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IICSA final report: survivors look for tougher sanctions as Churches repeat apology

20 October 2022

IICSA

The full set of 19 reports published by the inquiry since it was established seven years ago

The full set of 19 reports published by the inquiry since it was established seven years ago

SURVIVORS of abuse have given a cautious welcome to the final report of the Independent Inquiry of Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). But they have warned that some of its recommendations do not go far enough to protect children now and in the future.

The inquiry, which published its final report on Thursday, made 20 recommendations, including a new law of mandatory reporting, making the reporting of known or suspected child sexual abuse a legal requirement of personnel who work in regulated activities (for example, churches, hospitals, schools, colleges, and nurseries).

Currently in the UK, there is no legal requirement to report an allegation of sexual abuse to authorities — even if the victim is a child. Under the Children Act 2004, a range of organisations are duty-bound to report, but there are no sanctions for not doing so, which the report is now recommending: i.e. a fine or custodial sentence. This is also the case in Wales.

The pressure group Mandate Now, which has long lobbied for mandatory reporting, said that the recommendation did not go far enough, however. Criminal sanctions for failing to report should have been part of the recommendation, it said in a statement on Thursday.

“The limited scope of mandatory reporting as recommended by IICSA, with a criminal sanction applying only to failure to report witnessed abuse or disclosure by a child or perpetrator and not to any other grounds for suspicion, ignores the evidence given repeatedly during the inquiry by core participants in all strands. . .

“One can only reach the disturbing conclusion that the inquiry has been influenced by external factors that have nothing to do with the protection of children.”

Richard Scorer, the head of abuse law at Slater & Gordon, who represented the single largest group of victims at the inquiry, including of survivors of clerical abuse, agreed. “Today is a huge day for survivors. This report makes a start on much needed reform. But it doesn’t go far enough.

“We strongly welcome mandatory reporting. However, the inquiry’s recommendation falls short of what we need. The lack of any criminal penalty for failure to report abuse which is reasonably suspected creates a real risk that institutions can still turn a blind eye.

“Children rarely disclose abuse, perpetrators almost never do. Mandatory reporting can only work if the requirement to report reasonable suspicion of abuse has teeth in the form of criminal sanctions. As currently worded the inquiry’s proposal could end up being mandatory reporting in name only.”

Survivors would “fight to strengthen” the proposal as it progressed, he said.

Mr Scorer also welcomed two other recommendations: the removal in UK law of the “unfair” three-year time limit for victims and survivors of child abuse to make a legal claim for compensation, except where claims have been dismissed in court or settled; and the reform of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.

“We welcome the overhaul of regulation — but again, we fear that the powers of the new Child Protection Authority will be inadequate.”

The inquiry report states that the Child Protection Authority should have the powers to inspect any institution associated with children where existing inspections have failed to identify serious child-protection issues or where there is currently no inspection oversight.

 

BOTH the Church of England and Church in Wales have welcomed the report and its recommendations, and apologised again for their respective failures to protect children.

The Bishop of Rochester, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, who is the C of E’s lead safeguarding bishop, said: “The Church’s main focus in response must first and foremost be recognising the distress caused to victims and survivors, we are truly sorry for the hurt caused by the Church and by our failures in safeguarding, and we thank them for courageously coming forward to the inquiry and sharing their experiences.

“We support the comments by the inquiry panel that victims and survivors of child sexual abuse must not be treated as invisible, and we must ensure they have a voice. They are victims of serious and lifechanging crimes and should have been protected by the state and by the institutions, including the Church, where the crimes were committed.”

The new working party on the seal of the confessional would be considering the recommendation on mandatory reporting, Dr Gibbs confirmed. A full response to the new recommendations would be given “in due course”, he said. The Church was already responding to specific recommendations set out in the inquiry’s report summarising its investigation of child abuse in the Anglican Church.

He later said in a statement: “We must commit whole-heartedly to safeguarding. It is one of the highest priorities for the Church because, as the report shows, we still have not got it right. . . In 2020 when the previous IICSA report was released, specifically related to the Church of England, I said [that] the Church cannot and will not make excuses for what has happened. I stand by that today.

“We are already learning and acting on the Inquiry’s previous findings and recommendations. Now we will examine and respond to today’s wider recommendations published.”

The new National Director of Safeguarding, Alexander Kubeyinje, invited responses from victims and survivors.

A statement from the Church in Wales also said that it would “take time to digest and consider” the report. “We will continue to take any more recommendations the report makes for us extremely seriously, as we are committed to developing the best possible standards in safeguarding. . .

“We know that we have failed in the past in a number of areas and we once again apologise unreservedly to those who have been affected as a result. We hold all survivors of abuse in our prayers and are ready to support anyone who comes forward with any concern.”

Introducing the report in a press conference on Thursday morning, the chair of the inquiry, Professor Alexis Jay said: “As a society, we do not want to talk about child sexual abuse. . . But the victims and survivors of child sexual abuse must not be treated as invisible.”

Responding, the then new Home Secretary, Grant Shapps, said that he would put the voices of survivors and victims “front and centre” in his work on the findings and recommendations. He announced that £4.5 million would be allocated to seven organisations supporting victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. The Government would respond to the inquiry in full within six months.

In a debate in the House of Commons on Monday, the day before Mr Shapps was replaced by Suella Braverman, he said: “Nothing — nothing — is more wicked than hurting a child, and there is no worse dereliction of duty than failing to protect a child. . . turning a blind eye or actively covering up abuse. That is inexcusable.”

The conclusion of IICSA, he said, “marks the start of the next chapter in how society confronts and defeats this evil. Nothing must be allowed to get in the way.”

On Tuesday, in a debate in the House of Lords, the Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Robert Atwell, said that the Church was “deeply saddened and ashamed” by the findings. “We are determined to learn from the mistakes of the past and make the Church as safe a place as possible.” He asked whether the Government planned to support individual institutions, including the Church, in establishing individual redress schemes, or “to create a new overarching external regulatory body”.

Responding, Lord Sharpe of Epsom said that the Government was committed to supporting institutions and to “transforming the way that local safeguarding agencies work together to ensure a more effective response in safeguarding children”.

The Children’s Society said that the Government “must urgently deliver upon its ambitions of ensuring risks of abuse are identified early, children get help and perpetrators are disrupted and prosecuted, making fundamental changes to the social-care, policing, and justice systems where needed”.

The report must be a turning point for the UK, where children were faced with a “postcode lottery” of support, its chief executive, Mark Russell, said.

“Behind the appalling institutional and professional failings laid bare in this report are heart-breaking stories of thousands of children whose lives were scarred by horrendous abuse.

“Despite high-profile court cases and efforts to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation and abuse, many children are still let down by those who should protect them — dismissed as troublemakers, disbelieved, or seen as complicit in their abuse. Even when abuse is identified, there is a postcode lottery in support, and too many predators escape justice, leaving them free to target more children. This report must be a turning point.”

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