At its meeting on 8 March 2023, the Scottish Government National Child Protection Leadership Group received a presentation from Professor Alexis Jay on the recommendation on mandatory reporting of the independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in England and Wales, [recommendation 13]. The minutes of the meeting were published on 25 July 2023, and the relevant parts are reproduced below.
Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in England and Wales, recommendation 13 mandatory reporting – presentation and discussion
Prof Alexis Jay summarised the background to the IICSA, and some of the main findings.
She noted many victims had similar experiences: abuse was rarely one-off, disclosure was often made long after the abuse took place, disclosure was often not met with sympathy or action, victims’ trauma is regularly retriggered and there are lifelong impacts, both physical and emotional, from their experiences. There were common behaviours of perpetrators: they targeted multiple victims, abused positions of power, made threats and exploited groups of victims e.g. with special talent, disabilities, reduced cognitive capacity, poverty etc.
There were organisational failures in institutions including poor leadership, not holding staff to account for actions, and prioritising reputation over victims. Wider societal issues included an unwillingness to speak about the issue, or that language used to describe events was not acceptable.
There is massive global demand for online content portraying sexual activity with children. A multi-national analysis of prevalence, cause and how to prevent this activity is needed.
Victims felt that mandatory reporting would greatly improve their experience and would prevent further abuse; however, there was concern among professionals that it would overburden them and overwhelm the reporting agencies, and that some children would not disclose abuse due to fear over the consequences if mandatory reporting were in place. The IICSA report advised that concerns must legally be reported, with an exception for non-harmful consensual relationships between teenagers with less than three years age difference. It should be placed within child protection law as well as criminal law. A research paper by Professor Ben Matthews has noted positive outcomes in jurisdictions with mandatory reporting as opposed to those without, and the same author has provided a Model Law on mandatory reporting of CSA in England and Wales to the IICSA.
Members discussed the following issues:
- assessment by statutory agencies would be needed to avoid over-criminalising children who may have been exploited or who are committing non-harmful behaviour;
- education needs to be more involved in child protection processes;
- confidential services should not be excluded from mandatory reporting;
- there is a real issue with end-to-end encryption and tech companies absolving themselves legally from being able to identify and report abusive content because of it;
- tackling online abuse requires a multi-agency response e.g. better education for children, resourcing for police, principles for credit card companies not to take payment for this content;
- mandatory reporting can support the move in Scotland to focus on children’s rights;
- mandatory reporting can sit alongside early intervention to prevent abuse;
- it is important to have support for professionals who may be affected by disclosures of abuse.
The Chair thanked Prof Jay for attending in person and noted the group will take forward learning from this session.
A report of the meeting is carried in the The Scotsman. which indicated that the Scottish Government is no longer ruling out “mandatory reporting” laws for child sexual abuse.
The meeting preceded the announcement on 20 July 2023 by the Church of England that Professor Alexis Jay is to develop proposals for a fully independent structure for safeguarding scrutiny.