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UK News

7% of child sex abuse cases happen at religious institutions, according to new study

by Heather Preston

A new study has revealed that seven per cent of victims surveyed claimed to have suffered abuse in a religious institution. 

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has analysed the stories of nearly 4,000 survivors through its Truth project, which encourages victims to speak up.

80 of the accounts shared were published by the inquiry on Thursday. 

Angharad Woolcott suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a Church of England vicar between the ages of six and twelve.

Trust Project: Angharad Woolcott as a child
Angharad Woolcott as a child

Speaking to Premier, she says she expected the numbers of those abused in religious settings to be even higher than reported. 

"Unfortunately the church tries to hide the abuse that goes on. Lots of things happen behind closed doors that people just won't tell you about."

She explained she was "passed over" to the care of a vicar, who later abused her, and his wife after being rejected by her biological family. 

"I was very close to them, they would call me their surrogate daughter," she added.

Woolcott says religious authorities can misuse their position of power to control and abuse their victims.

The report also reveals that almost half of survivors described a disability, illness or condition that affects their lives.

The Truth Project heard that almost all survivors who shared their account were impacted by the abuse, with over a 38 percent talking about depression and almost one in ten describing a physical injury as a direct consequence of the abuse.  

Woolcott says the abuse she experienced has had a "horrendous" long term impact on her life, resulting in years of depression and anxiety as well implications on her family life and parenting.

"I see him everywhere I go. I'm on medication. I live through it, whether it's eating breakfast, or looking after my children, it effects every single thing I do," she said.

Woolcott, who has never received an apology for the treatment she received, says situations like hers that have remained hidden and unaddressed have led to a widespread mistrust in religious institutions.

She wants more robust processes to be implemented to adequately protect vulnerable children in all settings.

"You're never going to be able to stop child abuse in any situation unfortunately. But to try and stop this happening, more safeguarding needs to be put into place," she said.

"It needs to be more open, for people to come and check that these vulnerable people are okay. The checks that are made are very flimsy.

"My abuser's wife is a primary school teacher and in an interview she can get a job anywhere, safeguarding children. But yet look at what her husband did."

"The church can't hide what's been done, it needs to be brought into the open."

Woolcott hopes that by sharing her story others will be inspired to speak out and address the "hidden" abuse many secretly suffer.

Survivors of child sexual abuse that would like to find out more about the Truth Project can visit their website.

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