Religion a Factor is the Silence of Sexual Abuse Victims?

by Project Censored

The article, “Sexual Abuse: Faith Can Silence Victims or Provide Solace,” discusses how children who have been sexually abused by a parent or other aggressor may keep silent due to their religion.  While this article was released in 2008, there has since been no mainstream media coverage of this ongoing problem, perhaps because of the sensitive nature of critiquing mainstream religions.

Adults, who reported to have been sexually abused at a point in their childhood, claim a factor in their silence may have been their religious upbringing. Main religions such as Christianity or Islam, as well as branches of a variety of religions, teach children and adolescents to respect their parents. These teachings take their toll on the thoughts of the youth and often cause them to not speak up about any mental or physical form of abuse.


“Sexual Abuse: Faith Can Silence Victims or Provide Solace,” EurekAlert, December 8, 2008.

Student Researcher:  Mattea Thomas, Indian River State College

Faculty Evaluator:  Elliot D. Cohen, PhD, Indian River State College

Ethics Alert

An action that someone does not want to commit and is pressured or forced to take part in is what sexual abuse is. People of all ages are sexually abused, but the most common time period for someone to receive an act of sexual abuse is during their childhood. While many children are victims, very few speak out against their aggressor until a later point in their lives. Why do these victimized children keep silent about this tragedy that all too often occurs? This article discusses that one silence factor could be the religious upbringing the victim went through. With many points considered, I believe faith can be a tremendous factor in the silence of sexually abused children.

Why would a religious child weigh religion over a sexual act they did not give consent to? Depending on the person, some people weigh religion as their number one priority. Their commitment and belief of a particular religion could blind them to the true significance of the ordeal that they went though. According to the article, it is the victim, rather than the aggressor, who feels a terrible amount of guilt because of the assault. Perhaps the victims believe they did not dedicate enough time to their faith and that was the cause of why they were being sexually abused. Silence could also extend from the children protecting the assaulter, whether that be their parents, neighbor, or friend. Confessing that the abuse did happen could lead to a “doomed” life or afterlife of the assaulter or even the victim. The article gives an example of a young woman who, when interviewed, revealed that she was sexually abused as a child. Rather than confide her secret to a person who could help, she decided to follow the 10 Commandments, as she was raised to do. One of the commandments says to honor one’s parents at all times, which the victim did because she was brought up to follow these rules. To her, it was either break the commandment and go to hell or forgive her mother’s behaviors.  There are many other cases of the victim giving forgiveness to their assaulter rather than alerting someone because they believed they would end up in hell.

Religion, as well as other factors, could work to the assaulter’s advantage. With whatever intent the assaulter has to sexually abuse the child, they can easily sway the silence of the victim by holding the religious beliefs over their heads. With the example above, the girl was too afraid to tell anyone because she thought it would be breaking one of the 10 Commandments, as well as a fear of ending up in hell. As a child, the thought of hell is obviously scarier than some act an adult perpetrated upon them. That is why I believe in some cases, religion is a factor in a victimized child’s silence. The negative consequences a certain religion may present outweighs a simple act of an “overbearing adult.” A child may not be able to differentiate from what they have learned from their parents about religion from what that religion means, including if sexual abuse is allowed.

How can religion play a lesser role in the silence of the assaulted victims? My stance on the matter is not for any one person to convert to another religion or live a life without it, but rather have each religion speak more about sexual abuse. Bringing awareness to a child about what sexual abuse is and reassuring the child that he or she will not have a doomed afterlife can help the child speak up. Whether it is speaking about the mental or physical abuse at the weekly visits to church or at a religious event, publicizing the proper knowledge will benefit the youth in generations to come. With the circulation of information pertaining to sexual abuse and what is classified as moral within the religion, there can be prevention of the silence that often comes with the assault.

While religion can be one silence factor, there are still many more reasons why a child will not talk about the abuse encountered. I believe another main factor is the innocence of any child. The article says, “It’s the victims, not the aggressors, who find themselves silenced and overwhelmed by guilt, pain, and isolation.” While the adult is the only cause of the sexual abuse, the mind of an innocent child might feel it is his or her fault. The only way to help prevent the silence is with constantly talking about sexual abuse in a household, at church, or even at school. When children understand that silence isn’t the cure to what happened to them, they will speak up and help themselves.