The first study into the worldwide experiences of apostates – individuals who leave coercive or high-control religious groups or cults – within religious households has revealed a widespread culture of abuse hidden within the home, including intra-familial violence, domestic abuse, and honour-based shunning. The study was published last year and more recently has been made open-access.
The study, which was supported by Humanists UK and its apostate support programme Faith to Faithless, investigated the experiences of nearly 230 apostates from 30 countries. It reveals that apostates are more likely to experience assaults than any other group of non-religious people, that ex-Muslim apostates are significantly more likely to be physically and psychologically victimised than ex-Christian apostates, and that the perpetrators are almost exclusively close family members, which means that victims are unlikely to report the abuse to the police.
Such abuse is usually carried out under the guise of protecting, preserving, or honouring a sense of religious tradition or culture. One former Muslim participant stated that ‘because I don’t practice Islam anymore… they’ll kill me if they find out’ and an Ex-Jehovah’s Witness reported, ‘I am being shunned by my family. I have not talked to them in over two years. They basically told me they choose their religion over me.’
Only 6 percent of those surveyed who had experienced assault reported the incident to police, with only one charge being made against a perpetrator. The research highlights that family and community pressure is the main reason for failure to report, with 44 percent citing this as a reason for remaining silent about abuse. A further 27 percent stated that they feared not being believed by police or felt that the police were not capable of helping. One respondent reported, ‘I was seven years old and abused by the Minister. In that community, his word was gospel and I was convinced that his claims would be believed’ whilst another stated it was ‘fear of a backlash from family and community, knowing police back home wouldn’t do anything about the assault’ as the reason they were unable to go to the authorities.
The author of this study, Hari Parekh, himself an apostate, commented, ‘This study is the first of its kind to look at the experiences of apostates within religious families and it has helped to shine a light not only on a vulnerable group on people who have experienced horrendous treatment from within their own families and communities, but also a complicated web of practices and social norms that have allowed this abuse to remain hidden and perpetrators to continue to offend’.
Humanists UK’s Director of Community Services Teddy Prout commented, ‘We are delighted to have supported this vital piece of research that clearly demonstrates a need for a change in how the police, social services, and other organisations support apostates. Abuse of apostates needs to be integrated into our thinking on honour-based violence. This includes through legislation and through greater training and support provided to police forces and prosecutors so that they can understand the nuances of this crime and encourage more victims to report their abuse.’
For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at email@example.com or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.
Read this research in full: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0886260519898428
Read more about our work on with apostates: https://humanism.org.uk/community/faith-to-faithless/
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