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Campaigners make call for changes in the laws
Thursday, 27 September 2012
Special report: Child abuse and the churches
CAMPAIGNERS have claimed the case of Barry Snow highlights the need for new laws on how religious groups handle child abuse allegations.
Snow, 51, of St Lawrence Gardens, in Leigh, was reported to the Jehovah’s Witness church in the late 1970s and admitted to repeatedly molesting a girl under the age of 10.
Mr Snow committed the offences in his late teens.
But instead of notifying police, the church imposed its own sanctions, allowing him to escape justice in the courts. He then went on to abuse a second girl in the early 1980s.
Judge Jonathan Black criticised the church’s handling of the allegations, but campaigners pointed out that there are currently no UK laws requiring churches to report child abuse to police.
The Jehovah’s Witness church has a Child Safeguarding Policy in place, but the campaigners say it is not strong enough.
The policy states that confessions to elders are private, and that the organisation will only insist on contacting police when they believe a child remains in danger. It reads: “Conversations with congregation elders relating to spiritual counselling or assistance are confidential and will therefore not be shared with third parties other than other elders and the branch office, as the case may require…
“A report to police or other appropriate authorities will be made immediately by the congregation elders if it is determined that a child is still at risk.”
Peter Saunders of the National Association of People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) called the policy a ‘disgrace’. He said: “That isn’t good enough. The church obviously thought Mr Snow posed no further risk. You can’t just accept an abuser’s word that it won’t happen again. You can’t take that risk with children’s lives. People who abuse children very rarely stop unless they are stopped. When questioned, they’re not going to say ‘Yes, more kids are in danger’.”
Other groups representing abuse victims dismissed the lack of legal obligation, saying churches still had a moral obligation to alert the authorities.
Homayra Sellier, president and founder of Innocence In Danger – a French child abuse charity currently setting up a UK branch – condemned the church’s actions. She said: “When churches fail to report abuse to police, they become accomplices in crimes against our children and our future, betraying the church they serve.”
Expert child abuse lawyer Peter Garsden is helping Innocence In Danger in a legal bid to criminalise the failure to report child molestation.
He said: “We are hoping to make it broader than just the church, so anyone in a position of authority can be prosecuted if they wilfully withhold information on the abuse of children.”
The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) echoed calls for the withholding of child abuse allegations to be criminalised.
Spokesman Peter Saunders said: “It should be a legal obligation, but there is certainly a moral obligation. These organisations are operating their own justice system – crimes are being reported to them and they are issuing their own sanctions instead of letting the justice system handle it. That is not appropriate. They cannot be above the law.”
The Churches Child Protection Advisory Service, which provides advice to all religious groups, said church elders should have reported Snow’s abuse to police despite the lack of legal obligation.
Advisor Andy Croall said: “If they knew a crime was committed, they should have reported it to the police – full stop. If there is a serious crime, we all have a duty as a community to report that to the police. The view that we take is that the police are involved. We do not do things in house. We are not investigators. We do not decide who is right or wrong or who is telling the truth. The way to protect children is to report it to the authorities.”
Colin Brown, an elder at the Rayleigh Jehovah’s Witness church where Snow is now a member, said the organisation would not comment on individual members. Asked whether, as an elder, he would report child abuse to police today, he replied: “We do not comment on hypothetical situations. We focus on reality. We hate child abuse and focus on it as a very serious accusation.”
Jehovah Witness legal spokesman Tony Brace said the organisation ‘abhorred’ child abuse. He claimed offenders or victims wanting to speak in ‘confidence’ to elders should have their wishes observed where possible, and if no children are at risk.
“We never advise people not to go to the police, but if they choose not to that is up to them,” he said. “Every case is different. The primary responsibility for children is with the parents and we respect that.”
What other religious groups say about child abuse:
The Board of Deputies of British Jews
“Every effort must be made to end the abuse, protect and comfort the victims and ensure that the alleged perpetrators are dealt with equitably, according to the law, but nevertheless properly, by reporting the matter to the correct authorities.”
Diocese of Chelmsford, Church of England
“We instruct our parishes to make a referral to Social Services as soon as they have any suspicions, but if there is any immediate danger to a child and Social Services cannot be contacted, to phone the police and then advise our child protection adviser within 24 hours.”
“If the child(ren) are in need of medical attention or protection from harm, you must contact your local safeguarding officer/coordinator, or, if the child(ren) are in immediate danger, the emergency services.”
If you are a child and would like to speak to someone about your welfare, call ChildLine on 0800 1111 or visit www.childline.org.uk
If you have concerns about the welfare of a child, call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 or visit www.nspcc.org.uk
If you are an adult who was abused as a child, call the NAPAC on 0800 085 3330 or visit www.napac.org.uk
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Comments on this news item:
16 comments on this news item
Posted by : Alessandro, France | Monday 01/Oct/2012 | Report this comment
What the body of elders and the Society fell down on was, after knowing that a “brother” molested and after recognizing that it was indeed sexual abuse, there was no policy in place to either monitor his association with children in the congregation themselves or warn the parents.
Posted by : Alessandro, France | Monday 01/Oct/2012 | Report this comment
Very few know that the elders, of any congregation in the world, will be following the Watchtower Society’s legal guidelines and choose to monitor the situation themselves rather than turn it over to the authorities. The Watchtower BandT Society should never take responsibility for policing the actions of a confessed pedophile if they didn’t have the means to effectively monitor him.
Posted by : J, metropolitan | Sunday 30/Sep/2012 | Report this comment
Colin Brown is double-talking when he says he doesn’t want to talk about something ’hypothetic,’ for the molestation of two children is reality not hypothetical. In 2000 Pat Garza said at a rally of victims in Brooklyn, New York, that then living Watchtower Governing Body member Ted Jaracz had molested her and other children. Mark Palo of Massachusetts says he was was molested. It’s a scandal.
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