This week (6-12 February) is Sexual Abuse & Sexual Violence Awareness Week. The subject of abuse has certainly remained in the news over the past few days and a summary of some of the last week’s news topics shows how this is an issue which remains a challenge for many organisations. Ensuring safety of children now must be accompanied by regard for what has happened in the past and crucially what lessons can be learned for the future.
In Australia as the Royal Commission works towards the conclusion of its hearings and publication of what will inevitably be a lengthy report, it has highlighted that 7% of Catholic priests in Australia have been accused of sexually abusing children over decades. 1,000 Catholic institutions across Australia have been identified in claims of sexual abuse, with a total of 1,880 alleged perpetrators between 1980 and 2015.The average age of the victims was 10.5 for girls and 11.5 for boys. On average, it took 33 years for each instance of abuse to be reported. It is reported that in Australia 60% of all survivors of abuse are from faith-based organisations. Of those, nearly two-thirds concerned the Catholic Church.
In evidence given by the Roman Catholic Church to the Royal Commission it is argued that the seal of the confessional should remain as it is, that is, it cannot be broken even where it relates to the reporting of child abuse. By the time the investigation of the IICSA in to the Roman Catholic church proceeds, the Royal Commission report will have been published so this issue may,to some extent, have already been aired and determined but it will no doubt be an issue under scrutiny in that and the Anglican investigation. One issue will be how it links in to mandatory reporting. The Government consultation on that issue in the UK ended in October 2016. There has been no formal announcement of when anything further might happen as a result of that consultation.
The Anglican Church has meanwhile been responding to the Channel 4 News investigation into allegations of physical abuse and corporal punishment at a Christian youth camp run by John Smyth QC and the Iwerne Trust Christian Charity. There have not been any allegations of sexual abuse but this stands as a reminder that abuse need not just be sexual but can also be physical and emotional and includes neglect. This investigation has not just been of relevance to the Anglican church because it was a Christian camp, but also because the Archbishop of Canterbury had been a youth helper at the camps (although not involved in and had no knowledge of the abuse); and because the current Bishop of Guildford has now disclosed that he was beaten by John Smyth QC in the same way in which others have alleged they were abused.
Schools continue to have to respond to allegations of non-recent abuse. The Scottish Inquiry has identified a number of public schools including Fettes, Loretto and Gordonstoun which it will be investigating; Winchester College has been linked to the allegations about John Smyth QC; St Paul’s School London and Windsor Grammar School have seen a former teacher jailed for 17 years having been found guilty of multiple charges of abusive behaviour over a 12 year period in the 1960s – 1980s.
Child sexual exploitation remains an issue too, with six men jailed last week for plying two pre-pubescent girls with drugs and alcohol and then proceeding to rape, assault and imprison them. One girl fell pregnant when age 12. This had happened in Rotherham. Similar allegations have been made in connection with an ongoing trial at Sheffield Crown Court where it is alleged that a gang of six people forced girls as young as 12 in to child prostitution.
The police and prison service also makes it in to the news with suggestions that police ignored the complaints of abuse by prison staff at Medomsley Detention Centre. Almost 1,400 men have claimed they were abused at Medomsley, near Consett, during the 1970s and 80s. Durham Police have put forward 32 cases to the Crown Prosecution Service, which will offer advice on whether the suspects should be charged.
Finally as the IICSA progresses its work in a calmer and less news grabbing manner it has now opened the Truth Project in the South West.
Written by Paula Jefferson, partner and abuse claims expert at BLM