these. A California clergy sex abuse attorney will not only be fully aware of the changing rules and legislation, but they will also have experience in handling these cases. Victims can expect professional, compassionate care while they finally fight for the compensation necessary to invest in the full recommended list of therapies they may need for as long as they need.
Signs of Sexual Abuse
Every parent and adult should be made aware of the signs of sexual abuse in children. Young children, in particular, may not have the vocabulary and can be easily convinced to hide signs of the abuse or to not talk about the abuse at all with their parents. Clergy members regularly abuse their positions of power, especially with the added piety lent to them by their role, to isolate young and impressionable victims.
Because religious children are taught that the church, temple, or other religious setting is a good place, and that their religion is a framework to judge good works, it can be very confusing for children to see their priests, rabbis, or other religious leaders as bad people.
Spotting signs of sexual abuse early on can stop the damage and can begin the long process of repair and recovery. Watch out for signs of STIs or physical trauma on the body (particularly in the genital area). As for behavior, take note if the child seems to be exhibiting an increase in inappropriate sexual behavior (especially against other children) or at least appears to be talking more about sexual concepts than normal, and especially if the content should be outside of their scope.
Other telling signs of abuse include bedwetting, fear or isolation, a mistrust of authority, “odd” or unusual behavior around a specific clergy member (or other adult authority), self-harm, insomnia, and more. Young children may have an ugly or distorted self-image of themselves. They may also be reluctant to talk about what they do when they are with persons of authority.
While these behaviors do not always indicate signs of sexual abuse, they are signs of something deeply troubling the child. Starting an open line of communication can be the first step to stopping the trauma and getting the child in a safer situation.
What You Can Do If You Were a Victim
If you were a victim of sexual abuse in a religious setting as a child, but the case was either never opened or covered up, then get in touch with an attorney specializing in cases like yours. At the very least, coming forward can help encourage other victims to also speak up. This behavior continues because it is kept in the dark and because religious institutions cover it up. Shedding light and punishing the abusers sets a clear precedent, makes it obvious that victims are not alone, and can finally start to make real, institutional change happen.
The culture of abuse that is so prevalent in religious settings, and infamously in the Catholic Church, occurs because the Church takes strides to cover it up for the sake of its reputation. Taking away that protection and investing in preventative measures will help reduce the risk of abuse, protect children, and improve the reputation of the Church overall in the long run. None of this will happen if victims do not shed light on the issue.
Coming forward takes courage, but with a compassionate, professional attorney, you will be guided through the process and work to establish a path others like you can follow. Earning compensation can help cover any financial losses you may have incurred due to your trauma, and should also be used towards therapy, workshops, and other means to help you process and find healthier coping mechanisms so that you can reclaim your life.