(If you are looking for peer support in English, scroll down for more information.)
Introduction to Support for Victims of Religions (Registered association)
Support for Victims of Religions (also known as UUT by its acronym in Finnish) is an organization which provides support for people who have faced various kinds of problems and abuses in religious groups. These groups are often called sects or cults, but similar problems may occur within mainstream religious groups too, especially when more strict or harsh versions of the religion exist within groups. The problems may include for example manipulation and indoctrination, various forms of exploitation or sexual, physical and mental violence (see more details below). We often refer to these problems collectively as religious abuse.
In religious groups leaders sometimes have a lot of power over group members and this power is justified as being the will of God. At the same time, many groups lack mechanisms for dealing with problems that may arise. Instead, problems are dealt with at the whim of those in power. Sometimes religious groups are simply ill-equipped to deal with complex problems and we are willing to assist religious groups to form policies and mechanisms to prevent religious abuse.
We provide information about problems that occur within religious groups. We raise awareness in society and religious communities, so that religious abuse would not be accepted but prevented and so that assistance would be provided to victims of abuse. At the same time, we are not opposed to religion or do not promote any certain religious views. Both people who have religious views and non-religious people participate in the activities of our association.
Promotion of human rights, such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of opinion is central to our mission. We promote the rights of children, sexual and gender minorities, as well as gender equality. These rights are often limited within more conservative or extreme religious groups.
In addition to religious groups, we also focus on groups which have similar characteristics to religions or high-control groups. These include extreme political ideologies, pyramid marketing schemes and therapy groups with abusive features.
The work of our association is funded by the Funding Centre for Social Welfare and Health Organizations (STEA), private donors and members.
Problems and crises related to religious communities
People may experience serious crises as members of religious groups or when leaving these groups. Sexual abuse, financial exploitation, alcoholism, human trafficking and domestic abuse are examples of problems that some may encounter within religious groups. Although these problems also occur outside of religious communities, sometimes a tight-knit community may worsen the problems, for instance by not wanting authorities or outsiders in general to find out about the problems, or when professional help is looked down upon or not accepted by the group.
Many religious groups induce their members with fears, for example fear of punishments, evil spirits or the end of the world. Group members are sometimes controlled tightly and there can be heavy demands for example on time a member should spend in working for free for the benefit of the group.
Leaving a group can be difficult and may constitute a significant crisis in a person’s life. This may include losing a significant part of one’s identity and a worldview. In addition, social contacts to friends and family may deteriorate or contact may be lost completely as a result of religious shunning. This type of social exclusion can be very harmful to health, resulting in anxiety, depression and sometimes even suicide.
Some who leave these groups have spent their entire life, from childhood, in the community, and the outside world is a foreign culture to them, where they hardly know anyone and where they are poorly equipped to function. In some cases, leaving a community may lead to losing your job and ending up in a divorce. During such life crises, the support of family and friends is crucial in order to recover, but leaving a religious community often means that you lose this support from loved ones. After religious disaffiliation, some end up all alone, without any friends or family, without an education and without a place in the world. For this reason, peer support is very important for many who leave high-control groups. We also provide peer support to family and friends of those who join groups which limit contacts to outsiders.
Peer Support Groups
Peer support means support provided by those who have been through similar experiences. To share your own experiences, feelings and thoughts helps you process difficult and painful experiences. To realize that you are not alone with your thoughts and experiences, may be a relief. Peer support can offer new social relationships to make up for the contacts lost when leaving a group as well as perspectives on your own situation and advice on how to cope. Therefore, peer support can help maintain and improve a person’s health.
We arrange peer support groups, both on-line and face-to-face in several places in Finland. The peer support groups are open to everyone and free of charge. You do not need to be a member of the association, in order to participate.
Even if you are not yet ready to talk about your experiences, you are welcome to come and get to know the group and listen to others’ experiences. Maintaining confidentiality is an absolute rule of the support group.
The support groups are mainly in Finnish, but it is possible to participate in some groups in Swedish, English or other languages spoken in Finland. You can find more information about the different support groups on our website. You can also ask for more information at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information about all our peer support groups can be found here in Finnish. We have groups which are open for everyone and also groups for people from the following backgrounds: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Laestadians, Muslims and Pentecostal and other charismatic Christian groups.
Peer Support on Facebook
We have several peer support groups on Facebook, including an English speaking group. All groups are secret, which means that they cannot be found by search functions and outsiders cannot see who belongs to the group. Please contact us, if you wish to join a Facebook group.
In case you want to discuss your experiences anonymously and confidentially, you can call our helpline. Helpline volunteers are trained by our association and have personal experiences of religious communities. In their volunteer work at UUT, they have met victims of religious abuse from different religious backgrounds. More information below.
Tukinet is a platform, run by the association Mental Health Finland, where organizations can provide support, for instance by group chats. Support for Victims of Religions arranges group chats in Tukinet. The discussions are led by two volunteers, trained by our association, and you can participate in the discussions without revealing your name. Group chats provide you with anonymous peer support, regardless of where you live. The discussions are mainly in Finnish, but you can also participate in other languages that the volunteers know.
You can support and participate in our association
Would you like to support the work of our association? You can do so by becoming a member, by giving a donation or by doing volunteer work. We have a need for volunteers who speak different languages.
If you would like to become a volunteer, fill out this form (in Finnish).
If you would like to become a member, fill out this form (in Finnish).
If you would like to support our work with a donation, see more information here (in Finnish).
Peer Support in English
International Peer Support Group
English-speaking peer support group for victims of spiritual/religious abuse. The group is led by two experienced and trained volunteers.
The meetings are held online. If you wish to join, contact email@example.com, and we will send you a link to the Google Meet video call.
Please join the video call before 18.00. The group leaders will be there from 17.50 onwards.
The group is not active at the moment.
Helpline in English
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will arrange you a call time with our English-speaking volunteer.
Helpline in Finnish: you can find the schedule here.