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Study: America’s Faith in the Church’s Ability to Address Sexual Abuse is Deteriorating

YouGov America’s poll earlier this month reveals a decline in America’s faith in churches to prevent and handle sexual abuse cases appropriately.

The study, which polled 1,000 American citizens from Aug. 30 through Sept. 4, comes on the heels of several major news stories revealing sexual abuse cover-ups from multiple religious organizations within the last few years. 

Among the stories were 82,000 abuse claims that led to the bankruptcy of the Boy Scouts of America, Guidepost’s report on the Southern Baptist Convention’s sexual abuse crisis, and Pope Francis claiming personal responsibility to address and stop sexual crimes in the Catholic church.

According to YouGov’s report, 31% of Americans believe sexual abuse is more common in the church than in other places. Among those polled, those who identified religion as unimportant were more likely to view the church’s handling of abuse negatively. 

However, negative assumptions were not only from non-religious Americans: 40% of those who identified religion as vital to them claimed they believed sexual abuse was just as likely to occur in churches as elsewhere. 

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When asked whether they think the church attempts to prevent or cover up sexual abuse, neither believed the church made great efforts to avoid it exclusively without covering up.

Only 19% of the very religious and a mere 4% of non-religious stated they think the church’s sole aim is prevention. Just under half—42% of all Americans—claimed the church covers up abuse, of which 35% were very religious. The religious claims were diverse in the 32% who said the church’s attempts included preventing and covering up sexual abuse.

Nearly half of Americans lack confidence that abusers in the church are adequately prosecuted, with 44% saying abusers or enablers are rarely or never prosecuted for their actions. Only 6% believe all or most are charged.

The numbers were close, however, for both the very religious and non-religious when measuring their sphere of affected persons. For example, one in 10 Americans said they know a victim of sexual abuse by church officials or clergy.

YouGov weighed the poll sample according to gender, age, race, and education based on the 2018 American Community Survey. The U.S. Census Bureau conducted the model, including news interest and 2020 Presidential vote or non-voting information.

Jessica Eturralde

Jessica Eturralde is a military wife of 18 years and mother of three who serves as a freelance writer, TV host, and filmmaker. Bylines include Yahoo, Huffington Post, OC16TV.