Bring in mandatory reporting of child abuse for church leaders, survivor urges MSPs
A woman who says her abuse as a child was covered up by her church is calling on the Scottish Government to introduce mandatory reporting for all religious leaders.
Angela Cousins, who was abused by her father, told Holyrood’s public petitions committee that “nothing was done” when she reported it to her church.
She said a judicial committee of elders within her branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses asked her “provocative questions” after she came forward, before sending her home with her parents.
“They didn’t do anything else, apart from give my father a mild reproof,” she added.
Her father was convicted of abuse in 2002 and jailed for five years.
Mandatory reporting would create a legislative duty to report known or suspected child abuse or neglect to the authorities.
There is currently no legal requirement to report concerns about a child’s welfare.
Cousins told MSPs that without mandatory reporting, “children will forever remain silent” over their abuse.
She said: “Children within the organisation feel, and are taught, that everybody outside the organisation are part of the devil’s world – they’re all controlled by the devil, the government is controlled by the devil, the police are controlled by the devil. It’s very nerve-wracking for a child to even say anything to anybody outwith their own organisation… they are pretty much isolated from normal, everyday life.”
In response to a letter from the committee, the Scottish Government said there was “not a compelling case” to bring in mandatory reporting.
It said: “Previous evidence has suggested that there could be some significant unintended consequences for wider child protection issues.
“There is general agreement in Scotland, that the Getting It Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) approach and the incorporation of United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots Law, takes a more holistic approach to joining up and coordinating multiagency responses to the needs of children, young people, their parents, and their carers.
“We will however continue to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the Scottish child protection system working closely with stakeholders.”
Cousins is also calling for a public inquiry into actions taken by religious organisations in response to child sexual abuse allegations.
The existing Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry is only focused on children abused in care and therefore does not cover the experiences of people like Cousins.
The government has expressed concern that widening the remit of the inquiry would “take many more years to conclude [and] we would be failing to respond to those survivors of in-care abuse”.