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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child protection in religious organisations and settings Investigation Report

Contents

E.2: Responses to allegations of abuse and reporting to statutory authorities

2. The processes of the organisations we examined ranged from ill-defined to more effective systems.

The Shree Hindu Temple and Community Centre

3. The Shree Hindu Temple and Community Centre in Leicester (the Shree Temple) is an example of an organisation without any clearly defined procedure for responding to concerns about child sexual abuse or reporting to statutory authorities.

4. Mr Shital Adatia, President of the Shree Temple, explained that it does not have anyone in place who acts as a designated safeguarding officer or performs a similar role, or a system for recording concerns, disclosures or allegations of child sexual abuse.[1] When asked whether the Shree Temple had a formal process for managing allegations and referring complaints, Mr Adatia said the process would be:

“firstly, go to the office manager; if they can’t resolve it, then it’s the committee members; if not, the trustees; and then, ultimately, it would be the Charities Commission”.[2]

5. When asked how worshippers would know about this process, Mr Adatia told us that “Unfortunately, I think it’s if you know, you know”.[3]

The Jehovah’s Witnesses

6. Mr Paul Gillies, Director of the Office of Public Information for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, described the process used for responding to allegations of child sexual abuse, which was published in 2018.[4]

6.1. On learning of an allegation, two elders must contact the Legal Department of the Branch Office for legal advice on reporting the allegation to the statutory authorities.[5]

6.2. Another elder, in the Service Department of the Branch Office, provides “spiritual and child safeguarding direction to the elders”.[6] The Service Department will also review the matter with the elders “to determine whether there is reason to believe the complainant or any other minor is in danger of abuse from the accused”. If they are, the Legal Department will provide the elders with “legal advice on how the report should be made”.[7] Members of the Service Department are elders who are trained in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ child protection policies, but they do not currently receive any form of ongoing external training by child protection professionals.[8] In the current structure and in the absence of any guidance from child protection professionals, the Service Department should direct the elders to pass all allegations of child sexual abuse to the statutory authorities.

6.3. According to the policy, reports to statutory authorities may be made even if there is only one complainant and no other corroborating evidence.

6.4. If it is determined that a report to the statutory authorities should be made, the elders will be directed to do so immediately and to report back to the Service Department or the Legal Department once the matter has been reported. Although the Service Department is the central body which coordinates and provides advice, it does not make reports to the statutory authorities. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, this is because elders have the first-hand information about the particular allegations to give to the police.[9] An alternative to the current referral mechanism would be to have allegations referred by the Service Department. Such an approach would replicate the referral mechanism in some other religious organisations and would enable the Service Department to ensure that a report has been made.[10]

6.5. Elders are required to offer pastoral support to the complainant and the complainant’s family. There is no express referral to therapeutic support or services, or counselling from someone with professional experience in these situations. Only men are eligible to serve as elders. As identified in Part C, some women may find it impossible to discuss such matters with a man. The elders will also consider (at the same time or later) “whether there is sufficient evidence to establish the allegation from a Scriptural perspective”.[11] As discussed further below, this requires either a confession or the evidence of at least two people – one making the allegation and another to verify it. Mr Gillies explained that this internal process “is solely to determine whether the accused should remain one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is exclusively an ecclesiastical process”.[12]

6.6. If there is sufficient evidence from a scriptural perspective that a gross sin has been committed, elders will form an ecclesiastical judicial committee, which usually comprises three elders. If the committee determines that the accused is not ‘scripturally repentant’, they will be disfellowshipped (ie expelled). Mr Gillies explained that repentance is about restoration of an individual’s relationship with God:

“That’s only possible if he is genuinely repentant. So, again, the standards of holiness connected with God’s holy name, Jehovah, that’s what we are interested in, and, if possible, if an individual can restore his relationship with God, which is primary”.[13]

There is discretion for someone who is repentant not to be expelled, even if they have admitted sexual abuse.

6.7. When an accused is found by the ecclesiastical judicial committee to be ‘scripturally repentant’, an announcement will be made to the congregation that he or she has been reproved (ie admonished and subjected to disciplinary action). In cases of child sexual abuse where the accused is not expelled, the Service Department will direct the body of elders as to restrictions to be imposed on his or her activities within the congregation. This will include directing elders to strongly caution the offender to “avoid compromising situations with minors”, not giving the offender any “responsibilities, privileges, duties or tasks” in the congregation, and meeting with the parents of all minor children in the congregation to caution them that their children should never be left alone with the offender.[14] Mr Gillies explained that the internal process of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is “exclusively an ecclesiastical process and does not substitute for any actions or punishment deemed necessary by the secular authorities”.[15] It is imperative that the Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to keep this distinction clear in their policies and practices, since such responses alone may not be sufficient to ensure the protection of children.

6.8. Those accused who are disfellowshipped may apply to be reinstated.[16] In cases of child sexual abuse, requests for reinstatement would only be given serious consideration by elders if sufficient time had passed (years) for the individual to demonstrate scriptural repentance. The decision would be made by an ecclesiastical reinstatement committee, which usually comprises the same elders that disfellowshipped the individual. The blanket restrictions would still remain in place. It remains the case, however, that these might not in themselves be an adequate response to the risk still posed to children.

6.9. If there is not sufficient evidence to form an ecclesiastical judicial committee, the Service Department may nonetheless instruct elders to be vigilant with regard to the conduct and activity of the accused during congregation activities.

7. The recent case of Lancashire County Council v E & F and Ors [2020] EWHC 182 (Fam) provides an example in which the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ process for reporting allegations failed. In 2016, a mother disclosed to elders that her daughter had been sexually abused by the daughter’s father. Despite the alleged abuser continuing to live in the same household as the child, the elders did not report the abuse to the police until July 2019. During subsequent family proceedings, the Jehovah’s Witnesses resisted requests, and ultimately a summons, to provide statements from the elders involved about the investigations they carried out. Mrs Justice Lieven, who heard the case, commented that it raised “very great concern about the safeguarding of children within the Jehovah’s Witness community”.[17] Mr Gillies explained to us that “the elders accepted the reassurances of the mother that she was providing proper safeguarding, and her extended family, so a report wasn’t made at that time”.[18] He added that the present policy is that a report would be made to the police even if the parent refused to make one. This case illustrates that prior to the introduction of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ 2018–2019 child protection policy, there was a risk of elders not referring matters to the statutory authorities because of misguided assurances given by parents. In this case, a referral to the statutory authorities should have been made by the elders when they first learned of the complaint.

Liberal Judaism

8. Liberal Judaism is a progressive Jewish denomination with approximately 10,000 adherents across the UK.[19] It applies an internal threshold of seriousness before referring concerns about child sexual abuse to the statutory authorities.

9. Ms Rebecca Fetterman, Liberal Judaism’s Director of Youth and Designated Safeguarding Lead, explained that it would contact the local authority designated officer (LADO) to confirm whether they advised that the threshold had been reached for reporting to the police and social services.[20]

10. Assessments of seriousness are made by Ms Fetterman and one of her colleagues.[21] In the previous 10 years, Ms Fetterman believed there had been five investigations – including three incidents that were reported to the statutory authorities and two “very minor” harmful sexual behaviour incidents that were not.[22]

The Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations

11. The Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC) is a membership body for Charedi synagogues and households.[23] There are approximately 100 synagogues allied with the UOHC, which provide religious support to some 40,000 people in London.[24]

12. Within the UOHC, there was a mismatch between the organisation’s stated position and its actual practice in responding to allegations of child sexual abuse. Rabbi Jehudah Baumgarten told us, on behalf of the UOHC, that the Rabbinate:[25]

“is clear about its position as to how members of the community should respond to allegations of child abuse … Allegations should be referred to the relevant authorities; either the person responsible for safeguarding in the setting concerned (if statutory guidance stipulates as such … ), or if this is not applicable then to children’s social care/the police.”[26]

In 2013, however, a television programme involving an undercover interview showed Rabbi Ephraim Padwa (at the time the Chief Rabbi of the Rabbinate of the UOHC) dissuading someone from reporting abuse to the police, invoking the concept of mesirah.[27]

13. Rabbi Baumgarten sought to distance the UOHC from Rabbi Padwa’s remarks, stating that “Rabbi Padwa was acting in his personal capacity” and that the incident that was filmed “does not reflect UOHC Rabbinate position today”.[28] He said that:

“Subsequent to the film the Rabbinate collectively considered their position on child safeguarding … Prior to that incident, the Rabbinate had not collectively considered their policy or position in respect of responding to allegations of child sexual abuse.”[29]

14. We were referred to a letter to rabbis, educators and heads of educational institutions in London from the UOHC in January 2013, which stated:

“There has unfortunately been produced a programme that is about to be broadcast on TV on the subject of abuse in our community where they allege that even after the actions of abusers have been known they are still able to carry out with their deeds, God forbid. The committee for the protection of children and instituting an appropriate policy for the protection of children will, please God, assist to silence the critics who complain that the UOHC does not fulfil its duties in this matter.”[30]

15. Nevertheless, despite Rabbi Baumgarten’s assertions and the commitment made in the 2013 letter, the UOHC had still not developed a written child protection policy by the time of the hearing in August 2020, eight years later.[31] Following the hearing, the UOHC has developed a child protection policy.[32]

Sri Guru Singh Sabha Southall

16. Sri Guru Singh Sabha Southall, a charity that operates gurdwaras visited by several thousand worshippers and visitors each week, has clear reporting procedures in place. Mr Harmeet Gill, the General Secretary, explained that in the first instance a safeguarding officer would deal with any allegations or issues. Ealing Council’s Children’s Integrated Response Service is the gurdwara’s first point of escalation for a child.[33] If an allegation against a staff member is made, the gurdwara would get in touch with the LADO within 24 hours.

17. The gurdwara’s policy includes contact details of the Children’s Safeguarding Coordinator as well as contact details for the local authority (including an out-of-hours number for the Emergency Duty Team), and directs those who are concerned that a child or young person is at immediate risk to contact the police.[34] It also has a process for maintaining records of incidents confidentially.[35]

Masorti Judaism

18. Masorti Judaism, a Jewish denomination with nine member synagogues across England with a total adult membership of approximately 4,000, has policies on safeguarding and child protection that were introduced in the 1980s and have been revised on an annual basis over the past 10 years.[36]

19. Its policy on disclosures and referrals makes clear that, when a young person discloses abuse, this must be referred to a designated officer, with detailed notes kept.[37] The continued employment of staff or membership of congregants who are subject to allegations of child sexual abuse is reviewed. It refers any allegations of criminal behaviour, including child sexual abuse, to the police or other relevant statutory authority, rather than investigating it internally.[38]

Summary of challenges

20. As the examples above illustrate, there is a range of practice among the religious organisations and settings we examined. While a number of organisations had in place clear reporting procedures, in other cases reporting procedures were not clearly defined and would not have been known to members of the congregation. It is imperative that religious organisations do not, by failing to establish clearly defined procedures for escalating concerns, make it any more difficult for individuals to disclose information about child sexual abuse.

21. It is also important that religious organisations and settings do not attempt to deal with allegations of child sexual abuse purely internally – organisations ought to be referring concerns to statutory authorities. The Charity Commission’s guidance makes clear that incidents and allegations of abuse should always be reported to statutory authorities and to the relevant regulators (including the Charity Commission, using its serious incident reporting system, discussed in Part G) and to the police where appropriate.[39]

22. Risk to the reputation of an organisation or setting should not form part of any decision on reporting.

References

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