Victims of Barry Bennell may not be allowed to testify

Barry Bennell, a former football coach at Manchester City and Crewe Alexandra, has been found guilty of 50 counts of sexual abuse against 12 victims. On Monday, he was sentenced to 31 years in prison. However, up to 86 other victims may never be able to testify against Bennell, if it is decided that a further trial would not be in the public interest. Detectives are continuing to investigate complaints in order that the most serious allegations may form part of a second trial; however, for any future trial to proceed, it would need to be determined by Crown Prosecution Service lawyers to be in the public interest.

We believe that Bennell’s victims deserve the chance to have their voices heard in a court of law. The scope of the abuse Bennell committed is unimaginable, and all who suffered at his hands deserve an equal chance to ensure he receives justice. In addition, ensuring that Bennell is convicted for each and every assault he has committed will allow victims to regain control over their past by seeking compensation for the psychiatric harm these assaults have caused, either by applying to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority and/or pursuing a claim in civil court.

Report released on web-based exploitation in the UK

In a recently released report detailing web-based exploitation in the UK, it was found that as many as 4% of adults have at some point engaged with images of child sexual abuse on the internet. The report also states, “It would be fair to assume that no less than 5% of young men and 16% of young women receive unwanted sexual requests each year.”

A growing number of child sexual abuse images involve computer manipulation, meaning that the photos may not have been of a sexual nature when they were taken, but were later edited to include sexual content. Almost a quarter of images were taken covertly, without the knowledge of the victim.

Manipulated images are one way to circumvent laws around child pornography, as the images do not actually depict child abuse. While it is positive that these images are being used as a substitute to harming children, we recognise that distress can still be caused to families by manipulating images of children for others’ use. We advise parents to be vigilant when sharing photos of their children, to avoid having these images fall into the wrong hands. As children begin to use the internet independently, it is also important to discuss with them how to keep themselves safe and secure.    

Pope Francis accuses sexual abuse victims of slander

Pope Francis recently visited Chile, ostensibly to offer support to victims of Rev Fernando Karadima, a notorious paedophile. While there, however, he said that until he saw proof that Bishop Juan Barros helped cover up Karadima’s sex crimes, he would consider all accusations against Barros to be “calumny.”

Pope Francis had already angered Karadima’s victims when he appointed Juan Barros, a protégé of Karadima, as bishop of the southern diocese of Osorno in 2015. This trip to Chile was intended to help repair the wounds caused by his appointment of Barros, and to repair the reputation of the church in Chile. Instead, he has brought still more division and disappointment with the Catholic Church in Chile.

We are disappointed to see this lack of consideration for individuals who have already suffered at the hands of an abuser and applaud those who have come forward with their stories.

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.