IICSA and mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse: update

Bates Wells Braithwaite reports that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) is actively considering the question of introducing mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse in England and Wales. The Inquiry has consulted with the Victims and Survivors Forum, a self-nominating group of victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, and has now published a summary of responses: Mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse: A survey of the Victims and Survivors Forum, in which the great majority of respondents from the Forum (88.6%) were in favour of introducing mandatory reporting.

Responses were largely informed by respondents’ own experiences of abuse. Some suggested that a mandatory reporting law at the time when they suffered abuse could have led to something being done to stop the abuse or to the offender being brought to justice [14]. Conversely, others suggested that the existence of a mandatory reporting law would have discouraged them from disclosing the abuse they had suffered:

“I would not have spoken out in therapy about my parents sexually abusing me if I knew the professional would have no choice but to report to the police. My concern is that mandatory reporting may put off victims from coming forward as they lose all control” [15].

The summary of responses includes the statement that “The responses the Inquiry received will be taken into account as part of the Chair and Panel’s consideration of mandatory reporting” [12].

IICSA held a seminar on mandatory reporting in September 2018, looking at existing obligations to report child sexual abuse in England and Wales the experiences of other countries that have mandatory reporting legislation. It will hold a second seminar on 29 and 30 April, to consider the arguments for and against mandatory reporting laws and the practical considerations involved in introducing a mandatory reporting regime.

As we have previously noted, the Government is unenthusiastic about mandatory reporting. On 10 September, Baroness Walmsley (LD) asked an oral question in the Lords about how the Government plans to respond to IICSA’s report on safeguarding failures at Downside and Ampleforth schools, published in August 2018.

In reply, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education, Lord Agnew of Oulton, said this on mandatory reporting:

“I know that there are calls for mandatory reporting and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, who asked the Question, is a keen advocate of it. All noble Lords will be aware that we have consulted on this matter. We had 760 responses from social workers, police officers and other connected parties. Some 70 per cent of them felt that mandatory reporting would have an adverse impact; 85 per cent said that it would not, in itself, lead to the appropriate action being taken.”

We’ll see what IICSA concludes.

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