Children still at risk, says new report

08 November 2013

CHILDREN within hierarchical institutions - including churches - are particularly at risk of being sexually abused, a new report has warned.

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 organisations consulted.

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 their rights.

"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, it says.

The report says that Churches and other religious institutions continue to be fertile ground for those who seek to abuse children.

"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."

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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 children.

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 abusers".

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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."

www.nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk

Churches back mandatory reporting of child abuse

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 authorities.

"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 past."

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 protecting children.

"We recognise, however, that sometimes professionals do not refer a child when they should do so. Addressing this is a priority."

Question of the week: Should it be made illegal not to report allegations of child abuse to the police?

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