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The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS) will be hosting a multi-agency event at City Hall today, Wednesday, 8 October, to raise awareness of child abuse linked to faith or belief.
A training film aimed at all front-line professionals who work with children will be launched at the event. The DVD, commissioned by the Met’s Project Violet team in conjunction with CCPAS, advises how to recognise the signs that a child may be suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm from abuse linked to witchcraft and spirit possession.
Today’s event brings together a raft of professionals involved in child safeguarding. Representatives from education, children's social care, healthcare, faith organisations and non-governmental organisations will have the opportunity to network, debate and seek solutions to this harmful practice. Community engagement, education and training is integral to the government’s prevention strategy on tackling child abuse linked to faith or belief, which affects all faiths, cultures and communities.
In the past year the MPS has received 27 allegations, which is an increase on previous years. The investigations relate to ritual child abuse, ranging from child neglect, common assault, aggravated bodily harm, administrating noxious substances to sexual assault offences.
Out of the 27 investigations, one case has resulted in an arrest for rape and one in a charge for rape.
Examples of the referrals include:
- A child forced to drink unknown substances to rid them of evil spirits;
- Dunking children in a bath to wash away evil spirits;
- A pastor swung a child around banging their head to drive out the devil;
- Parents removing children from school and taking them out of the country to attend an exorcism ceremony to remove the evil spirits.
Other examples in previous years include chilli peppers being rubbed into the child eyes to remove the evil spirit.
Officers believe this form of abuse is rarely reported, with all agencies believing this is a hidden crime kept within families and faith communities.
The launch event will feature speakers from a range of agencies addressing their peers about the work being carried out in the area of ritual child abuse and witchcraft and the role expected of professionals.
Speakers include Detective Superintendent Terry Sharpe, head of Project Violet, the Met’s response to concerns of faith-based ritual abuse of children; Bob Pull, Communities Consultant at CCPAS; Mor Dioum, Director at the Victoria Climbié Foundation and Kevani Kanda, a survivor of ritual abuse and presenter of the BBC Three documentary, ‘Branded a Witch’.
Speaking ahead of the conference, Detective Superintendent Terry Sharpe, from the Met’s Sexual Offences, Exploitation and Child Abuse Command, said: “Abuse linked to belief is a horrific crime which is condemned by people of all cultures, communities and faiths. A number of high-profile investigations brought the issue of ritual abuse and witchcraft into the headlines but it is important that professionals are clear about the signs to look for.
“Families or carers genuinely believe that the victim has been completely taken over by the devil or an evil spirit, which is often supported by someone who within the community has portrayed themselves as an authority on faith and belief. Often in the perpetrators minds, any abuse is not going to affect the victim because he or she believes the child is effectively not there any more and the abuse is directed at whatever has possessed the child. The victim is often convinced that this is the truth and that the abuse is ‘normal’ behaviour.
“Regardless of the beliefs of the abusers, child abuse is child abuse. Our role is to safeguard children, not challenge beliefs. We investigate crimes against children, but our main aim is to prevent abuse in the first place. This is a hidden crime and we can only prevent it by working in partnership with the community. Project Violet aims to build trust with communities and emphasise that child protection is everyone’s responsibility.”
Simon Bass, CEO of CCPAS, said: “CCPAS continues to work with churches to address all aspects of safeguarding, including abuse linked to faith or belief. We are therefore not remotely surprised that the MPS alone has already received 27 referrals of this type this year – or three a month.
“We are pleased that the MPS has undertaken such great work in this area, but we are convinced that this form of abuse is hidden, and that the statutory agencies across the UK are facing similar situations - which is why we are so pleased that this new DVD is set to be a major new weapon in the ongoing fight to eradicate this type of abuse. This is because it will not only educate both front line practitioners and churches better but it will also emphasise that the only effective way to tackle it is by working together, as per the National Action Plan.”
Kevani Kanda, a survivor of ritual abuse and presenter of the BBC Three documentary, ‘Branded a Witch’, said: “As a survivor of ritual abuse I have witnessed at first hand the harm which belief-related abuse can result in. Globalisation means that paranoia over witchcraft and spirit possession is no longer confined to developing nations. Mass migration has made this a pervasive problem worldwide. It is not confined to cities or areas where there are large migrant communities. Belief-related abuse can result in significant physical, emotional harm, neglect, sexual abuse and even death.”
Mor Dioum, Director at the Victoria Climbié Foundation, and Chair of the National Working Group on child abuse linked to faith and belief is keen to see implementation of a National Action Plan across the country. “It is important that we do not shift the focus from this type of abuse, and essential that we implement the plan, to enable us to put the necessary measures in place to prevent children from death or serious injury as a result of abuse linked to faith or belief.”
“We urge professionals to adopt a more holistic approach with children, young people and families when dealing with abuse that does not fit the norm, as we continue to raise awareness within the community with a view to increase the reporting of harmful practices.”