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Safeguarding cases steady, new figures show, but domestic abuse on the rise

21 February 2023


NEW safeguarding figures published on Tuesday show that the number of concerns and allegations reported to dioceses was relatively steady over the three years to 2021: 2420 concerns were reported in 2019; 2245 in 2020; and 2385 in 2021

The audit analysed reports of allegations relating to adults, to children (current), and to children (non-recent) — that is, those who were children at the time of the alleged abuse, but adults at the time of reporting.

The data are gathered to inform the Church’s understanding and strategic planning at a national level. But the authors of the report emphasise the need for “care and caution” over the interpretation of the statistics, both because the Church is on “a developmental journey” in terms of recording and reporting safeguarding concerns, and also because three years is deemed too short a period to determine trends.

Reported concerns and allegations regarding adults have increased over the three years by 13 per cent. The largest increases were in reports of sexual abuse (from 230 to 260, an increase of 13 per cent); spiritual abuse (from 35 to 60); and in domestic abuse (from 215 to 295, an increase of 37 per cent). Physical abuse, on the other hand, fell from 105 to 80 in the three years, a reduction of 24 per cent.

For children (current) there was a significant reduction in the number of reports, from 795 in 2019 to 540 in 2020, and 565 in 2021 (a 32 per cent and 29 per cent reduction respectively). For children (non-recent) there was an increase in the number of reports, from 455 reports in 2019 to 580 in 2020 (up 27 per cent), and to 500 in 2021 (up ten per cent from 2019).

The report suggests that this increase may be the result of the second Past Cases Review (PCR2) process, which uncovered non-recent cases requiring further investigation. The figures imply that “there is some way to go before all non-recent cases come to light and the curve starts to turn,” the report says.

The data showed that, on average, just over one third of the allegations related to “church officers” — defined as anyone appointed, or elected by or on behalf of, the Church, to a position, whether they are ordained or lay, paid, or unpaid. “The remainder will be other people involved in the wider church network, such as registered sex offenders who join church congregations or members of the congregation with mental-health concerns that pose a safeguarding risk,” the report says.

Over the three years, the proportion of concerns and allegations relating to church officers has remained relatively stable: 32 per cent of the total in 2019, 39 per cent in 2020, and 35 per cent in 2021. The figures show, however, that there has been “an absolute and proportionate increase in the number of serving clergy” involved: from 250 in 2019, to 295 in 2020, and 330 in 2021, an increase of 32 per cent.

The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, a member of the National Safeguarding Steering Group, said on Tuesday that one reason for the rise in numbers of reports of cases involving serving clergy was a greater awareness of the issue. “The #MeToo years mean that people are much more willing to come forward and speak out,” he said.

He noted, however, that there had not been a similar rise in action taken against clerics as a result of investigation. The report shows that, while in 2019, 100 cases resulted in action (including suspension, CDM complaint, CDM disciplinary action, or a cleric’s name being placed on the Archbishop’s list), this fell to 85 in 2021, despite the rise in reports. “Quite often, when a complaint reaches me in my diocese, on investigation it turns out not be a safeguarding matter. It might be poor HR or poor practice,” he said. “I don’t want to discourage reporting, but we need to let our safeguarding advisers triage complaints.”

He said that the rise of reports of domestic abuse echoed the situation around the country. “All organisations working in the area of domestic abuse reported higher levels in 2020, when people were confined to their homes for the best part of a year,” he said. “The other thing is that we’ve been making quite an effort in our safeguarding training, with an emphasis in the last year or two on domestic abuse, recognising it is an important issue.”

There had been a similar amount of attention paid to spiritual abuse, he said. “In the last couple of years we’ve done a lot of work on this at a national level. There remain some challenges as to [understanding] when heavy-handed leadership tips into spiritual abuse, but there’s greater understanding.”

Dr Walker said he believed that the “new simplified way of collecting data” from dioceses was proving useful. It appears to be working. We’re getting some useful data, and the longer we collect it, the more useful it becomes.”

One or two (unnamed) dioceses had failed to send in returns, the report says, something Dr Walker described as “always frustrating” but unlikely to be statistically significant.

New domestic-abuse measures announced. Domestic abusers will face tags and tougher management under new measures to protect women and girls, the Home Office announced on Tuesday.

The new proposals are intended to stop domestic abuse before it takes place. For the first time, controlling or coercive behaviour will be put on a par with physical violence, which will mean that offenders who are sentenced to a year’s imprisonment or more, or a suspended sentence, will automatically be actively managed by the police, and prison and probation services, under multi-agency public-protection arrangements.

In addition, abusers could be fitted with a tag, prevented from going within a certain distance of a victim’s home, and made to attend a behaviour-change programme, as part of a trial of domestic-abuse protection notices and domestic-abuse protection orders in three areas in the UK.

Those at risk of domestic abuse will be able to receive emergency help from one of 18 Jobcentres and benefit offices across the UK.

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