Possible signs of sexual abuse:Many of these are too vaguely stated and can have a wide variety of causes. The most obvious one "unexplained pregnancies" is evidence that a child has been having sex, but not of itself evidence of sexual abuse.
- Depression, suicidal tendencies, self-harming
- Anorexic or bulimic
- Acting in a sexually inappropriate manner towards adults/peers
- Unexplained pregnancies
- Truanting/running away from home
- Seeking guidance for a “friend with a problem of abuse”
- Sexually abusing a younger child/sibling
- Sudden changes in School or work habits
- Fear of people
- Abnormal precociousness or aggression
- Chronic medical problems (stomach pains/headaches)
- Withdrawn, isolated, excessively isolated
- Genital/abdominal or anal injury or pain
Again, there is a perfecly good set of indicators in the London Child Protection Procedures,so let's take a look at these, starting with paragraphs 4.3.19 and 4.3.20.
4.3.19 Sexual abuse can be very difficult to recognise and reporting sexual abuse can be an extremely traumatic experience for a child. Therefore both identification and disclosure rates are deceptively low.
4.3.20 Boys and girls of all ages may be sexually abused and are frequently scared to say anything due to guilt and / or fear. According to a recent study three-quarters (72%) of sexually abused children did not tell anyone about the abuse at the time. Twenty-seven percent of the children told someone later, and around a third (31%) still had not told anyone about their experience/s by early adulthood.
So what we have here is the desciption of a situation where, due to guilt or fear, only a quarter of cases will get reported by a child at the time, and a third don't get reported even by early adulthood. What this means is that reporting sexual abuse is difficult for a child. Therefore, everything possible needs to be done by the school in order to encourage an atmosphere of trust so that reporting is made easier. The London Child Protection procedure draws the obvious conclusion in terms of addressing this issue in its next paragraph.
4.3.21 If a child makes an allegation of sexual abuse, it is very important that they are taken seriously. Allegations can often initially be indirect as the child tests the professional’s response. There may be no physical signs and indications are likely to be emotional / behavioural.
From my dealings with the Abbot, from his refusal to meet me and the execrable state of the procedures for reporting abuse described earlier in the school's child protection policy, there is every reason to think that the school finds every possible excuse not to take allegations seriously.
4.3.22 Behavioural indicators which may help professionals identify child sexual abuse include:
Inappropriate sexualised conduct;
- Sexually explicit behaviour, play or conversation, inappropriate to the child’s age;
- Contact or non-contact sexually harmful behaviour;
- Continual and inappropriate or excessive masturbation;
- Self-harm (including eating disorder), self mutilation and suicide attempts;
- Involvement in sexual exploitation or indiscriminate choice of sexual partners;
- An anxious unwillingness to remove clothes for e.g. sports events (but this may be related to cultural norms or physical difficulties).
In this context, there's no real reason why the school's policy can't lift the wording directly from the London Child Protection Procedures. For the school to deviate from this wording requires a positive decision to move away from the expert formulation.
The London Child Protection Procedures go on to describe physical indicators of abuse.
4.3.23 Physical indicators associated with child sexual abuse include:
- Pain or itching of genital area;
- Blood on underclothes;
- Pregnancy in a child;
- Physical symptoms such as injuries to the genital or anal area, bruising to buttocks, abdomen and thighs, sexually transmitted disease, presence of semen on vagina, anus, external genitalia or clothing.
4.3.24 Sex offenders have no common profile, and it is important for professionals to avoid attaching any significance to stereotypes around their background or behaviour. While media interest often focuses on ‘stranger danger’, research indicates that as much as 80 per cent of sexual offending occurs in the context of a known relationship, either family, acquaintance or colleague.
This "no common profile" point is of absolutely critical importance. It means that if an allegation of abuse is made against a teacher or a priest, it cannot be dismissed on the basis that the adult is not of the abusing type. There is no type. This is why it is critical that the policy must be that every allegation of child sexual abuse by an adult must be passed to the Local Authority Designated Officer for Child Protection (LADO) for review, and that it is then the decision of the LADO, who is not burdened by the assumption that Mr X or Father Y is an excellent chap and wouldn't do such a thing.
So, the situation so far, with regard to the school's policy on child sexual abuse is as follows.
- The definition of sexual abuse is a vague as not to mention any kinds of sexual acts that might constitute abuse.
- The indicators of sexual abuse are incomplete and lack context
- The importance of taking allegations (direct or indirect) from children seriously is not stressed.
- The approach to reporting allegations or concerns to the LADO is so hedged about by qualifications and caveats as to be useless.
In all this, it looks as if the aim of the school is to suppress the reporting rate as far as possible, in order to give the impression that all is well with the school, because there hasn't been anything reported recently.
But this is grossly irresponsible. The mere fact that it is not being reported doesn't mean it isn't happening. If it isn't reported, it can't be stopped. And if it isn't stopped, then an abuser can go on to abuse a great many children. And in the long run, that exposes the schools to more lawsuits from the larger number of victims who have been created.
No matter what has gone on in the past, there is no excuse whatsoever not to leave the school's procedures in such a dire state, because all this does is vastly increase the chance of more victims in the future.
It's not even as if getting the procedures right is all that difficult. There are good procedures around whose wording can easily be adapted. Ealing Safeguarding Children Board runs training courses in this which are appropriate to teachers. The expertise is readily available. But it's not getting used.
Parents of pupils at the school have a right to ask why. In fact, for the safety of your children, you have a duty to ask why.
I have spoken to quite a few victims of abuse by teachers and monks at the school. I assure you that if your child is abused, the psychological problems he or she will suffer may disadvantage your child in later life to an extent which far outweighs any advantage gained from the expensive education you are paying for. As parents you have nothing at all to gain by going along with a school that has inadequate child protection. Better to go to the local comprehensive, become a pushy parent there to ensure that your child is treated well, and save up the money to help your child through university. Within the state system, the school can't choose to kick your child out because you are making too much of a nuisance of yourself.