I’m never sure what my postman makes of it, or ever notices in fact, but every two months a green publication entitled ‘Child Abuse Review’ drops through my letterbox wrapped in clear plastic. ‘Child Abuse Review’ is the official journal and research publication of the British Association for the Study and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (BASPCAN) of which I am a member.
The latest edition contains an article titled ‘Reporting sexual abuse in religious settings’. One of its co-authors is an Anglican colleague, Colin Perkins, who is the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser in Chichester, a diocese that has arguably seen more than its share of reports about church based abuse over the last twenty years or more.
This article in part has a focus on the psychological challenges pushing against the recognition and reporting of child sexual abuse faced by those described as ‘onlookers’ who may observe what is going on in a particular place. ‘Recognise and refer’ are two of the ideas we promote strongly at all our Creating Safer Space training, so this article tries to help us understand more about how allegiances to individuals or organisations, and the emotional attachments people have with their church, can be powerful restraining factors that may limit reporting. It is not suggested that there are often deliberate or carefully reasoned acts of omission at work, but because of a range of understood psychological factors and theories, there is ‘a lesser propensity to believe allegations of child sexual abuse in (church) settings’ (Harper and Perkins, 2018).
In response to these findings, and in summary, this article suggests that we would do well to pay more attention to the psychological processes at work that can impact on reporting. With a deeper understanding of personal circumstances and organisational contexts, and by better planning and styling of our communications about reporting, the church should be better prepared to prevent abusers operating in future. Some useful food for thought as we start the roll out of our new Advanced Level Module to church leaders across the District.
Harper C, Perkins C 2018. Reporting Child Sexual Abuse within Religious Settings: Challenges and Future Directions. Child Abuse Review Vol 27: 30-41 (2018)