New recommendations released for protecting victims of child sex abuse in Catholic schools

Lawyers representing victims of child sex abuse in Catholic schools have come forward with recommendations for how to better protect children from abuse. These recommendations include mandatory reporting of sexual misconduct and ending the secrecy of a priest’s confessional box.

At present, information shared in priestly confessionals is considered privileged and may be kept secret, even if an individual reveals abuse at the hands of someone in the church. Ending this privileged status could begin to change attitudes in the Catholic Church toward abuse, and will begin to put in place protections for victims of child sexual abuse. At the very least, for those who experience abuse, it will give them the chance to know that their voices will be heard and that they can receive the help they need.

Families speak out against school abuse

Families of those who have suffered child sexual abuse are threatening to take legal action against the UK government. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has decided to fund a legal challenge against Justine Greening, Education Secretary, accusing her of failing to protect children from sexual harassment and abuse by their classmates. A report published a year ago by MPs showed that schoolgirls regularly experienced abuse and harassment, but that it was often dismissed as mere “banter” by staff and so often went unaddressed.

We recognise the devastation that comes from experiencing abuse at the hands of a peer, teacher, or guardian – devastation that is only worsened by institutions failing to act when they are notified of the abuse. Schools must start acting to protect their students from abuse, and when they learn that abuse is occurring must take adequate measures to protect the students.

Passport Control

The US State Department recently announced that it would begin marking child sex offenders’ passports with a sentence noting their conviction. The policy was part of “International Megan’s Law,” legislation passed in 2016 and named for Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old girl from New Jersey who was raped and killed by a neighbor with previous child sex offense convictions.

The new passport regulations are intended to help protect children from sexual abuse, including sex tourism and sex trafficking. We hope the new passport regulations will prevent child sex abusers from travelling to other countries and hiding their convictions, where they may be able to abuse children with impunity.

It is our hope that other countries will take note of the United States’ approach and will introduce or strengthen safeguarding measures to ensure that child sex offenders are not able to cross borders and continue abusing children.

Justice for children in foster care

The Supreme Court recently reached a decision on NA v Nottinghamshire County Council, a case we have been following closely. As we have previously discussed, the Supreme Court was deciding whether or not to hold local authorities vicariously liable for abuse perpetrated by foster parents. We were hopeful that the Supreme Court would agree that local authorities should be held vicariously liable, as foster homes are similar in structure to care homes, because both environments serve to care for children and protect them from dangerous or harmful situations.

We are glad to see that, as of 18 October, the Supreme Court has decided to hold local authorities vicariously for abuse perpetrated by foster parents. This decision is a huge step forward for those seeking justice for abuse suffered as a child while in a foster home. Children placed in foster homes should be able to enjoy the same degree of protection and consideration as those in care homes, and we are pleased to see that the Supreme Court agrees.

We are hopeful that this decision will encourage anyone struggling with a legacy of abuse in foster care to come forward and pursue justice.

Child sexual assault victims to be granted compensation

In a groundbreaking decision on behalf of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA), child victims of sexual abuse will no longer be denied compensation on the mistaken belief that they consented to the relationship. The guidelines have been changed to take into account grooming, in which children are manipulated into sexual abuse and may be led to believe they had a hand in their own abuse. 

We are glad the CICA has changed its guidelines, as we often see in our experience with clients that grooming is a common pattern in abuse. Grooming makes young people incapable of consent feel that they are responsible for the abuse another has perpetrated against them. No one should have to feel that way, and we commend CICA for recognizing this fact and changing its policies accordingly. 

Florida school district blames children for own abuse

A school district in the state of Florida appears to have blamed four nine-year-old children for being sexually abused by a teacher. Over ten years ago, the students reported that their teacher groped them and forced them to touch him inappropriately over his clothes, but nothing was done about the teacher. When the students' parents found that prior complaints had been made against the teacher, they sued the school district for negligence. 

The school district responded by saying that "Plaintiffs were old enough to appreciate the consequences of their own actions and to be held accountable for them." After receiving criticism for their statement, the district defended their statement, saying they had "never taken the position that a child could be implicit in their own child abuse."

The teacher ultimately pleaded guilty to the child abuse charges and surrendered his teaching license, and the school district settled with its plaintiffs for $3.5 million. 

While we are glad to see that these plaintiffs received justice, it is unconscionable that the school district could have suggested the students were responsible for their own abuse. Children under the age of consent are simply not old enough to be held responsible for their own abuse. We hope to see this culture of victim-blaming end so that anyone who was abused as a child feels confident in coming forward.