Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Spectator on Mandatory Reporting

The Spectator has weighed into the debate on mandatory reporting saying that ‘Mandatory reporting’ of suspected child abuse is a mad, bad idea. I saw the article and commented "below the line" on the Spectator website.


Oh dear! What an ill-informed and misleading article.

1. Cameron hasn't spoken in favour of mandatory reporting with a penalty of 5 years for non-reporting, he spoke in favour of a law on "wilful neglect" which is something quite different and almost impossible to prove which won't change child protection culture in any way at all. It was just Cameron deciding to have a pop at another group of public sector staff, in this case social workers.

2. Mandatory reporting in countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia hasn't resulted in thousands of ill-founded or-unverifiable reports. The most recent research from Australia confirms that the introduction of mandatory reporting there has significantly increased the number of substantiated reports from mandated reporters. The conclusion of author Ben Mathews of Queensland University of Technology was “The results of this research suggest a mandatory reporting law for CSA is associated with a substantial and sustained increase in identification of cases of CSA. Societies which are considering the introduction of a mandatory reporting law for CSA should find support for this policy intervention from these findings, while recognizing the associated needs for reporter education, investment in agency capacity and service provision, and the need to implement responses to reports with sensitivity.”

3. Without proper support it is really hard to summon the courage to report. The natural thing to do is ask "What if I'm wrong?" So people tend to be on the side of the alleged abuser rather than the vulnerable child. The author has piled on the pressure in that direction with her talk of "the harm done to families and-professionals by thousands of unfounded accusations". It is a pity that no mention is made of the devastating and often lifelong harm to children that results from abuse going unreported and undetected. Non-reporting is far more common that you might think, and results in prolific serial abusers such as William Vahey getting away with their crimes for decades, or of Nigel Leat, where other staff noticed concerning behaviour on over 30 occasions and none of those concerns were forwarded to children's services

3. Actually Michael Gove is on record as having had a change of heart in favour of mandatory reporting.

4. It isn't a myth that there is an epidemic of hidden abuse. Research by the Children's Commissioner for England concludes that only 1 in 8 cases of child sex abuse comes to the attention of the authorities. That's a awful lot of unreported abuse. Yes, I'd call it an epidemic.

5. The tight, closed institutions that carried out the abuse-cover-ups of the past do still exist. As an example one school, knowing that a member of staff had abused, instead of reporting it consulted the school's solicitors to see if they had to report. The lawyers said no.

6. The Rochdale scandal had very little to do with the mandatory reporting question. Although under-reporting probably happened, the key problem was that local authority social services and the police simply didn't believe the children when they came forward with horrific takes of abuse. Professor Jay didn't conclude that the primary problem was fear of pointing fingers at the Pakistani community, but rather that the children, often from troubled backgrounds, were thought not worth trying to help.

So, an error of fact in almost every paragraph. Apart from that, the article is wonderful.


The editors of the Spectator can't take criticism. The comment was moderated and not published.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

The Goddard Inquiry

The Goddard Inquiry (also known as the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse) has issued a call for applications for "core participant" status in its investigation into abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. The inquiry website states:
"The first case study will examine the English Benedictine Congregation which has been the subject of numerous allegations of child sexual abuse, including at schools run by the Congregation. The Inquiry will examine the relationship between Orders such as the Benedictines and the Catholic Church in England and Wales and consider how that relationship impacts on child protection. In this way the Inquiry will evaluate whether any failings identified within the English Benedictine Congregation, and within any other case studies identified as part of the investigation, are representative of wider failings within the Catholic Church."
It is important that as many survivors of abuse as possible come forward to participate. This is a chance not merely to hold to account abusers within the church, but also to hold to account those people in the church who were complicit, in that they had knowledge or suspicions of abuse but didn't take effective steps either to prevent it from continuing or to ensure that it was reported to the civil authorities.

So if you are a survivor or abuse at Ealing Abbey or St Benedict's School, or of abuse at any of the other Benedictine monasteries or their schools, or for that matter anywhere else in the Catholic Church, I urge you to come forward without delay. If you're not sure what to do or how to go about it, feel free to email me and I will help as far as I can. We can maybe put together a group of Ealing Survivors who could have common representation.

Those who are central to the inquiry's subject are designated by the inquiry as "core participants". The rules for core participant status are described here. Those who are given core participant status will fall into one of these categories.
a. The person played, or may have played, a direct and significant role in relation to the matters to which the inquiry relates;
b. the person has a significant interest in an important aspect of the matters to which the inquiry relates; or
c. the person may be subject to explicit or significant criticism during the inquiry proceedings or in the report, or in any interim report.
The inquiry has already started a number of other investigations, including into the Anglican Church, into Rochdale and other places, and abuse survivors have been made core participants in each of these investigations.

If you're made a core participant, then in addition to giving evidence, you have certain additional rights.
Those designated as core participants will:
a. be provided with electronic disclosure of evidence relevant to the particular subject matter of the Inquiry in respect of which they are so designated, subject to any restrictions made under section 19 of the Inquiries Act 2005;
b. have the right to make opening and closing statements at any hearing;
c. have the right to suggest lines of questioning to be pursued by Counsel;
d. have the right to apply to the Inquiry Panel to ask questions of witnesses during a hearing.
If you want a lawyer to represent you and ask questions on your behalf, the inquiry can provide funds for that purpose. I know several of the lawyers who have been representing survivors in the other investigations, and I have no doubt that they will also be acting for survivors in the Roman Catholic Church investigation.

I can't stress how important it is for survivors to come forward. This is a once-in-a-generation chance to expose the wrongdoings of those institutions which enabled abuse, and to make an effective call for changes that would prevent abuse from happening again on this scale.

If you are a victim of abuse you are entitled to remain anonymous. Even if you give evidence in public hearings, your name and other identifying details will not be published. As a victim of sexual abuse (whether proved or not) you have a legal right to lifelong anonymity in respect of those crimes. You can see how this is handled if you look at transcripts of the public hearings into the abuse inquiry going on in Australia at present. Australia provides very similar protections for abuse victims.

It doesn't matter whether your abuse has resulted in a conviction or not. Any details of alleged abusers will get passed to the police, but you aren't then obliged to cooperate with the police if you don't want to.

Some abuse survivors quite understandably feel that public hearings are too much for them to cope with. If you feel that way but nonetheless want to make some sort of contribution to the inquiry, you can contact the Truth Project, which is a part of the inquiry where you share your experience in private without been cross-questioned by anybody. If you feel up to it, your evidence will be more powerful in the public hearings, but it is entirely up to you which route you decide is best for you.

If you want to apply for core participant status, you need to get a move on. The closing date for applications is June 24th, less than 3 weeks away.