The current state of play – the IICSA Research and Analysis Project – part one

The IICSA Research and Analysis Project programme of work continues. In two blogs today we provide an update on the latest report published by the IICSA research team and on the seminar topics being considered by the IICSA, in order to gather information and views which will contribute to the investigations.

On 27 November 2017 the IICSA published a report on Child Sexual Abuse within the Catholic and Anglican Churches: a rapid evidence assessment. The aim of the assessment was to:

  • Review the existing evidence and expert commentary about child sexual abuse in these two institution specific investigations
  • Summarise what is asserted about the scale and nature of child sexual abuse in the churches
  • Consider the churches’ response to abuse and any institutional factors which contributed to the occurrence of abuse.

Key findings:

Catholic Church Anglican Churches
Scale and Nature of Abuse There is a wide range of literature on child sexual abuse but there are few robust studies into its prevalence.

The most detailed data originates from America, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice study of the nature and scope of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests and deacons, which found 4% of US Catholic priests had been the subject of child sexual abuse allegations.

The Royal Commission in Australia carried out a recent study concluding 7% of Catholic priests in Australia had been the subject of claims of child sexual abuse.

In England and Wales there are no such studies into the prevalence of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and due to differences between the jurisdictions the results from America should not be generalised to England and Wales.

Evidence on the scale and nature of child sexual abuse in the Anglican Church is limited. Two studies exist which attempt to assess such incidences within the church.

Both studies relate to the Anglican Church of Australia and involve retrospective analysis of church personnel files. The study in 2009 identified 191 allegations over a period of 18 years, 1990-2008; the 2017 study published by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse identified 1,119 allegations over a 35 year period, 1980-2015. Both studies rely only on information recorded by the church diocese and therefore are limited as they do not consider other related data.

The 2009 study roughly estimated that below 1% of Australian Anglican clergy were accused of child sexual abuse between 1990-2008 whilst the 2017 study identified 22% of all the alleged cases related to schools; 13% to Australian youth group the Church of England Boy’s Society and 14% occurred in children’s homes and orphanages.

In both studies the majority of perpetrators were male and the average age of the victims/survivors was 11 years old.

As with the Catholic Church, there is no publicly available data of the scale of child sexual abuse in England and Wales. As before differences in jurisdiction and differences between the institutions mean that findings in Australia are not comparable to England and Wales without further analysis.

Factors Contributing to the Occurrence of Abuse
  • The structure of the Church;
  • Individual bishops’ authority;
  • Clericalism – the belief that the clergy is superior to laity;
  • Attitudes to sexuality within the Church.
  • The Churches’ significant role in running multiple services and programmes for children;
  • The clergy’s position of authority, trust and influence exerted within their communities enabling perpetrators access to children;
  • Ineffective response by the Churches to reports of child sexual abuse.
Church Response The Church’s response has been characterised as secretive, by a range of sources, in order to protect the Church’s reputation.

The Church’s alleged decisions to relocate offending priests to new diocese have seemed to prioritise the needs of the perpetrators over the victims/survivors and safety of children.

Literature suggests the Church’s response to victims has not met their needs.

The Church’s response has been characterised by denial, secrecy and the use of internal clergy discipline mechanisms.

The Church’s response has been influenced by a number of factors internally such as:

  • An unwillingness to acknowledge that clergy and people within the Church are capable of committing such abuse
  • Protecting the Churches’ assets and reputation
  • Church clergy, victims and survivors forgiving the perpetrators for committing the abuse at the cost of supporting victims and survivors and protecting children.

Evidence suggests progress has been made within the Church in preventing and responding to child sexual abuse and implementing a range of safeguarding policies and practices. However the Churches’ structures and hierarchies may pose challenges.

Main themes in relation to the Catholic and Anglican churches:

  • Culture – impacting and influencing responses to and the incidence of abuse
  • Internal response – keeping responses within the church and limiting outside involvement
  • Safeguarding policies and procedures – both churches have developed their own policies however there may be inconsistencies in their implementation.

The review identified the following research gaps:

  • The scale and nature of child sexual abuse within both churches in respect of difference groups, in different settings and over time;
  • The response of the churches to allegations;
  • The role of the structure and governance of both churches responding to allegations;
  • The influence of culture in both churches and
  • Current safeguarding practices in both churches in England and Wales at a local level.

As the hearing in respect of the Roman Catholic Church proceeds over the next few weeks and then the Anglican hearing commences in March inevitably more information will become available which will provide a better picture of abuse within these two churches within England and Wales, and in due course recommendations for change to ensure better protection of children in the future.

mwr Written by Miriam Rahamin, solicitor at BLM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s