The Importance of Reporting Child Abuse within Communities
Following the recent Dispatches documentary on Britain’s hidden child abuse further light has been shone upon communities which do not properly report child abuse. Whilst Dispatches concentrated on reporting the failures of the Jewish community in Stamford Hill, it would be wrong to say that this is the only community or organisation to ‘close ranks’ when under scrutiny. Indeed, recent media reports highlight that many organisations do not report child abuse under the misguided premise of protecting the reputation of the organisation when they ought to be prioritising the protection of victims of abuse. They may believe that the police will not fully understand how the community works and be concerned that outside influences may adversely affect it. Such groups are not limited to religious organisations but also sports clubs, youth groups, schools and even the BBC could be accused of acting in this way.
Often it is a few individuals within the communities and organisations who choose not to report child abuse to the authorities for fear of the shame that it will bring on them and the organisation’s reputation. Whilst leaders continue to turn a blind eye to reports of child abuse it will continue under the radar. This approach allows abusers to continue what is often sustained abuse, on multiple victims, spanning long periods of time. Moreover, the majority of their members find the behaviour of the abusers not only abhorrent but something which should be punished by the criminal justice system. Unfortunately it is the fear of the shame that stops leaders coming forward and the abused revealing the ordeal to which they have been subjected.
This is not only the case with child abuse but also female genital mutilation (“FGM”). As yesterday was ‘International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation’ we are reminded that this is a practice that the authorities know is occurring but cannot properly address without the assistance of the victims and their communities. FGM is illegal in the UK but there have been no prosecutions relating to the practice. This is due to girls being hesitant to come forward and give evidence against their community and often their own family.
However, the Department of Health has this week announced that it is looking to gather data on the number of women who have been mutilated and thus increase the number of prosecutions. The Department hopes to obtain information from pregnant women so as to confirm whether they have been the victims of FGM. The expectation is that this will ensure that help is available to victims throughout their pregnancy as opposed to hospitals first confronting the problem only when a woman is in labour. This will ensure that hospitals are adequately prepared and equipped to deal with possiblecomplications. Furthermore, hospitals, authorities and the Department of Health can be alerted that infants are at risk where the mother has been the victim of FGM .
FGM and child abuse are closely linked. Often victims are mutilated when they are very young and are unaware that the practice is wrong. Moreover, the procedure is often carried out by those who are close to them and who they trust implicitly. It is important to educate the communities that carry out the practice of the harm that they are doing to their young girls. It is the Department of Health’s hope that the gathering of such information will ensure that criminal sanctions and improved education will stamp out this practice. As Jonathan Wheeler of my firm recently highlighted claims for such abuse may be brought against the healthcare professionals who do not give the girls the treatment they need and also the individual who carries out the practice.