22 December, 2022
This article is the third in our IICSA blog series and will explore recommendation 13, which suggests that the UK and Welsh government introduce mandatory reporting requirements for those who work with children in certain roles to report child sexual abuse to the police and social services.
The Inquiry recommends that certain individuals should be under a statutory duty to report child sexual abuse where they:
The Inquiry also notes that the following groups should be designated 'mandated reporters';
Mandated reporters will therefore include;
In terms 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.
If the child is aged between 13 and under 16 years old, the Inquiry proposes that a report does not need to be made if the mandated reporter reasonably believes that the relationship between the parties is consensual and not intimidatory, exploitative or coercive. In addition, the mandated reporter must also reasonably believe:
unless the alleged perpetrator is in a position of trust within the meaning of the 2003 Act, in which case the exemption is disapplied.
The Inquiry proposes that where the child is under the age of 13, a report must always be made.
The Inquiry recommends that reports be made to either the Police or the Local Authority children's social care department as soon as is practicable.
The Inquiry believes that 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 if they witness a child being sexually abused.
Mandatory reporting laws in other countries stipulating sanctions for failure to report can range from fines to custodial sentences.
England and Wales currently do not have mandatory reporting laws in place unlike other international jurisdictions such as Australia, France and the Republic of Ireland.
The Inquiry believes that the current provisions for reporting obligations are confusing, unfocused, and ineffective.
The Inquiry's recommendation to implement mandatory reporting echoes that found in other jurisdictions; the Inquiry believes this will make a fundamental change to the way institutions identify and report child sexual abuse.
The Inquiry has stated that its proposals should not discourage individuals from reporting concerns which may fall outwith the specific ambit of the mandatory reporting regime.
Mandatory reporting has always been controversial. In 2014, the Government announced plans to consult on whether to bring in mandatory reporting as a result of pressure to make it easier for professionals to report abuse concerns in the wake of high-profile child sexual exploitation cases around the country, however, no changes were introduced at that time.
The issue has not gone away, and clearly Alexis Jay and the Inquiry feel that there is merit in placing the duty to report abuse on a statutory footing.
Those identified as 'mandated reporters' will perhaps feel greater pressure to make referrals, and this could foreseeably lead to a greater numbers of referrals, putting social services departments under greater strain. There are those who also believe that resources may be taken away from tackling child abuse at ground level.
Judging when a relationship is harmful is intrinsically subjective and often complex, especially when working with those aged 15 and 16. The need to take the reporting of child sexual abuse seriously however, must be encouraged, albeit we recognise that the imposition of sanctions for failures may have adverse consequences for those charged with decision making.
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