Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment

High-profile cases such as the child sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church and “faith healing” child deaths in certain fundamentalist Christian congregations have made the public aware that religion can sometimes mask deviant and harmful behavior. But the extent of the problem is far greater than most people realize.

In this revealing, disturbing, and thoroughly researched book, award-winning journalist Janet Heimlich exposes a dark side of faith that most Americans do not know exists or have ignored for a long time—religious child maltreatment.

After speaking with dozens of victims, perpetrators, and experts, and reviewing a myriad of court cases and studies, Ms. Heimlich explains how religious child maltreatment happens. She then takes an in-depth look at the many forms of child maltreatment found in religious contexts, including biblically-prescribed corporal punishment and beliefs about the necessity of “breaking the wills” of children; scaring children into faith and other types of emotional maltreatment including spurning, exploiting, and isolating; sexual abuse by religious authorities and the failure of powerful religious organizations to support victims and punish perpetrators; and religiously-motivated medical neglect.

In conclusion, Ms. Heimlich proposes changes in societal attitudes and legislation to protect children from religious child maltreatment. She also pushes for more people to recognize and acknowledge that children are deserving of basic rights, including the right to intellectual autonomy.

While fully acknowledging that religion can be a source of comfort, strength, and inspiration to many young people, Ms. Heimlich makes a compelling case that, regardless of one’s religious or philosophical orientation, child maltreatment under the cloak of religion can never be justified and should not be tolerated.