Sexual Abuse framed by Faith or Belief

This is a topic we all know a lot about, yes? But it’s great to see Inform have a seminar on the issue.

The video below is a recording of the Inform seminar on: ‘Sexual Abuse framed by Faith or Belief – Exploring boundaries and contexts’ held on Wednesday 22 July 2020 7-8:30pm BST. The seminar considered the issue of sexual abuse occurring within religious contexts in hopes of identifying new ways of considering the problem and potential ways of mitigating harm.

See below the video for information about the content and speakers, but our Beyond the Temple friends Damcho and Mary participated in the seminar, so you may like to listen to their part if not the whole thing.

Michelle Tonkin/Damcho begins speaking towards the end of the 33rd minute, and Mary Finnigan starts speaking towards the end of the 42nd minute. Eileen Barker responds at 59:25.

Warning: Some of the information covered in this seminar is like to be upsetting or triggering for some. If this is the case for you, you could look up some of these specialist services : in the UK look at this resource list:… In the USA:… In Australia:…

If you are looking for other kinds of support or help in a different geographical area, Inform may be able to point you in the direction of other support organisations. Send them an email at and see for more information.


Many of the cults and new religious movements of the 1970s were assumed to be awash with abusive behaviour. However, high profile cases of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church have highlighted the pervasive potential of religious groups to be affected by behaviour understood as sexual abuse. This is a problem not confined to any particular religious context. The dynamics of sexual exploitation of minors have now been well explored and safeguarding frameworks are becoming more standard. Are there lessons that can be learned from working with children which can be applied to situations involving adults?

In many cases abuse appears to be incidental to the theological and ethical frameworks; in other cases, the sexual activity has explicit justification within a belief framework that is later framed as abuse by outsiders or ‘survivors.’ Does the framing of the behaviour make a difference for understanding the harm caused? To what extent are concepts like ‘spiritual abuse’, ‘fraud’ or ‘moral injury’ helpful in understanding the dynamics of adult sexual abuse in religious contexts?

Speakers and respondents

*Eileen Barker, professor emeritus of sociology with special reference to the study of religion, London School of Economics
*Leethen Bartholomew, head of the National FGM Centre at Barnardo’s
*Mary Finnigan, journalist and broadcaster – co-author with Rob Hogendoorn of Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism – the Rise and Fall of Sogyal Rinpoche.
*Amanda Lucia, associate professor, University of California-Riverside, USA
*Gordon Lynch, Michael Ramsey professor of modern theology at the University of Kent *Lisa Oakley, associate professor of applied psychology at University of Chester and chair of National Working Group for child abuse linked to faith or belief
*Michelle Tonkin, Rigpa whistle-blower and former Buddhist nun
*Theo Wildcroft, visiting fellow, The Open University and
*Belinda Winder, professor of Forensic Psychology at the specialist sexual crime unit at Nottingham Trent University
*Linda Woodhead, distinguished professor, department of politics, philosophy and religion, University of Lancaster

5 Replies to “Sexual Abuse framed by Faith or Belief”

  1. Thanks for posting this. Part of the problem is all of us correctly understanding and dealing with sex. Apparently religion and religious persons are as ignorant as anyone else. The Catholic Church may have tried to subjugate it. Tibetan Buddhism had practices for seeing the body as a pile of pus or using the Vajrayana to unite with the Deity. Unfortunately apparently all this proved too much for mere mortals so they took the easy way out to express sexual urges by rape, paedophilia, sexual addiction and abuse. If teachings exist in religion on the true use of sexual energy in life no one seems to know them. If they do they are not teaching the people who need to know. So maybe as well as outing the abuse of sexual energy there needs to be questions asked as how to use it in correct way. But does anyone know in religion or will the answers come from other sources? Just a thought.

      1. Thanks for the link. Have the book. Asking the question in a bit tongue in cheek way as even the CC are supposed to address the issue of sexuality for postulants. In the blurb it says…Drawing on special Karmamudra teachings found in the Yuthok Nyingthig tradition that are aimed at practitioners without any prior training in tantric yoga, it offers safe and simple methods through which students can work with the raw energy of their desire and transform it into a source of blessings and benefit in their everyday lives. Do TB lamas think they are doing this??? Have they missed the point entirely?? Apparently there is no one who checks they are practicing in the right way. Or maybe they were told it was ok to do what they were/are doing! This is the crux of TB.

  2. Yikes that is chilling. I have read a lot about Sogyal’s abuse, but hearing and seeing it from Damcho is another level. Seems that Sogyal totally missed the compassion part of his religion. Oh silly me! He must have transcended compassion in the vajra vehicle – we just don’t have pure perception!

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