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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child protection in religious organisations and settings Investigation Report

Contents

E.4: Action taken against those accused of abuse

28. Under their policies and procedures, religious organisations and settings may provide some internal processes for taking action against those accused of abuse. In the case of employees or office holders, this commonly takes the form of an internal disciplinary procedure.

29. Most of the religious organisations and settings we examined that employ staff had disciplinary procedures in place, which would be invoked when allegations of child sexual abuse were made.

29.1. Liberal Judaism’s safeguarding policy makes clear that, when allegations are made against individuals who are employed, the individual will be suspended from the role that brings them into contact with children, young people or adults at risk of abuse or neglect.[1] Investigations will then take place, following which a final decision is made. The policy explains that it “is possible that someone accused of abuse may be reinstated, depending on the circumstances of the case, once the matter is concluded”.[2]

29.2. Mr Asad Jaman, Head of Assets & Facilities at the East London Mosque Trust, explained how, if any member of staff was subject to allegations of child sexual abuse, they “would be dealt with through our disciplinary procedures, which are based on the ACAS guidelines”.[3]

30. It is less common for religious organisations to have in place internal processes for taking action against an alleged perpetrator when they are not an employee but simply a volunteer or congregant.

30.1. As set out above, the Jehovah’s Witnesses is an example of a religious organisation with such an internal process in place. Having determined whether to make a referral to the statutory agencies, two elders will consider whether there is sufficient evidence to establish an allegation from a scriptural perspective.[4] This will be undertaken even in cases where the perpetrator has been convicted of child sexual abuse in a criminal court.[5] Internal guidance, Shepherd the Flock of God, states that sufficient evidence requires either:

  • a confession, ie “Admission of wrongdoing, either written or oral, may be accepted as conclusive proof without other corroborating evidence … There must be two witnesses to a confession, and the confession must be clear and unambiguous”, or
  • eyewitnesses’ evidence (known outside the community as ‘the two-witness rule’): “There must be two or three eyewitnesses, not just people repeating hearsay; no action can be taken if there is only one witness.[6]

When there is sufficient evidence, an ecclesiastical judicial committee is formed to investigate and to determine what steps need to be taken as regards the alleged abuser.[7] Mr Gillies explained that, if two individuals separately make an allegation of abuse against the same person, that would be sufficient to satisfy the two-witness rule.[8] However, as a result of this rule, if only one child makes an allegation of abuse and there is no confession, no further internal action would be taken, other than that elders may be instructed to be “vigilant with regard to the conduct and activity of the accused during congregation activities”.[9] The two-witness rule is not intended to be a safeguarding measure; it is part of an internal religious process for determining whether someone should remain a congregant. Nevertheless, the application of the rule in the context of child sexual abuse is likely to increase the suffering of victims and fails to reflect the reality that by its very nature child sexual abuse is most often perpetrated in the absence of witnesses.

30.2. The Salvation Army’s internal disciplinary process allows action to be taken against a range of individuals, not just employees. There are separate procedures for allegations against officers, employees and volunteers.[10] When allegations of child sexual abuse are made about a volunteer, the complaint is referred to the police and “the situation will be risk assessed and the necessary safeguarding measures put in place to protect the victim(s) and the volunteer”.[11] In such cases, advice will be sought and consultation will take place with the police and the LADO in order to consider the appropriate action to take, including whether to remove the individual from their role. If individuals are not removed, a risk assessment will consider the measures to be put in place to ensure that abuse cannot continue during the period of police investigation. The Salvation Army is one of very few organisations employing formal risk assessments by child protection professionals as part of these internal processes.

References

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