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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child protection in religious organisations and settings Investigation Report


G.4: Mandatory reporting

68. The Inquiry also heard a range of views about mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse. There was a diversity of views among organisations about who should be subject to the duty to report and the threshold for reporting (suspicions of abuse, allegations of abuse or some higher threshold), and to whom reports ought to be made. There was nonetheless broad support for some form of mandatory reporting among religious organisations and also the other institutions and organisations that contributed to this investigation.

69. A number of organisations were in favour of some form of mandatory reporting.

69.1. The Evangelical Alliance was of the view that concealment of child sexual abuse following an admission or an internal disciplinary finding ought to be a criminal offence, but that this ought to be the case “across all sectors including community groups, sporting organisations, educational settings etc”.[1] In relation to mandatory reporting of allegations or suspicions of child sexual abuse, the Evangelical Alliance noted that the position was more complex: “The reporting of suspicions to the statutory authorities is a more fraught area as suspicions are by definition much more subjective”.[2]

69.2. The Triratna Buddhist Order and Community was supportive of the view that it ought to be compulsory for those in positions of responsibility to report allegations, suspicions and disclosures of abuse to the external authorities.[3] It noted, however, that there is at present no agreement within the organisation about what should be done in cases of formal confessions:

“This is because many believe in the sanctity of the confessional; that serious misconduct disclosed in the context of formal confession need not be reported … There is a particular challenge where a person confesses to viewing indecent images of children, given that the seriousness of this non-contact offence is underestimated … Rather than referring to the police all those confessing to viewing indecent images of children, it would be helpful to be able to refer such a person for psychological assessment by an external body, which body would then determine whether to refer the person for psychological treatment or report directly to the police.”[4]

69.3. Ms Rebecca Fetterman, Director of Youth and Designated Safeguarding Lead at Liberal Judaism, considered that it should be mandatory for religious leaders or those in positions of authority to refer allegations or suspicions of child abuse to statutory authorities, and that concealment of such should be a criminal offence. Ms Fetterman noted that “We would go further and say that this should apply to all staff and volunteers if child abuse is to be tackled properly and consistently”.[5]

69.4. The Muslim Council of Britain agreed that it should be compulsory for those in positions of responsibility in religious communities to refer allegations or suspicions of child sexual abuse to statutory authorities. They also agreed that concealment where admissions of abuse have been made, or where there have been internal disciplinary findings, should be a criminal offence. The Council pointed out that:

“In the context of the Muslim community … there is a complication in that anyone can appoint themselves as an ‘Imam’ … so long as they can justify to the audience their claim. Whilst some institutions will certainly insist on certain religious qualifications in self-appointed institutions this is more difficult to regulate.”[6]

70. Other organisations were opposed to the idea of creating a criminalising failure to report.

70.1. The Salvation Army did “not support a view that the concealment of abuse if an admission has been made and/or if there have been internal disciplinary findings of such should be a criminal offence”.[7]

70.2. The preference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was:

“to work co-operatively with local safeguarding partners (the local authority, the clinical commissioning group and the police) to keep children safe. It is the experience of the Church, anecdotally, working with children in jurisdictions around the world, that where reporting to the authorities by the bishop or stake president, is mandated, then the incidence of disclosure to the bishop or stake president, by the victim, the victim’s family or the perpetrator, is negatively impacted, or put another way, the ability of the Church to protect and promote the welfare of children including identifying children at risk, is reduced, as disclosure of abuse to the Church is curtailed by the victim, or the victim’s family or the perpetrator, for fear of immediate disclosure of the abuse to the authorities.”[8]

70.3. The Federation of Synagogues echoed this concern:

“we fear that requiring religious leaders to report these matters will have the unintended consequence of deterring complainants, victims and survivors from disclosing them to their religious leaders. If someone is not yet ready to go to the authorities, but needs to confide in their Rabbi, they will be reluctant to do so if they know the Rabbi is required by law to report their conversation. This closes off a route to pastoral care for the victim. It also means that the Rabbi may remain unaware of the situation in their community and will thus be unable to take measures to prevent the perpetrator from continuing to abuse, or to bring them to justice.”[9]

71. Mandatory reporting is not an issue confined to religious organisations. It has arisen in other investigations and is a matter on which the Inquiry has held a number of seminars. It is a subject that will form part of the Inquiry’s final report.


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