Alastair Stewart: Action must follow abuse inquiry findings

Are child protection laws adequate or do they need changing?

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It was in the dark days of 2012 and 2013, scandalised by the Jimmy Savile revelations of child abuse, that Home Secretary Theresa May set up The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales. Allegations emerged against pop-stars and politicians, local authorities and churches: all would be investigated.The Inquiry has already looked at the Catholic and Anglican churches: today it published its report on other faith groups, from Christian Sunday schools to Jewish and Muslim groups, a wide range were examined and failure was found in all.

They were, it went on to say, “cultures where victim blaming, abuse of power and mistrust of external authorities are common”. It found evidence of “egregious failings” and highlighted the hypocrisy of religions that purport to teach right from wrong, yet fail to protect children.

Among the cases cited in the report, a member of Manchester’s Haredi Jewish community who abused three children only to be sent by his rabbi for counselling.

The abuser was eventually convicted and jailed.

A Muslim girl, abused and raped at a madrasa. Her abuse started when she was 8 and continued for three years. When she finally complained she was dismissed as a “slag” by others in the community.

And, the abuse of a Jehovah’s Witness girl started even earlier - when she was four. A civil claim against the group came but was defended by the Jehovah’s Witnesses despite a previous conviction against the perpetrator.

Pretty strong stuff.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses said the organisation was “committed to protecting children and providing spiritual comfort to any who have suffered from the terrible sin and crime of child sexual abuse”

The Muslim Council of Britain said: “The protection of children is rooted in our religious traditions and should be at the centre of all Muslim institutions … Crucially, children must feel confident in reporting any concerns they have.”

However, other complainants have said the report didn’t go far enough. Historically, it has always been a difficult inquiry. A number of Chairs came and went, amid continuing rows over its remit. What’s more, some institutions and individuals, found to have been at fault, have uttered words of regret but not much more.

There have been very few successful prosecutions and there have also been long periods of silence in some quarters.The Inquiry finished taking evidence in December last year and, with a couple of specific reports still due it will publish its overall conclusions - and recommendations next year.

Will it prove to have been one of those exercises that seemed to be the right thing to do at the time, but without real clout to change much?

Are child protection laws adequate or do they need changing?

What of the attitudes of the Police and Prosecution services?

And will the churches, among others, finally be seen to have profoundly changed their ways, or will the scandals continue to trickle out?

Child abuse is to me one of the most ghastly offences.

But I also get furious at having to hear yet another social services boss, senior church figure or local council leader say “We deeply regret… we will learn the lessons…. this must not happen again…”

Perhaps this inquiry is different.

We will see.

That's tonight's Viewpoint.