CHILDREN within hierarchical institutions - including churches -
are particularly at risk of being sexually abused, a new report has
The report, The Foundations of Abuse, was compiled by
the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command, part of the
new National Crime Agency. It analyses institutional sexual abuse
of children in the UK. The Church of England was among the
The authors of the report state that "There is something about
institutions, as environments for child sexual abuse, which appears
to aggravate the vulnerability of potential victims, and amplifies
the power over them that abusers can exercise."
Rigid, hierarchical, often male-dominated and closed
organisations can subsume people into a structure where they feel
unable to challenge abuse, the report says. "There is a complete
submission to authority, leaving individuals powerless and blind to
"In pursuance of the institution's goals, staff are unable to
see signs of abuse, or, if they do, are fearful for their careers
if they report it."
Institutional sexual abuse of children is a product of a "malign
climate" within organisations which leaves an offender's propensity
to abuse unchecked, the report suggests.
"Poor leadership, closed structures, ineffective policies and
procedures, together with the discouragement of reporting,
facilitates a malign climate which colludes with those inclined to
sexually abuse children." Where the interests of the institution
are valued above the needs of the child, staff are reluctant to
report abuse for fear of damaging their organisation's reputation,
The report says that Churches and other religious institutions
continue to be fertile ground for those who seek to abuse
"Within some religious communities," it says, "offenders can
also play on the fact that throughout childhood parents instruct
their children to respect and obey their spiritual leaders."
Six out of the 18 anonymous case-studies assessed involved abuse
by a leader of a religious institution. Because churches are
respected and trusted institutions, offenders can slip under the
radar, the report says. "This is immediately apparent in case
studies involving religious institutions, where victims and those
around them are often in awe of offenders, considering the
attention paid to them as an honour."
The Churches' Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS), which
also contributed to the report, said that it showed that children
of particularly devout Christians could be most at risk.
The chief executive of CCPAS, Simon Bass, said: "Unscrupulous
church leaders may be able to exploit the respect and often
unquestioning obedience they receive from their more committed
members as cover for their abusing, because they are less likely to
believe their leaders could or would ever offend. And, if any do
have concerns, the hierarchical and narrow pyramid structures of
such Churches prevents them from raising those worries in the most
appropriate and effective ways."
Five of the six religious offenders mentioned in case-studies
targeted the children of committed members of the institutions.
The CCPAS also called for clergy to be added to the list of
those holding a "position of trust" under the Sexual Offences Act
2003. Currently, this designation covers only those in hospitals,
care homes, and educational establishments.
If the clergy were so defined they could be prosecuted for
sexual activity with anyone under the age of 18, regardless of
consent, as an abuse of a position of trust under the Act. The
report argues that this would also give additional authority to
existing rules within institutions regarding the safeguarding of
Extending the legal definition of those holding a position of
trust is among the recommendations of the report, which says that
"partners and stakeholders overwhelmingly argued in support of
extending the legal 'position of trust' to a wider range of roles
with access to children."
The Foundations of Abuse also criticises Churches for
merely moving offenders to new positions or locations when abuse is
uncovered. "The lack of consequence, either through dismissal or
prosecution, enables abusers to offend against a number of victims
over a number of years," the report states.
Vetting for positions that involve working with children should
also be beefed up, it recommends. "References must be insisted upon
and followed up, and applicants for roles engaging with children
should participate in a value-based interview."
The authors of the report noted the extensive media coverage of
historic child sexual abuse within institutions since the Jimmy
Savile scandal in the past year. It said that it was important not
to become complacent and assume that such abuse had been left in
the past. Its assessment of both historic and more recent cases
demonstrated that institutions are "still not safe from
A Church of England spokeswoman said: "While we do have best
practice policies in place, both for recruitment and reporting of
suspected abuse, we do take note of the report's concern about
current complacency among institutions -who failed in the past -
but now believe they have adequate measures in place.
"We believe we can never be complacent and see our commitment to
children and vulnerable adults, as well as to those who have
experienced abuse in the past, as part of an ongoing commitment to
making the Church a safer place for all."
Churches back mandatory reporting of child
by Tim Wyatt
THE Church of England has added its voice to calls that
it should be made illegal not to report allegations of child abuse
to the authorities.
The former Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer
QC, now advocates that "mandatory reporting" be introduced to help
protect children from abusers.
A BBC Panorama programme about the
sexual abuse of children was broadcast on Monday. Mr Starmer told
the programme that he believed the time had come to change the law.
"If you are in a position of authority and you have cause to
believe that a child has been abused you really ought to do
something about it. I think there should be a mandatory reporting
provision. Now is the time to plug a gap that has been there for a
very long time."
Reporting is mandatory in other countries such as the
United States and Australia, but the Government does not intend to
implement it here. The Church of England, however, has come out in
favour of the policy.
The Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd
Paul Butler, who chairs the Churches National Safeguarding
Committee, said: "The Church of England is committed to statutory
reporting, and since 2004 the Church of England has had a
requirement that any information that suggests a child is at risk
or has been harmed should be reported to the statutory
"But we would stress that any new legislation would need
to clarify in detail the definition of statutory reporting, and
this is still to be agreed. As a Church, we have a zero tolerance
on abuse - not just abuse happening now, but abuse from the
The chairman of the National Catholic Safeguarding
Commission, Danny Sullivan, said that the Roman Catholic Church
also backed mandatory reporting: "The Catholic Church in England
and Wales has been following the principle of mandatory reporting
for some time, and that is why we would have no problem with such a
provision's being enshrined in law."
But a statement from the Department of Education
suggested that mandatory reporting would not help to keep children
safe. "Other countries have tried mandatory reporting," it said,
"and there is no evidence to show that it is a better system for
"We recognise, however, that sometimes professionals do
not refer a child when they should do so. Addressing this is a
Question of the week: Should it be made illegal not to
report allegations of child abuse to the police?