IICSA, sacramental confession and mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse

On Thursday, IICSA published the final Report of the Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse – October 2022. Recommendation 13 is on the introduction of mandatory reporting in England and Wales: that the UK and Welsh Governments bring forward:

“legislation which places certain individuals – ‘mandated reporters’ – under a statutory duty to report child sexual abuse where they:

    • receive a disclosure of child sexual abuse from a child or perpetrator; or
    • witness a child being sexually abused; or
    • observe recognised indicators of child sexual abuse.

The following persons should be designated ‘mandated reporters’:

    • any person working in regulated activity in relation to children (under the Safeguarding and Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, as amended);
    • any person working in a position of trust (as defined by the Sexual Offences Act 2003, as amended); and
    • police officers.

For the purposes of mandatory reporting, ‘child sexual abuse’ should be interpreted as any act that would be an offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 where the alleged victim is a child under the age of 18.

Where the child is aged between 13 and under 16 years old, a report need not be made where the mandated reporter reasonably believes that:

    • the relationship between the parties is consensual and not intimidatory, exploitative or coercive; and
    • the child has not been harmed and is not at risk of being harmed; and
    • there is no material difference in capacity or maturity between the parties engaged in the sexual activity concerned, and there is a difference in age of no more than three years.

These exceptions should not, however, apply where the alleged perpetrator is in a position of trust within the meaning of the 2003 Act.

Where the child is under the age of 13, a report must always be made.

Reports should be made to either local authority children’s social care or the police as soon as is practicable.

It should be a criminal offence for mandated reporters to fail to report child sexual abuse where they:

    • are in receipt of a disclosure of child sexual abuse from a child or perpetrator; or
    • witness a child being sexually abused.”

The report notes at [109} that some core participants and witnesses argued  for exemptions from any mandatory reporting obligation for some faith-based settings or personnel and, in particular, in the context of sacramental confession; however, the Inquiry firmly rejects that suggestion:

“As the Inquiry has already noted, the respect of a range of religions or beliefs is recognised as a hallmark of a liberal democracy. Nonetheless, neither the freedom of religion or belief nor the rights of parents with regard to the education of their children can ever justify the ill-treatment of children or prevent governmental authorities from taking measures necessary to protect children from harm. The Inquiry therefore considers that mandatory reporting as set out in this report should be an absolute obligation; it should not be subject to exceptions based on relationships of confidentiality, religious or otherwise.”

As we have already noted, the House of Bishops of the Church of England announced on 11 October that it had commissioned further work on the seal of the confessional, building on the report and interim statement from the previous working party published in 2018/2019. The announcement said that the new working group would take account of any relevant findings in IICSA’s final Report.

The Church of England’s initial response to the Report is here.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "IICSA, sacramental confession and mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse" in Law & Religion UK, 20 October 2022, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2022/10/20/iicsa-sacramental-confession-and-mandatory-reporting-of-child-sexual-abuse/

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