As you may have already seen, IICSA (The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse) released its report on religious organisations on the 2nd September.
You can find a link here: https://www.iicsa.org.uk/publications/investigation/child-protection-religious-organisations-settings
The following describes how we became involved in giving evidence and what we feel it means for the now collapsed Jesus Fellowship Church/Jesus Army (JFC/JA).
The Jesus Fellowship Survivors Association (JFSA) came about as a group of us, most who had been part of the organisation as children, were trying to ensure the authorities were aware of the amount of abuse (not just sexual) that had gone on in the JFC/JA. We felt that by forming an Association this would add weight and professionalism to our aims.
One of our first successes was organising a meeting with the local Authority. Those present
at the meeting included Northamptonshire Police, the Chair and Manager of Northamptonshire children’s safeguarding board and a representative of Northamptonshire’s vulnerable adults safeguarding board. We were able to give them evidence we had collated as well as our own personal stories. One of the results of this meeting was that the Chair of the children’s safeguarding board wrote to the Chair of IICSA to request that there was an independent inquiry into the JFC/JA. We also had several further meetings with Northamptonshire Police who were responsible for Operation Lifeboat 1 and 2.
IICSA’s remit was to cover all organisations in the UK, not just religious ones. As they were already carrying out Inquiries into the Catholic Church and Church of England, IICSA were unfortunately not able to undertake a separate inquiry into the JFC/JA. However, the Truth project (which ran alongside IICSA’s inquiries and was open to anyone to share their experience of sexual abuse they had suffered from as a child) highlighted that there was a significant number of children who had been sexually abused in religious organisations. This led to IICSA carrying out a separate inquiry into religious organisations. When we were informed of this we wrote to IICSA, asking that the JFC/JA was included. We told them that we felt this was important due to the JFC/JA being unique in that many members lived in communes and was very much a 24/7 organisation. We were extremely pleased when they invited us to give evidence.
Most, if not all, of the other religious organisations (38 in total) included were much larger than the JFC/JA. We were asked to give written and verbal evidence in May 2020. Northamptonshire Police were also asked to submit evidence.
Sadly, the whole Inquiry report could be used to describe the JFC/JA. It is distressing to read that most religious organisations in the UK have a history of child sexual abuse. As the executive summary says:
“what marks religious organisations out from other institutions is the explicit purpose they have in teaching right from wrong; the moral turpitude of any failing by them in the prevention of, or response to, child sexual abuse is therefore heightened”.
Also “Respect for a diversity of beliefs is a hallmark of a liberal democracy. However, freedom of religion and belief can never justify or excuse the ill- treatment of a child, or a failure to take adequate steps to protect them”
Other important points from the Inquiry report are:
“The number of referrals to Local Authority designated officers and the internal records kept by some religious organisations themselves are unlikely to reflect the true scale of abuse, given what we already know about the under-reporting of child sexual abuse in general”.
“However, the evidence we received and heard from witnesses in this investigation leaves no doubt that the sexual abuse of children takes place in a broad range of religious settings”.
Also barriers to reporting:
• Within some religious organisations and settings there are significant barriers to the effective reporting of allegations of child sexual abuse. These barriers may be linked to the organisation itself or to the wider community to which it relates. These include:
o Victim-blaming, shame and honour: in some communities, ideas of sexual ‘purity’ and social and familial standing can make abuse markedly harder to report.
o Discussion of sex and sexuality: in some communities, matters relating to sex are not discussed openly, or children are not taught about sex or sexual relationships; in certain languages, there are no words for rape, sexual abuse or genitalia.
o Abuse of power by religious leaders: children are often taught to show deference and respect to religious figures, who are typically regarded as innately trustworthy; this trust can be exploited to perpetrate abuse.
o Gender disparity: within many of the religious organisations examined, there was a preponderance of men occupying both positions of spiritual and religious leadership and senior lay positions.
o Mistrust of external agencies: some religious organisations harbour mistrust about the involvement of government bodies in their affairs, which may emanate from concerns about religious persecution or discrimination, a view that such involvement is contrary to religious teachings or a view that government bodies are insensitive to religious practices and beliefs.
o Forgiveness: the concept of forgiveness can be misused, both to put pressure on victims not to report their abuse and to justify failures by religious leaders to take appropriate action where allegations have been made.
If anyone is still in doubt that a significant amount of child sexual abuse happened in the JFC/JA, then they need to read this report. There are quotes about, and examples from, the JFC/JA throughout the report.
There are pieces of evidence that were submitted to the inquiry that may be of interest to you.
We need to make you aware they all come with a trigger warning
- We have already uploaded the written statement that was submitted to IICSA and you can find this in the files folder at the top of the page. Its called ‘IICSA witness statement’ and the date is 22nd May 2020
- We submitted our ‘information sheet for counsellors’
Evidence from Northamptonshire Police. You can find these in the IICSA report itself.
- Exhibit A/W1 summary of complaints
- Witness Statement from Alistair White, Detective Inspector, Operation Lifeboat 1 (investigation into the JFC/JA)
These can be found by going onto the report and clicking on the following:
B:3- Evidence of abuse
Scroll down to near the bottom 13.3
18 – NNP000029 for exhibit of summary of complaints
24 –NNP000028006 for Witness statement from AW
We really hope that this Inquiry and any recommendations it gives to the Government mean children in the future do not have the experiences many of us have had.
It is also worth remembering that this report only covers sexual abuse. We know that physical, financial, emotional, psychological and spiritual abuse also happened in the JFC/JA, and not just to children.
With the collapse of the JFC/JA we also hope that those in charge of the new Churches that have been formed by ex-members take heed from what has been found in this Inquiry and ensure they put the correct safeguarding procedures in place.
Sally Hirst and Karen Wesley
You can find the full report here: