Child abuse inquiry publishes testimonies of abuse in church settings

09 December 2016

PA

Gathering evidence: Professor Alexis Jay, chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Gathering evidence: Professor Alexis Jay, chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

THE Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has published the testimonies of 45 victims and survivors who gave evidence as part of its Truth Project. They are drawn from 250 testimonies that have been given under this strand of the inquiry. A further 250 people have already been invited to do so, and IICSA says that more will be invited to contribute during 2017.

Under IICSA’s Truth Project, victims and survivors do not give their evidence in public, and are not subject to cross-examination. Instead, they will recount their experiences to a member of the inquiry panel while another member of the panel takes notes. The meeting takes place in “a comfortable room”, and victims and survivors are offered support and counselling. They can be accompanied by family members or friends.

IICSA emphasises that this part of the inquiry “will have no direct legal consequences”, and that IICSA “will not make individual factual findings on the basis of what is said”. Instead, it provides an opportunity for victims and survivors to “share their experiences with the inquiry” in a “safe and secure way”.

The 45 testimonies, published on Thursday of last week, have been anonymised with the use of pseudonyms. Institutions have not been identified; but it is clear that some refer to Anglican or Roman Catholic churches.

One of the testimonies is that of “Martin”, who was abused as a teenager by somebody involved in his church. “He now finds it difficult to understand how the abuse could have happened, and said it is only in the past few years that memories of the abuse have come back,” IICSA said. “Although Martin only recalls abuse happening on one occasion, it has had a significant impact on his life.

“Martin’s abuser was in a position of trust at the church his family belonged to. His parents did not find it unusual that Martin was visiting the perpetrator’s house, where the abuse happened. Martin did not tell anyone about the abuse at the time, because he did not know who to tell; he said it is very difficult when someone you trust does something that you do not understand — he did not know what a paedophile was at the time.

“Martin has still not mentioned the abuse to his family, and is afraid of their reaction. He fears that if he tells them, they will no longer speak to him.

“After the abuse happened, Martin started to withdraw emotionally as well as physically. He slowly left the clubs that he was part of, especially those that were linked to the church, because he did not want to be near the church or the person who abused him. As a result of the abuse, he described finding social situations difficult because he finds it hard to trust people. He only has a few close friends, says he expects things not to go right in his life, and expects ‘not to be wanted’.”

Another victim, “Tim”, explained how he had been abused by the head teacher of his church school while taking part in reading tests and music lessons in the head teacher’s office. “Tim knew this was wrong, but did not know what to do, and did not think anyone would believe him, as the headmaster was well-respected,” IICSA said.

“Tim had had no sex education, and did not have the language to tell anyone what was happening.”

Tim, now married, has since discovered that other pupils at the school had made allegations of sexual abuse against the head teacher; and that a member of the school’s staff had reported the head’s behaviour to the Church and the council, who moved him on to another school without investigation.

The council has recently destroyed the file containing the allegations, “which Tim feels was part of a cover-up”, IICSA said.

Another victim, “Jerry”, had made a complaint as an adult to police about abuse he had suffered as a child. His abuser was involved with the church, and, through the church, with a school. “Jerry described feeling very uneasy, because he knew that Vince was still working in a position of trust with children,” IICSA said.

The police investigated, and, although they told Jerry that they believed him, they said that there was no evidence to support a prosecution. “Jerry told us he could not continue to live with the thought of Vince having access to children; so, later, he also wrote to a senior church leader.

“As a result of the letter, the child protection officer in the local diocese got in touch, and told him she was aware of the complaint. Vince was subsequently interviewed, and denied everything. He kept his licence to preach, and continued working at the school. At the end of their last conversation, the child protection officer said, ‘Let the healing begin’ — a comment that Jerry did not understand.

“Jerry said he wrote again to another senior church leader, after hearing public statements regarding the Church’s response to abuse. He never received a response, and believes that public statements made by the Church are ‘window-dressing’ and a sham.”

Jerry’s abuser had since been found guilty of “a large number of charges” relating to sexual abuse against children. “The abuse was extensive, and went on for many years,” IICSA said. “There was overwhelming evidence, some of which Jerry had provided.”

Professor Alexis Jay, who chairs the inquiry, said that the experiences gathered by the Truth Project will inform IICSA’s research project, and help the panel to formulate reports and recommendations.

“They play a significant part in delivering our objectives,” she said. “But there is something more, and it is just as fundamental. By publishing the first set of victims and survivors’ experiences, we create a permanent record that cannot be swept under the carpet or ignored.

“They will act as a spotlight on the cultures and practices of institutions, and serve as an enduring statement so that no one can again claim ignorance of past institutional failures.”

 

Victims' lawyers praise Ecclesiastical's approach. SOLICITORS representing victims of sexual abuse have given more praise for Ecclesiastical Insurance Group’s published statement of “guiding principles” (Comment, 15 JulyNews, 25 November2 December).

On the second day of a two-day seminar on the criminal justice system, on Wednesday of last week, organised as part of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), many leading lawyers said that Ecclesiastical’s approach was different from other insurance companies.

Alan Collins, a partner with Hugh James Solicitors, said that it had “always adopted a more professional approach . . . to these cases in comparison to other insurers”.

David Greenwood, head of the child abuse compensation team at Switalskis Solicitors, said: “For my part, EIG and BLM [a law firm], who represent them, stand out as being the most progressive insurers to deal with. I can say that with certainty.”

The president of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers, Peter Garsden, of Simpson and Millar Solicitors, said that the only other insurer who had adopted a similar approach was the Methodist Insurance Company. “Whether there is a religious context to that or not, I don’t know,” he said.

IICSA had organised the seminar to hear the practitioners’ experience of the civil justice system. It heard that a High Court judge, Dr Victoria McCloud, was preparing a statutory pre-action protocol which would lay out the steps that parties to a claim must follow before proceedings were brought.

Paula Jefferson, a partner at BLM, said: “What is really important is the collaborative working and sharing of information, and trying to move away, where and whenever possible, from an adversarial approach towards each other. . .

“This is about doing our job in a way that is sensitive and empathetic, taking the law as it stands, but being pragmatic about its application.”

She was concerned about victims using lawyers with limited experience of sexual-abuse claims. “That can be really challenging,” she said, “and that is something that I hope comes out of this protocol.” She said that inexperienced lawyers can be “dazzled by the horror of what they are seeing, which then ends up with challenges [and] pre-action disclosure applications that aren’t necessary.”

The seminar discussed whether a separate simplified redress system should be introduced for sexual-abuse claims; and whether courts should still be available to claimants should such a redress system be established. David Greenwood welcomed the suggestion, and said: “Once it is up and running, why would a person want to go to the civil justice system as opposed to a redress system? I think it would be almost unimaginable that someone would want to do that.

“Obviously, the civil justice system will still be open . . . even if a redress system is set up, and individuals, claimants and defendants, could insist on a civil justice system being the option.” He suggested that a cost-penalty could be imposed on a losing party that elected to use the civil justice system instead of any redress scheme that was established.

Forthcoming Events

21-22 February 2020
Church Times Festival of Faith and Literature
With Sam Wells, Catherine Fox, Mark Oakley, Suzannah Lipscomb and many others. 
Early Bird tickets available until 9 December

26 March 2020
Theology Slam Live Final
Theology Slam is back, continuing its search for the most engaging young voices on theology and the contemporary world. Find out more

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read five articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)