We come now to the school's definition of sexual abuse. Now, you would think that the Abbot and Trustees, having had two former teachers convicted and imprisoned for serious sexual abuse of pupils at the school, would really want to make sure this was right. Well, take a look at this:
13. Sexual AbuseThis is so bad, it's hard to know where to start. But we have to start somewhere.
Is the involvement of dependent (legally under 18), developmentally immature children and adolescents in sexual activities they do not truly comprehend, to which they are unable to give informed consent.
The key elements in any definition of sexual abuse are:
- The betrayal of trust and responsibility.
- Abuse of power for the purpose of the sexual gratification of the abuser.
- The inability of the child to consent.
First what's this business of "developmentally immature children and adolescents "? Developmentally immature relative to what? The average of their age? The bottom 10% of maturity of their age group? The phrase is meaningless and can be redefined at will.
Then what is meant by "sexual activities they do not truly comprehend"? Who decides whether this comprehension is "true" or not, and what criteria do they use to make the decision?
Then we have "unable to give informed consent". Again, this is useless unless put into a properly defined context. But the definition is lacking.
This is complete rubbish. There are three seriously badly-defined or undefined concepts and we've only looked at the first sentence!
The second part is not much better. It manages to complete the definition without actually making any reference to any kinds of sexual acts that might constitute abuse. It talks about betrayal of trust and so on, which is good as far as it goes (which isn't very far) but this is useless unless there is some kind of definition of what actions fall under the definition of sexual abuse (as opposed to other kinds of abuse.)
It's not hard to find a proper expert definition. Again, we can look at the London Child Protection Procedures, paragraphs 4.2.6 to 4.2.8.
Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, including prostitution, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including penetrative (e.g. rape, buggery or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts.
Sexual abuse includes abuse of children through sexual exploitation. Penetrative sex where one of the partners is under the age of 16 is illegal, although prosecution of similar age, consenting partners is not usual. However, where a child is under the age of 13 it is classified as rape under s5 Sexual Offences Act 2003.
Sexual abuse includes non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of pornographic materials, watching sexual activities or encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways.
So here we have descriptions of the actions involved in sexual abuse. There's none of this rubbish about "developmentally immature", and it make it perfectly clear that it is still abuse even if the child understands what is going on.
It should be made entirely clear in the school's procedures that any kind of sexual behaviour between staff and pupils is always regarded as sexual abuse, because of the power imbalance involved. The teacher or other staff member is in a position of authority over the pupil, and therefore the pupil cannot give free and informed consent to any kind of sexual act or relationship, even if the pupil is over the legal age of consent (16). Therefore it involves "forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities". The school's procedures entirely fail to make this clear.
So, we have an unclear definition of sexual abuse that allows the school to classify sexual activities as non-abusive depending on their interpretation of the maturity of the child and on their interpretation of the extent to which the child comprehends the activities, and the school manages not actually to describe any kinds of sexual activities in its description of sexual abuse!
If it weren't so serious, this would be comical, it is so bad. It is not lack of knowledge or incompetence that keeps this definition so bad. This is deliberate.
I've raised this issue in writing both with the Abbot and the Headmaster. They know perfectly well that this definition of sexual abuse is a travesty. But no changes to this definition were made in the May 2010 update to the child protection policy, it remains word-for-word identical to the September 2009 version. And according to the the information supposedly provided by the school to the ISI in its November 2009 inspection, the September 2009 version has had the benefit of the experts' recommendations in an independent review. Before it was withdrawn, the ISI report stated:
A serious recent incident involving a member of the monastic community caused the trustees to request an independent review of the measures taken to minimise risk. The advice received from the independent experts has been fully implemented.And this version is supposed to have been the outcome of that expert advice! I would dearly love to know who the experts had been.