Trinity Junior Research Fellow Dr Naomi Richman has pioneered a groundbreaking initiative to combat a particular type of child abuse that can emerge within faith contexts in the UK.
The Amber Project is a multi-agency collaboration involving the University of Cambridge, the Metropolitan Police Service, the London Borough of Redbridge, the University of Chester and Barnardo’s National FGM Centre, with input from other agencies and faith leaders.
Anthropologist Dr Richman’s research into exorcism made her aware of some cases where children in the UK have suffered severe abuse at the hands of those seeking to deliver them from what are seen as ‘evil forces’, like witchcraft and demonic possession. She said:
Witchcraft beliefs and spirit possession practices are common in so many societies around the world and are not in themselves at all harmful. They can simply be ways of explaining misfortune or resolving interpersonal disputes. In the UK, we have sadly witnessed an increase in children being accused of witchcraft, or of being possessed, which is then used to sanction child abuse. Socio-economic disruption, such as that caused by the COVID pandemic, is the trigger for this kind of harm, which is why we’ve launched the project now.
Earlier this year, the UN passed an historic resolution on harmful practices related to accusations of witchcraft that result in human rights violations.
Inspector Allen Davis of the Metropolitan Police said:
We need a concerted and coordinated response, where this issue is ‘championed’ locally so that it ceases to be viewed as a taboo issue and hidden harm.
The Amber Project has delivered training to over 1,000 people from faith communities, schools, local authorities, non-governmental organisations, as well as policy makers, social workers and medical professionals.
Dr Richman has collaborated with partners from a variety of faith and cultural backgrounds to better understand the issues. She said:
We are seeking to develop understanding of this complicated and sensitive area, and so the goal of the Amber Project is to equip audiences with the tools to recognise this type of harm whilst correcting the numerous misperceptions surrounding it, including ideas around witchcraft and possession only belonging to some groups.