The importance of the response to disclosure of child sexual abuse

When child sexual abuse is disclosed it is imperative that the individual or organisation responds well. Too many times it is reported that the response to disclosure has caused further damage. A recent example of the consequences of an inadequate response shows the potentially devastating effects of a poor response.

Jonathan Rose, an elder of the Manchester New Moston congregation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, was jailed for nine months for child sex abuse relating to two members of the congregation in 2013 (Persons A & C).

In 2012 a woman (Person A) alleged that Rose, who was by then an elder and trustee, had abused her when she was a child in the 1990s.  After he was charged with the offence, the Charity Commission contacted the trustees and was assured Rose was no longer allowed to carry out pastoral or promotional duties. However, the Charity Commission later found that although Rose resigned as a trustee he continued to carry out some of these duties and that at least two of the trustees dealing with the matter were close friends, raising potential “conflicts of loyalty”.

The trustees said they had no knowledge of any similar allegations against Rose but the Charity Commission found they did not provide “complete and accurate answers”: in fact three of the trustees had knowledge of allegations of sexual abuse of a girl known as Person B in 1993.  Rose had stood trial for the offence in 1994 and was acquitted.

After news emerged of Rose’s 2012 arrest, Person B and elders of a neighbouring congregation flagged up the historical allegation. However, New Moston elders responded that Person B had “a history of being economical with the truth and seeking to cause trouble.” As Rose had been 19 and Person B had been 15 at the time, they viewed the allegation as “a matter between two teenagers” and “not the same kind of wrongdoing.”

When Rose was jailed in Autumn 2013 for the abuse of Persons A & C, elders from other congregations decided to “disfellowship” (expel) Rose. When Rose was released from prison in 2014 he rejoined the New Moston congregation and appealed this decision. Within weeks of his release the Appeal Committee, made up of members of various congregations including New Moston’s, announced meetings between Persons A, B and C and Rose with other members of the Appeal Committee. The victims said they were forced to attend these meetings. The meetings lasted up to three hours during which the victims were questioned by Rose and other members of the Appeal Committee about the allegations. After the Charity Commission raised concerns about these meetings Rose was disfellowshipped.

The Charity Commission found that the trustees of the Manchester New Moston congregation had failed to deal properly with the allegations on several fronts:

  • It did not identify Person B’s allegations as child sexual abuse, or take this into account when considering Person A’s account;
  • It failed to suspend Rose from activities;
  • It did not consider the trustees’ conflicts of loyalties; and
  • It did not keep proper records.

It therefore concluded that  the response amounted to “misconduct or mismanagement”.

These findings highlight the importance of the way in which an organisation responds to disclosure of child sexual abuse and the potentially devastating impact of an inadequate response. One of the key aims set out in the Terms of Reference of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) is:

  • To consider whether institutions failed to identify such abuse and/or whether there was otherwise an inappropriate institutional response to allegations of child sexual abuse and/or whether there were ineffective child protection procedures in place; and
  • To advise on any further action needed to address any institutional protection gaps within current child protection systems on the basis of the findings and lessons learnt from the inquiry.

All organisations should be adopting a pro-active approach with regard to current disclosures of abuse in line with the likely recommendations to come out of the Inquiry including:

  • Safeguarding policy – Operating a procedure for handling allegations of abuse that is consistent with national and local guidance.
  • Responsible person – Appointing at least one person (and ideally two) to be responsible for dealing with such allegations. Everyone in the organisation should know who these people are and how to contact them.
  • Reporting – to the appropriate authorities. It is important that it is clear what those authorities are and who is to take responsibility for reporting, for recording that that has been done and for ensuring continuing engagement with the authorities.
  • Support – Provide support to those involved including the child/ren, parents, carers involved and to the person who is the subject of the allegation.
  • Record keeping – A clear and comprehensive record should be kept of the allegations and the response.
  • Learning outcomes – If an allegation is substantiated, the organisation should think about the lessons of the case and how they should be acted on.

Written by Catherine Davey, associate at BLM

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