Studies have shown that religion in America considerably contributes to cases of physical, sexual, and emotional maltreatment of children. Most cases have resulted in lasting psychological affects and physical disabilities. In a few cases, young children have died as a result of adherence to religious teachings around child punishments.
Between 2000 and 2015 marriage records in the United States showed 207,468 unions involving minors. While this issue is spread across multiple cultures and faiths, religion remains the consistent denominator.
Despite these staggering statistics, many political leaders will not outlaw or confront this practice due to the fear of infringing on religious liberty. This inaction sanctions the rape of minors who can be married off to an older adult with only the parent's consent.
Conversion therapy is the practice of trying to convert an individual's orientation or gender identity. The process often includes a range of talk reparative therapy to physical aversion techniques.
Nearly 700,00 LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. have undergone conversion therapy and almost all endured this practice due to pressure or force from religious leaders and family.
Currently, 32 states still allow for minors to undergo conversion therapy even though the American Psychological Association has shown the harmful and downright dangerous affects of the process.
Domestic violence manifests itself in a variety of ways in religious/spiritual settings. Below is an excerpt from a 2016 study by the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence in New York.
"Religious traditions are often misinterpreted, particularly by abusers, to justify their abusive behaviors. Usually, such support comes from citing selected passages from sacred scriptures or teachings of a particular religious community, or from arguing for the authority of traditional practices from the past that justify violence, especially against women.
In addition to physical, sexual, psychological and/or financial abuse, domestic violence may also include spiritual abuse. This could result in people questioning their spiritual and religious beliefs and values, and could also make them fearful of escalating the abuse if their partner has forbidden them to practice their faith. Religion and spirituality can often be a source of support and healing for those experiencing domestic violence. However, religion and spirituality can also be used as a way to control another person."
These types of studies have gone on for several years. You can check out the 2005 Violence Against Women and the Role of Religion research paper here.
Financial abuse in religious settings is the exploitation of followers for the benefit of spiritual leaders. Often individuals will be badgered, coerced, and downright harassed into continuously giving to "the cause".
Disciples are usually promised gifts in the afterlife, rewards here on earth, or threatened with harm by supernatural forces if they do not comply. Bad things that happen to people will be attributed to their lack of giving, and it is not uncommon for followers in abusive religious environments to live in poverty to satisfy the financial requirements.
Conversely, it is also not uncommon for religious leaders in these settings to thrive financially as they are showered with expensive gifts and shows of adoration. This is not always the case, but it is often the case. Yet even in scenarios where the leader does not live a lavish lifestyle, there is almost always some form of control or demand of the follower's finances.
Turning over control looks different for each group. In some cases, followers may ask permission before making any large purchases. In other cases, followers will all pool their money together with the leader having executive authority over the funds. And occasionally disciples will simply sign over their paychecks, homes, and land deeds to their religious leader.
Another common form of exploitation is the demand for countless hours of unpaid or underpaid labor, often to the point of exhaustion. This also serves as a way to keep followers too tired and too busy to question their authorities.
Regardless of how the exploitation works, ultimately disciples are left unable to leave due to lack of funds. Or they are forced to go to a shelter, live on the streets, or rebuild their careers and finances completely once they finally exit.
Isolation and shunning are common within and without abusive spiritual environments. Many groups will forbid their followers from mingling with the outside world or forming deep connections with those not committed to their cause. Sometimes this comes in the form of a compound that puts a physical wall between disciples and others. Usually, though, followers are simply intimidated and scared into following commands.
This break from the outside is manifested when an individual leaves their group and suddenly realizes they have no one else to lean on for support. Furthermore, this isolation has often left the individual socially, functionaly, and culturally limited. This is one of the few environments that leaves a person feeling just as isolated on the outside as they were on the inside.
One of the most prevalent issues that have been brought to light in the last decade is the rampant, unending stories of sexual abuse across a wide swath of varying faiths and beliefs. In conjunction with the #MeToo movement, the #ChurchToo movement has also taken off. Across the country, thousands upon thousands of victims have come forward to share their stories on social media.
A recent study in 2020 confirmed what survivors have said for decades, that religious settings often breed sexual predators. In many of these settings, congregants and followers have stood up in outrage for the victims. However, in some environments, the #ChurchToo movement is either derided or completely ignored. And in a smaller number of groups, sexual abuse is part of their religious practices.
While well-known perpetrators such as Warren Jeffs of the Fundamental Latter Day Saints, John J. Geoghan of the Catholic Church, or Bill Hybel of the Evangelical Movement have faced consequences for their actions, countless more have gone undetected and undeterred from their actions.
Another aspect of this form of abuse comes in teachings around marriage. In many faiths, a woman is forbidden from leaving an abusive husband or even from rejecting his sexual advances. Domestic and sexual violence agencies have reported the common thread of religion and marital rape. Part of this is often attributed to the interpretation of different religious texts.
Join our free virtual event on Thursday, May 27th at 7:30 pm Eastern Standard Time. We will have guest speaker Melissa Fletcher with us to share her story, as well as more information about The Vashti Initiative. Click the link below to register for the event on Eventbrite.