by Malcolm Underhill
According to the NSPCC’s 2015 report, How safe are our children? over 30,000 cases of child sexual abuse are now recorded annually in the UK. Perhaps this growing number can be attributed, in part, to people being more confident in speaking up and raising concerns, especially in an era of post-Yewtree Operation revelations.
However, it is clear that much work still needs to be done in terms of identifying cases and protecting those affected, and various organisations are working hard to improve the status quo.
In 2014, David Cameron stated that it might be time for a change in the law, making it mandatory to report any concerns of potential abuse. While this has not yet passed legislation, the principle has been widely debated and the NSPCC published a white paper on the topic.
As yet, it is undecided whether such proposals should be enforced for closed institutions only, or as blanket reform. Another key issue to resolve is how to grade levels of suspicion and what would warrant mandatory reporting.
The NSPCC roundtable discussion proposed three options:
- Abuse of a criminal nature – this would avoid criminalising individuals for failing to report suspicions of actions that are not considered crimes in themselves.
- Sexual abuse – this would place a focus on curbing this particular form of abuse, but runs the risk of diminishing the perceived severity of other forms of abuse.
- Thresholds based on family law parameters – this covers a wider range of behaviour, and focuses on cases where a child is “at risk of, or likely to suffer, serious harm”.
How can mandatory reporting help?
One of the primary goals of mandatory reporting is to discourage individuals from covering up abuse. In some cases, this may happen because they simply do not know the true extent of misconduct. However, the proposed legislation would make “turning a blind eye” to such suspicions a criminal offence.
There are also suggestions that such measures would encourage children to seek support, reassured that their claims would be dealt with officially.
An extended version of this article is published on Criminal Law & Justice Weekly.