Church of England safeguarding group admits 'failure to respond compassionately' to abuse victims

Reuters

A major independent review into abuse within the Church of England "makes for very difficult reading", its body responsible for safeguarding has said.

The review by the Social Care Institute for Excellence examined 42 safeguarding audits carried out across Church of England dioceses between 2015 and 2017. 

The report makes several recommendations, including that the Church establish a new body to centralise safeguarding and handling of abuse cases, although the Church has reportedly ruled this out.

In addition to looking at safeguarding audits, the review also heard responses from 58 survivors of clergy and other Church-related abuse.

Many of the survivors expressed dissatisfaction with the Church's handling of their cases, with some even saying they had never received a "meaningful response" from the Church after reporting the abuse.

When survivors were asked what improvements they wanted to see, recommendations included churches displaying a national helpline on the back of toilet doors, safeguarding training for church staff, and awareness campaigns to educate church members about the signs of abuse. 

Survivors also stressed the importance of being believed and supported by church leaders in coming forward. 

"If everyone is aware that safeguarding is taken seriously and abuse is not tolerated then it makes it easier for a victim to come forward," said one respondent.

Another said: "Survivors can feel 'safer' suffering alone in silence than taking the perceived risks of the consequences of telling their story." 

One respondent said it was important that abuse could be reported to a responsible person who was not a member of the clergy and that the Church needed to avoid giving "the impression that concerns are all dealt with internally by friends and colleagues".

Asked what churches should avoid doing upon receiving an abuse complaint, respondents said "gossiping" about victims of abuse, "victim blaming" and "yelling" at them. 

One respondent said their church leaders had been "extremely difficult to deal with".

"Every time you talk about the abuse, they butt in with words like 'alleged abuse' and this despite my abuser being in prison," they said. 

The Church's National Safeguarding Steering Group (NSSG) said the report "makes for very difficult reading" and that the Church's "failure to respond compassionately has undermined confidence in its own safeguarding practice".

Bishop Peter Hancock, the Church's lead safeguarding bishop and chair of the NSSG said: "It is essential that victims and survivor organisations have confidence that anybody coming forward to disclose abuse to the Church are treated with compassion, offered support and their concerns and allegations are taken seriously.

"They must have confidence that the Church will act to address instances of abuse and do all it can to prevent future harm.

"The Church recognises that significant changes will be required before survivors will have this level of confidence in the Church, and that this undertaking is no simple task.

"However, it is one that I and my fellow bishops and the whole Church are absolutely committed to."

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