On 22 May, the Home Secretary made a statement on the Government’s response to the final report of the Independent Investigation into Child Sexual Abuse. She told the House of Commons that the Government had accepted the need to act on 19 of IICSA’s 20 recommendations (but see the response to Recommendation 3), though she also told the House that the Government’s response was not the final word. It should also be noted that “accepting the need to act” on a recommendation is not exactly the same as accepting the recommendation in full.
The Home Office is launching a redress scheme for survivors of child sexual abuse that will acknowledge the institutional failures that allowed children to suffer at the hands of predators.
On the proposal for mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse in England – on which the Government had already announced its acceptance – the Home Office has launched a 12-week public call for evidence on how it should be implemented. The consultation closes on Monday 15 August. The mandatory reporting duty would apply, inter alia, “to any person working in a position of trust (as defined by the Sexual Offences Act 2003, as amended)” – which includes in section 22A (Further positions of trust) a person who “coaches, teaches, trains, supervises or instructs B, on a regular basis, in a sport or a religion” and who “knows that they coach, teach, train, supervise or instruct B, on a regular basis, in that sport or religion.”
Following is a summary of the Government’s responses:
- A single set of core data relating to child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation: “We accept that robust data collection on the scale and nature of child sexual abuse is critical to underpin and drive a more effective response to child sexual abuse.”
- Creation of a Child Protection Authority in England and in Wales: “We accept the need for a stronger safeguarding system. We will ensure the relevant actions included within our reform programme, Stable Homes, Built on Love, fulfil this recommendation.”
- Creation of a cabinet-level Minister for Children: ?rejected in the terms on which it was offered (at least on my own reading of the response) on the grounds that “This role is already fulfilled through the work of the Secretary of State for Education.”
- A public awareness campaign on child sexual abuse: “We accept the importance of bringing child sexual abuse out of the shadows and creating more national awareness of the scale and nature of the issues and how to report concerns and cases of child sexual abuse.”
- A ban on the use of pain compliance techniques on children in custodial institutions: rejected: “It is essential that staff are equipped to keep children safe in custodial institutions. That is why they must be trained in the use of safe pain-inducing techniques for scenarios where they may need to prevent children from self-harming or causing physical harm to other children.”
- Amendment of the Children Act 1989 to give parity of legal protection to children in care: “We accept the absolute need for children and young people to have their voices heard, raise concerns and challenge any aspect of their care, including where they may be experiencing or at risk of serious harm.”
- Registration of staff working in care roles in children’s homes: “We accept that rigorous registration of staff working in care roles in children’s homes is essential…”
- Registration of staff in young offender institutions and secure training centres: “We accept the need for registration, noting that internal registration is most appropriate for the young offender institution and secure training centre workforce.”
- Extended use of the barred list of people unsuitable for work with children: “We accept subject to further assessment of feasibility and impact, taking into account the findings of the Bailey Review of Disclosure and Barring Regime, published in April 2023.”
- Improved compliance with statutory duties to inform the Disclosure and Barring Service about individuals who may pose a risk of harm to children: “We accept the need to improve compliance with statutory duties to inform the Disclosure and Barring Service about individuals who may pose a risk of harm to children.”
- Extending the disclosure regime to those working with children overseas: “We accept the need to review whether disclosure arrangements can be further strengthened for those working with children overseas, and we will consider the scope of further strengthening the regime, taking into account the findings of the Bailey Review of the Disclosure and Barring Regime published in April 2023.”
- Mandatory online pre-screening for sexual images of children: “We accept the need to hold companies to account for removing, reporting and limiting the spread of child sexual abuse material on their services” – to be dealt with in the Online Safety Bill.
- Introduction of a statutory requirement of mandatory reporting for child sexual abuse: accepted – see above.
- Compliance with the Victims Code: Government to commission joint inspection of compliance with the Victims’ Code in relation to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse: “We accept the need to ensure compliance with the Victims Code. The Criminal Justice Joint Inspectorates have included an inspection on the ‘experiences of victims of child sexual abuse of the criminal justice system’ in their 2023-25 inspection programme, with Code compliance proposed to feature. We will also consider this recommendation through the Victims and Prisoners Bill, with complementary measures to improve victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system.”
- Removal of the three-year limitation period for personal injury claims brought by victims: “We accept the critical issue this recommendation seeks to remedy, and we will consult on strengthening existing judicial guidance in child sexual abuse cases and set out options to reform limitation law in child sexual abuse cases.”
- A guarantee of specialist therapeutic support for child victims of sexual abuse: “We accept that victims and survivors must be able to access effective systems for provision of therapeutic support. We will elicit views on the future of therapeutic support, including possible systemic changes to provision, through extensive engagement and consultation as part of our response to recommendation 19 on victim redress.”
- A code of practice for access to records pertaining to child sexual abuse: “We accept the importance of access to records. We will engage with the Information Commissioner’s Office on implementing this recommendation.”
- Further changes to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme: “We accept the need to consider changes to the scheme, and we will consult on whether or not to amend the scope and time limits.”
- A national redress scheme for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse and exploitation in England and Wales: “We accept the need to introduce a redress scheme to acknowledge the institutional failures that led to the suffering of victims and survivors. The detail of the scheme, including eligibility, types of redress available, the extent of any financial component, and application process, will be considered following extensive engagement, including with victims and survivors, third sector organisations, local authorities, insurers and lawyers.”
- More robust age-verification requirements for the use of online platforms and services: “We accept the need to protect children from harmful and age-inappropriate content. The Online Safety Bill requires all in-scope companies to assess whether their service is likely to be accessed by children and, if so, deliver safety measures for them.”
In response, the Chair of IICSA issued a statement in which, according to The Guardian, she said:
“These recommendations were a carefully considered set of measures, designed to complement each other to provide a comprehensive world-class framework for the protection of children. We are deeply disappointed that the government has not accepted the full package of recommendations made in the final report.
“The package announced by the government today will not provide the protection from sexual abuse that our children deserve. We ask the government to reconsider and accept and enact all our recommendations in full.”
(IICSA’s Final Report dealt with both England and Wales. The Welsh Government issued its own response to the IICSA recommendations directed specifically at Wales on 20 April.)
This is the Government’s Response to IICSA’s Final Report and is coupled with a Call for Evidence in relation to mandatory reporting which was heralded on 2nd April. There is to be a 12 week period for responding to that call. Given the difficulty that the Church of England has had in coming to a view about the future of the Seal of the Confessional I do wonder how the Church of England is going to get its act together to make any sensible response within that time frame.
But what is rather extraordinary about both the Response and the Call is that although Mandatory Reporting was strongly linked by IICSA to issues around the Seal of the Confessional, and although IICSA proposed that the definition of Mandated Reporters should include people in a position of trust as per the now amended Sexual Offences Act 2003 definition which specifically includes the sporting and religious sectors, there is absolutely no mention of religion in any shape or form in either their Response or their Call for Evidence. The closest they get is a reference to charity/voluntary sector in Question One, where they do however specifically refer to the sport sector.
And although the Church of England has tended to focus on the Seal as being applicable only to the Sacrament of Absolution usually carried out in an Anglo Catholic context with a priest in a stole, there is an increasing body of evidence that the conservative evangelical world of close one to one mentoring relationships as seen in the worlds of Smyth and Fletcher has a strong an emphasis on the absolute confidentiality of all that is said and done in that relationship. It would appear that is the context of the evidence given to IICSA by Alana Lawrence of MACSAS about confessions over the kitchen table where the “seal’ was invoked.
It will be interesting to see in all these circumstances both how the Church of England compiles a response to the Call and what that response will be.
Thanks. I didn’t refer specifically to the seal of the confessional in my write-up, partly because it was long enough already without going into comment mode, but partly also because s.22A Sexual Offences Act 2003 goes far beyond sacramental confession. I’m sure that clergy in denominations that don’t use formal confession and absolution as part of their practice nevertheless regard themselves as bound by professional confidentiality, so it will impinge on them as well.
In relation to s.22A – that is designed to deal with children who are receiving regular instruction etc from a minister of religion and so may well cover children “confessing their sin” of having been abused, but perhaps not if it was in a one off session eg visiting the Shrine at Walsingham and “confessing” to a priest they had never met before, and of course it would not bear on an adult confessing to being a perpetrator.
All very interesting; and 12 weeks to sort it out!
Indeed. It all depends on how one interprets “regular instruction”. And, of course, anonymous confession inside an old-style confessional box couldn’t trigger a disclosure obligation unless the priest knew (or could guess) the identity of the penitent – which s/he might well not.
The government isn’t actually “ launching a redress scheme for survivors of child sexual abuse”. It’s launching a consultation into how (and by implication whether) such a scheme should be launched. The same approach (further consultation needed so no action now) is visible in the response to almost every IICSA recommendation.
I feel the Seal of Confession has had its day. The priest hearing a confession must be duty-bound to identify and report the criminal.
Using institutional rules to enable absolution by prayer is simply ridiculous and part of the power and control systems used by organised religions.
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