The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) is considering the question of introducing mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse in England and Wales.

IICSA has consulted with the Victims and Survivors Forum, a self-nominating group of victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, and published a summary of responses.

The great majority of respondents from the Forum (88.6%) were in favour of introducing mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse in England and Wales.

Responses were largely informed by respondents’ own experiences of abuse. Arguments made by respondents for the introduction of mandatory reporting included that:

  • Such a law would identify and halt the progress of abusers earlier on and therefore prevent continuing harm to children
  • Current reporting systems within organisations are “haphazard and dysfunctional” and without such a change at the legal level, will remain so
  • The legislation would lead to more rapid cultural change
  • Such a regime would encourage professionals and others to report lower level concerns and less certain information, which could help services formulate a more complete picture of a child’s situation and potential abuse
  • If it becomes an offence not to report, individuals will protect themselves against personal consequences by reporting. If it is not made an offence, respondents expressed concerns that they are more likely to protect the organisation that employs them, to maintain its reputation or to preserve their job instead
  • The negative consequences of not reporting outweigh those of over-reporting. False reports can be quickly identified whereas a true report could change a child’s life
  • If reporting were a legal requirement, there would be better protections for those who report than those currently in place for whistle-blowers

Respondents opposing the introduction of a mandatory reporting regime suggested that:

  • Such a law would lead to a loss of control both for victims and expert practitioners
  • Better results would be achieved by educating people in spotting the signs of abuse, having confidence in what they are observing, and in signposting people to where they should report abuse
  • It would be better to encourage and reward those who do speak out in spite of the challenges
  • If reporting were mandated by law, it would lead to defensive practises and may result in reports that are not in the child’s best interest
  • Such a law may discourage victims from speaking out in environments like therapy, where the purpose of disclosure is purely for their own psychological wellbeing

Respondents were also asked to whom such a regime should apply. Responses ranged widely. Some felt such an obligation should fall on professionals who had regular contact with children, for example anyone working within a “regulated activity”, or subject to an Enhanced DBS check. Some suggested it should apply to certain professions (such as police, doctors or teachers), organisations (e.g. religious institutions) or settings. Some felt the law should extend to anyone who has a paid or voluntary role which involves any contact with children. Others suggested everyone in society should be mandated to report.

Responses highlighted the necessity of adequate funding in order for any mandatory reporting regime to be effective. Those for and against the introduction of mandatory reporting emphasised the need for better education and training, both for professionals in identifying the signs of abuse, and for children themselves to understand child sexual abuse and how to seek help when they need it.

IICSA has previously held a seminar on this subject which looked at existing obligations to report child sexual abuse in England and Wales, and at the experiences of other countries where mandatory reporting legislation exists. On 29 and 30 April, IICSA will hold its second seminar on the question which will consider the arguments for and against mandatory reporting laws, and the practical considerations involved in introducing such a regime.