Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry announces new investigation into child protection in religious organisations and settings

On 2 May 2019, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IISCA) announced a new investigation into child protection in religious organisations and settings, including places of worship, places of faith tuition and places attended by young people, such as youth groups, in connection with their religions beliefs.


IISCA is currently investigating Child Sexual Abuse within the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales. It has now decided to examine the child protection policies, practices and procedures operating in other religious organisations more broadly.

This decision follows findings from IICSA’s on-going Truth Project, through which survivors of child sexual abuse share their experiences. This project found that more than one in ten survivors who shared their story reported that the sexual abuse had occurred in a religious institution. Almost a quarter of these reported that the abuse took place in institutions which fall within the scope of this new investigation.

This article provides an overview of what we know so far about the new investigation. Further information, and future updates, are available on the IICSA webpage here.

Themes and scope of the investigation

While the investigation does not intend to examine individual cases, it has a broad scope covering a range of organisations and settings. It will also look at the statutory frameworks and oversight practices in order for IICSA to understand organisational structures and child protection practices across religious organisations generally. IICSA’s aim is to identify common issues and how those could be addressed, for example, through institutional changes or changes to existing statutory frameworks.

The new investigation has four key themes:

  • The management of child protection within religious organisations and settings, including;

a. Training, and the understanding of child sexual abuse;
b. Policies and procedures;
c. Vetting and barring and regulated activity as identified in the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 and the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012;
d. Responses to allegations of child sexual abuse, including the provision of pastoral support to complainants, victims and survivors;
e. Internal processes for auditing, inspection or oversight of the child protection practices and procedures. 

2. The existing statutory framework for the protection of children from abuse, and its application to religious organisations or settings.

3. The existing framework for auditing, inspection or oversight of the practices and procedures by either state or non-state institutions.

4. Whether there needs to be additional and/or different practices, processes or oversight (whether by way of internal oversight or external oversight by a non-state or state body) to ensure that children are protected from child sexual abuse within religious organisations or settings.

This investigation intends to focus on a wide range of organisations associated with religions/faith traditions which have a significant presence in England and Wales. This will include, but is not limited to, organisations associated with the following religions/faith traditions:

  • “Non conformist” Christian denominations;
  • Eastern and Coptic Orthodox communities;
  • Pentecostal churches and independent charismatic and house churches;
  • The Church of Latter Day Saints;
  • The Jehovah’s witnesses;
  • Islam;
  • Judaism;
  • Hinduism;
  • Jainism;
  • Sikhism;
  • Buddhism; and
  • Paganism.

Religious settings which fall within the remit of the investigation include:

  • places of worship (such as mosques, synagogues, churches, temples) as well as, for example, a religious festival;
  • places of faith tuition (including preparation for rites of passage (e.g. Jewish yeshivas and chedarim, Muslim madrassahs, Christian Sunday schools)); and
  • religious youth groups or youth camps.

Participation in the investigation

IICSA is keen to hear from those who are responsible for child protection within religious organisations, such as:

  • Those who work with children within a religious organisation or setting;
  • Organisations which provide training or services relating to child protection to religious organisations or those working with children within a religious setting;
  • Government Departments and agencies;
  • Non-governmental and non- profit making organisations or associations, such as charities, voluntary or community groups and co-operatives working with religious organisations or on their behalf; and
  • Groups which work with, advocate on behalf of or represent, victims and survivors of sexual abuse within religious organisations and settings.

IICSA has stated that it is particularly interested in encouraging participation from BAME communities, and those who work with women and girls.

IICSA has also opened applications for ‘core participant’ status. A core participant is an individual, group of individuals or entity which has a specific interest in the subject matter of the investigation, and has a formal role defined by the Inquiries Act 2005. It is not necessary to be a core participant to give evidence under this investigation, and it is for each individual or organisation, whether invited by IICSA to do so or not, to decide whether to apply for core participant status.

The deadline for applications for core participation status is 4pm on 13 June 2019. If you would like to discuss whether you or your organisation should apply for core participant status in this new investigation, please get in touch.

What’s next and what can we expect?

A preliminary hearing will take place on 23 July 2019 with public hearings to follow the year after.

If your organisation might fall within the scope of this investigation, you may wish to consider the following questions:

  • Does the organisation hold any pertinent documents and how they are being stored? IICSA has been clear from its outset that “No institution… can be in any doubt of the extent of their duty to preserve records for the Inquiry”. Therefore, if documents might be deleted as part of an automated file deletion policy, steps should be taken to preserve and retain these documents.
  • Are your safeguarding policies and procedures up-to-date? Review your organisation’s approach to child protection and safeguarding to ensure it reflects the statutory framework and relevant guidance, and that policies and procedures are working in practice.
  • Are you carrying out appropriate checks on staff and volunteers, and providing adequate training?
  • How does the organisation respond to allegations of child sexual abuse and what support is offered to survivors?

Melanie Carter (Partner, Public and Regulatory) and Claire Whittle (Senior Associate, Public and Regulatory) have advised several clients who have been involved with other investigations by IICSA. If you have any queries in respect of IICSA generally or this latest investigation, please contact Melanie and Claire.

This information is necessarily of a general nature and doesn’t constitute legal advice. This is not a substitute for formal legal advice, given in the context of full information under an engagement with Bates Wells.

All content on this page is correct as of May 7, 2019.