Religion-Related Child Maltreatment: A Profile of Cases Encountered by Legal and Social Service Agencies

Behav Sci Law. 2015 Aug;33(4):561-79. doi: 10.1002/bsl.2192.


Religion can foster, facilitate, and be used to justify child maltreatment. Yet religion-related child abuse and neglect have received little attention from social scientists. We examined 249 cases of religion-related child maltreatment reported to social service agencies, police departments, and prosecutors' offices nationwide. We focused on cases involving maltreatment perpetrated by persons with religious authority, such as ministers and priests; the withholding of medical care for religious reasons; and abusive attempts to rid a child of supposed evil. By providing a descriptive statistical profile of the major features of these cases, we illustrate how these varieties of religion-related child maltreatment occur, who the victims and perpetrators are, and how religion-related child abuse and neglect are reported and processed by the social service and criminal justice systems. We end with a call for greater research attention to these important offenses against children.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Child
  • Child Abuse* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Child Abuse* / psychology
  • Child Abuse* / statistics & numerical data
  • Child, Preschool
  • Clergy / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Police
  • Religion*
  • Social Work / organization & administration
  • Treatment Refusal