Report commissioned by IICSA reports that ethnic minority survivors of child sexual abuse don’t trust police or social care

On the 29 April 2021, IICSA published a report setting out its findings following engagement with support services for ethnic minority communities.

The engagement report had been commissioned by IICSA’s Chair and Panel however, the Engagement Panel have made it clear that the report does not include any formal recommendations from IICSA and is separate from the formal investigative work and public hearings conducted by IICSA and is also separate from IICSA’s research strand.

The Engagement Panel spoke to 107 organisations over 18 months, the organisations including some domestic and sexual violence support services, women’s groups, religious charities, mental health agencies and specific ethnic minority organisations and all of the organisations who contributed work closely with victims and survivors of child sexual abuse from ethnic minority communities.

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IICSA update on recommendations (continued)

To recap on yesterday’s blog, the monitoring of responses to recommendations made by IICSA is a formal process and IICSA expect institutions to set out how they plan to respond to the recommendations made within six months of the recommendations being published. Yesterday we covered responses from

  • Nottinghamshire Councils
  • Accountability and Reparations
  • Children Outside the UK Phase 2

Today’s blog will look at the responses from:

  • Internet
  • Westminster
  • Anglican Church
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Research report highlights prevalence of sexual abuse in UK schools

IICSA recently released its research report titled ‘Child Sexual Abuse in the Context of Schools’, which presents the Inquiry’s findings about the experiences of victims and survivors of child sexual abuse in the context of schools.

The researchers examined the experiences of sexual abuse across several school settings including residential, non-residential, independent and state schools.

Male pupils made up the majority of those who reported abuse to IICSA’s ‘Truth Project’, and accounted for over 75% of all pupils who reported being abused, in independent and special schools. Fifty four percent of the research participants, who were sexually abused in state schools were female.

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IICSA – where to next for mandatory reporting in England and Wales

On the 29 and 30 April 2019 IICSA held its second seminar on mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse. The seminars were not formal evidence gathering sessions but rather an analysis of all the views expressed at the seminar.

The seminar was attended by representatives from government departments in England and Wales, third sector representatives, campaign groups, professional representatives and victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. The full list of participants can be found here.

The sessions looked at the pros and cons of introducing mandatory reporting in England and Wales and what the practical implications were of legislating in this very challenging area.

Mandatory reporting laws were first enacted in the USA in the 1960’s to deal with concerns that medical professionals were not taking appropriate action to respond to signs of physical abuse of children.

Australia introduced mandatory reporting laws in the 1960’s, again the thinking behind this move was that professionals dealing with children were not acting on signs of abuse of children and children were not coming to the attention of child protection services and so no preventive measures could be taken. While all Australian states and territories have provided for mandatory reporting for child sexual abuse, some have gone a step further and have provided that mandatory reporting laws apply to all forms of abuse and neglect.

Readers of this blog might remember that in a blog on 18/10/2017 we covered the introduction of mandatory reporting in the Republic of Ireland, at that time the then Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone announced her intention to commence all of the provisions of the Children First Act, 2015 to include the provisions in relation to the mandatory reporting of child abuse, which put mandatory reporting of child abuse on a statutory footing in Ireland.

Among the issues identified and discussed at the seminars are as follows:-

  • Whether there should be a different approach to the mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse compared to other forms of abuse and neglect;
  • There was a feeling that focusing solely on reporting child sexual abuse could lead to missing out on wider information which might be indicative of a child being sexually abused;
  • Others made the valid point that other types of abuse and neglect can be equally as damaging as sexual abuse and a different approach to sexual abuse ran the risk of creating a hierarchy of response, which was to be avoided;
  • Participants did not anticipate that mandatory reporting would prevent or discourage a child from disclosing abuse and that the main determinative factor in a child deciding to disclose abuse is whether they feel they are in a safe environment to do so:
  • There was a lack of consensus as to whether the non-statutory duties and policies currently in place in England and Wales were sufficient to encourage reporting, it was noted that while there has been a significant increase in the number of referrals over the last 10 years, there has been a decrease in the number of children being place on child care plans;
  • On the subject of whether non-recent child sexual abuse should be included in mandatory reporting there was also a difference of opinion with some saying that mandatory reporting should require institutions to report previously undisclosed incidents while others felt it should be left to the discretion of the adult victim and survivor to report;
  • There were also differing views on whether there should be consequences up to and including criminal sanctions for those who fail to report child sexual abuse in line with their statutory duties. The concern with introducing such sanctions was noted to be that they could result in a fear or blame culture developing and this might lead to an increase in a number of inappropriate referrals being made, it might deter professionals from working with children and it could discourage people who work with children to use their professional judgement when making decisions about the welfare of children under their care.

The seminars were presented with five different studies into the impact of mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse in various states in Australia and these studies demonstrated that there was a substantial gain to be made from the introduction of mandatory reporting. Legally enacted mandatory reporting had led to enhancing reporting outcomes for children, it had identified children who were at risk of being harmed and even when reports of child sexual abuse were found to be unsubstantiated the reports had identified other harms and risk factors in the child’s life.

The finding of these five studies did not support the concern of some of the representatives present that the introduction of mandatory reporting might lead to undesirable reporting and a significant increase of unsubstantiated referrals. However, existing evidence does indicate that mandatory reporting is associated with a greater number of referrals being made to health services and children in need of protection being placed under formal child protection orders.

In reflecting at the end of the seminars as to what action could be taken to improve the reporting of child sexual abuse in England and Wales it was noted that:

  • Changes had been implemented to improve reporting and response to child sexual abuse in recent years due to strengthening legislation around safeguarding with particular reference to the Children and Social Work Act, 2017;
  • There was recognition that Government had taken steps to create and improve a learning environment where professionals share best practice around safeguarding though there was more to be done in this area;
  • There is evidence that legislative mandatory reporting will only be successful if it is accompanied by investment in systemic responses to support implementation;
  • Statistics highlighted that the UK was behind other countries in supporting the implementation of mandatory reporting;
  • In addition to legislating for mandatory reporting there needs to be a cultural change so that the emphasis is on prevention and early intervention as well as reporting and to effect this culture change people need to be educated and trained so that they understand the role that they have to play in protecting children.

IICSA said that the seminars had provided it with information about the impact of mandatory reporting legislation in countries in which it has been introduced while also providing valuable insight into the possible advantages and disadvantages of different approaches to statutory reporting duties, particularly with regards to England and Wales. The seminars will inform IICSA’s wider consideration of the important issue of mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse and will be considered in conjunction with the evidence and information on this topic that IICSA is gathering through its investigations, the Truth Project and the recent survey of the Victims.

What is striking in the report from IICSA on these seminars is that they make no reference to the Government’s stated position, which is that it appears to be against the introduction of functioning Mandatory Reporting. It’s position is as set out in the ‘Reporting and Acting on Child Abuse and Neglect’ consultation, the DfE and Home Office proposed a ‘Duty to Act’, which falls well short of  mandatory reporting. In the course of this consultation in 2016 the Government accepted that “There is currently no general legal requirement on those working with children to report either known or suspected child abuse or neglect” but despite this fact there is no apparent urgency by the Government to introduce legislation in this area.

However, what seems certain now is that IICSA will have to address this thorny issue in its final report if not before and this is a can that cannot be kicked down the road forever if we as a society are serious about putting child protection at the centre of our public policy.

Written by Sharon Moohan

IICSA, the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches and safeguarding

As noted in our blogs last week on 12 November and 13 November, this week we are looking in more detail at some of the topics which IICSA has covered in its Anglican and Roman Catholic reports. Although the reports refer to some progress by both the Anglican church and the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, the Inquiry concludes that there is still significant need for improvement in safeguarding in each.  Several common themes arise in the reports which are explored here.

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IICSA summary of victims and survivors views on redress

On 14 October, IICSA published a summary of victims and survivors’ views on redress.

The Victims and Survivors Forum (the Forum) is open to all victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. It was set up to facilitate IICSA’s engagement with victims and survivors, making it easier to ask questions, offer suggestions, and for IICSA to gather the views of victims and survivors.

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IICSA research report into child sexual abuse in ethnic minority communities

In June 2020, IICSA published a research report into child sexual abuse in ethnic minority communities. The research aimed to draw out how ethnicity, community and culture shapes people’s experiences of child sexual abuse. To do this, the research engaged with a range of ethnic minorities particularly from Caribbean, African and South Asian ethnicities, including victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. This article will explore the research findings, which will be used to enhance the Inquiry’s knowledge of child sexual abuse in ethnic minority communities.

The first key research finding is that cultural stereotypes and racism can lead to failures on the part of institutions and professionals to identify and respond appropriately to child sexual abuse. Furthermore, it could also make it more difficult for individuals in ethnic minority communities to disclose and speak up about child sexual abuse. Cultural stereotypes and racism were highlighted by the research as two key themes throughout discussions with participants, with two broad operational mechanisms:

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IICSA report following investigation into the internet

In March 2020, IICSA published their investigation report into the internet. The report followed IICSA’s investigation into the growing problem of online-facilitated child sexual abuse.

During public hearings in 2018 and 2019, the Inquiry heard distressing accounts from those directly affected by child sexual abuse facilitated online and the devastating and long term impact that this abuse has had on them. The Inquiry heard no evidence to suggest that the number of offenders who use the internet to facilitate abuse of children is falling. UK law enforcement record almost 10 grooming offences per day and arrest between 400 and 450 people per month for offences of online-facilitated child sexual abuse and exploitation.

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IICSA: A summary

At last month’s three day public hearing, the inquiry heard from various parties, such as insurers, local authorities, and solicitors that represent victims and survivors, as well as those that represent insurers and other organisations.

The key topics for discussion centered around limitation and redress, and how this impacted all relevant stakeholders in claims for child sexual abuse.

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This week at IICSA

A three day public hearing is due to take place at IICSA this week, starting 26 November, in connection with the second phase of the Accountability and Reparations investigation.

IICSA will hear evidence from a range of practitioners, including insurers who handle civil claims received from victims and survivors, solicitors acting for victims and survivors, solicitors who represent organisations facing accusations, as well as other interested parties.

The hearing will look at whether the law of limitation in civil cases should be reformed, and whether a redress scheme should be implemented. At present, the law on limitation sets out that claims must be brought within a set window, save if the defendant chooses not to raise this as a defence, or the court is satisfied that the strict test for setting aside limitation (s33 Limitation Act 1980) is met.

In due course, the inquiry will consider whether the mechanisms currently in place adequately support victims and survivors.

These hearings follow on from the preliminary hearing which took place last month, the transcript for which can be found here.

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