Religious Violence

No religion condones senseless violence, yet every religion has been used to rationalize it. The Crusades, Al-Qaeda, KKK, Arab-Israeli conflict, Spanish Inquisition - all of them were fighting "infidels". Aside from such mass movements, individual people of all faiths and in all countries perpetrate abuse in the name of religion. Religious violence is dangerous because these people genuinely believe they are doing the right thing, fulfilling God's will, and therefore are not afraid of legal repercussions and won't take pity on their victim. Religious violence is also terribly confusing, because it's often perpetrated by your family, your mom and dad, who are supposed to love and protect you. They taught you right from wrong, and you trust them implicitly. When these very people are convinced that you need to be maimed or even killed for some greater good - it makes you doubt your perception of reality. Many victims of religious violence believe that it can't be real, that their parents are making empty threats and would never actually hurt them - so they don't take any safety precautions. Other victims end up believing that they really deserve to be hurt or killed, otherwise their parents wouldn't want to do it to them, and submit to abuse (or even death) voluntarily. Yet other victims understand they are in danger, but are ashamed to reach out for help - or don't get any help from the authorities in their country. Like any other form of abuse, religious violence is not limited to any specific religion or culture, so it's important to be aware of the danger no matter who you are or where you live.


Historically exorcism was performed on people suffering from illnesses that medical science couldn't explain, like epilepsy or psychosis. The general public believed they were possessed by evil spirits (demons, ghosts, etc), and tried to rid them of those spirits by various rituals (laying on of hands, fasting, cold baths, etc). Currently most people understand that epilepsy is not caused by demon possession and don't attempt to treat it with exorcism. However, some people still torture or even kill their children, claiming that it will rid them of a demon that supposedly causes them to misbehave. Some children voluntarily submit to exorcism, in hopes of becoming a good child that the parent would finally love and accept. Others are forced into it. Either way the goal is unreachable (because there's no demon to exorcise: all children occasionally misbehave), so the rituals continue and intensify until the child either dies or gets rescued.

Honor killing

Many parents feel ashamed and embarrassed when their adult children break cultural norms. Some cut such children out of their will and/or disown them. And others murder them, for "dishonoring" the family. In Eastern cultures both men and women fall victims to honor killing, often for issues related to marriage: marrying someone outside of your social class/caste, refusing to engage in an arranged marriage, having extra-marital affairs, etc. In Western cultures honor killings are sometimes perpetrated by immigrants against their daughters. Teens and young adults who are immersed in the secular Western culture can feel burdened by their parents' religious/cultural rules. They want to fit in with their peers, so they stop covering their hair, start dating, experiment with drinking or smoking, move out, go to college, etc. Many of them get yelled at or beat up at home - but few take their parents' murder threats seriously, and some get killed.

Dowry harassment

Wedding gifts are customary in many cultures, as a way for family and friends to help newlyweds establish the new household. Dowry is money or other valuables given by the parents of the bride to the groom, the head of the future household, as a start-up capital for the family. The amount of dowry is usually negotiated and agreed upon prior to marriage. Dowry harassment happens when the husband (and/or his parents) continue demanding more and more money from the wife's family, especially after the marriage, when the young wife is already living in their house and can't escape harassment and beatings. Torture, murder, and suicide related to dowry harassment are common in India and Pakistan. There are anti-dowry laws; in India any death of a woman within 7 years of marriage is automatically assumed to be dowry-related and her husband's family is investigated. Still, every 90 seconds a woman is burnt alive for not meeting dowry demands.

Forced marriage

Many people ask their parents for relationship advice or for an opinion on their date, as parents have more experience with these things. In some cultures teens marry at a relatively young age and have little opportunity to interact with members of the opposite sex, so arranged marriages are common. Arranged marriage means that you ask your parents to find a spouse for you, and voluntarily accept their choice because you trust their judgment. Forced marriage, on the other hand, is a situation where you're forced to marry someone against your will, usually because your parents were bribed and aren't acting in your best interest. For example, in some countries a rapist will not be prosecuted if he marries his victim - so he avoids jail time by bribing her parents, and she ends up forced to marry her rapist. Another example is child marriages, where an 8yo girl can be married to a grown man. Some such girls die on their wedding night, of injuries caused by intercourse.

Corrective rape

It's the practice of forcing an intercourse on an LGBTQ person, to "teach" them how to have sex properly. Of course there's nothing educational about it: proper sex is consensual and private, while corrective rape is violent and often involves multiple participants. Corrective rapes are common in some African countries, where they are perpetrated by an entire community, and result in permanent injury or death of the victim. In Western cultures corrective rapes may happen as a part of "conversion therapy.". A teenager or a young adult comes out as gay to their family, gets sent to a "treatment" program, to "cure" their non-traditional sexual orientation and become straight, and is forced to engage in straight sex (e.g. with sex workers hired for the purpose) as a part of the "treatment," under supervision and guidance of the staff.

Genital Mutilation

Historically, various tribes used initiation rites or rites of passage, where youth voluntarily underwent painful rituals (sometimes including surgical modifications to their genitalia), in order to be considered adults. In some cultures genital modifications are performed on children, by the request of their parents. Currently the two most common types of such modifications are male circumcision and female genital mutilation (FGM). Male circumcision means removal of the foreskin from the penis, and is done either to infants (in Judeo-Christian cultures) or to prepubescent boys (in some branches of Islam). About 25-33% of men and boys worldwide have undergone circumcision. It's legal in most countries, and usually doesn't cause impairments to reproductive function. FGM ranges from a symbolical cut to a complete removal of external genitalia (clitoris, labia minora, labia majora), and is done to prepubescent girls. About 5% of women and girls worldwide have undergone FGM; in Egypt this number rises to 94%. FGM is illegal in most countries (including Egypt), and can cause significant impairments, especially if it includes infibulation (i.e. the wound is stitched up), as it then requires repeated surgical opening and closure for intercourse and childbirth. Genital mutilation is a controversial topic because cultural norms vary over time and across the globe; not long ago FGM was practiced in the Western culture as a treatment for mental illness, and male circumcision for health reasons is still widely popular. Yet, regardless of theoretical controversies, in practical life such procedures cause serious psychological trauma when performed on a child who is old enough to understand what's happening and wishes to escape but has no means to. Telling such a child that mutilating their privates is God's will makes it even worse.

Perpetrators of religious violence might genuinely believe that they are fulfilling God's will, but they don't actually know what God wants, it's a matter of beliefs. Religious fanatics can be quite dangerous, so you have to take each threat, concern, or suspicion seriously, no matter how bizarre, irrational, or improbable it might sound. If you or someone you know seems to be in danger - please reach out for help, talk to your friends, relatives, and law enforcement. Don't let shame stand in the way of saving your life. Religious violence is illegal in most countries, even in those where it's common and perceived as a cultural norm. See our Help page for organizations that can help you protect yourself.