Should We Entrust Kids to Devout Believers’ Care?

From Tom Rees of Epiphenom:

The Catholic Church is in the news again, this time in Germany, as a result pedophile priests being outed after years of cover-ups. Traditionally, we have entrusted vulnerable children to the care of the devoutly religious, on the grounds that, of all people, they can be relied upon not to abuse those in their care. Does that assumption hold up? We can’t extrapolate too wildly from the particular problems of the Catholic Church, but there are other data out there.
I took a look at the evidence on religion and sex crime. Now, there is a negative correlation between religion and crime in general, especially in the United States (although the devil is in the details). Broadly speaking, the relationship seems to hold best for property crime, rather than violent crime. But most studies don’t look at sexual crime.
However, here’s an interesting fact from the United Kingdom. Although disproportionately few crooks in the prison population report having a religious faith, that’s not the case when you look just at felons who are in for sex crimes. According to The Times:

The proportion of all prisoners declaring any faith compared with those with none is about 2:1 but among those convicted of sex crime it rises to 3:1. The trend is marked across many faiths, including Buddhism, Anglicanism, Free Church Christianity, and Judaism.

That’s pretty unscientific, but I have found a few studies that have looked into this in a more rigorous way, and they found something similar.
Donna Eshuys and Stephen Smallbone of Griffith University in Australia assessed 111 incarcerated adult male sex offenders. They categorized them as either atheists, religious dropouts, new converts, or lifelong religious stayers.
Surprisingly, they found that this last group (those who maintained religious involvement from childhood to adulthood) had more sexual offense convictions, more victims, and younger victims than other groups. This relationship persisted after controlling for other factors that might explain it.
A similar study comes from Israel and looked at Jewish male prisoners. As in the United Kingdom, religious individuals were rarer in prison than in wider society (by “religious” they meant orthodox observant Jews, who made up 3.75 percent of the prison population compared with 20 percent of the general population). However, those religious Jews who were in prison were more likely to be in for sex crimes.
Lastly, Ruth Stout-Miller and her colleagues interviewed freshman at a Southern university and found that those who had been sexually abused by a relative were much more likely to be affiliated with fundamental Protestant religions (while those abused by a nonrelative were more likely to be nonreligious).
Well, it’s not much. But it is interesting that the same pattern seems to crop up in the United Kingdom, Australia, Israel, and the United States. There does seem to be a link between religion and sex crimes, and it seems to be particularly a problem for the more devoutly religious.
We can speculate why this might be (sexual repression, perhaps), although the reasons aren’t altogether clear.

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