Keir Starmer: why silence over child abuse should be a crime
Doctors and priests should be required by law to report suspicions of child abuse, says outgoing DPP
FAILING to report suspected child abuse should be a criminal offence, the outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has said. Keir Starmer, who retired from his role as DPP on Friday, has told BBC's Panorama that there should be "mandatory reporting" among "certain categories of individual".
So who would that include?
Doctors, social workers and priests have been mentioned. Starmer points to a "very straightforward, simple" mandatory reporting scheme used in the US state of Washington that he believes could work in the UK. In Washington, people who have frequent contact with children and families are required by state law to report suspected abuse and neglect to authorities so that the situation can be assessed. The rules also apply to teachers, police and child-care providers.
Why does Starmer think the current UK system is failing?
The former DPP says there are "too many" examples of cases where those who have suspected abuse have failed to act and the abuser has either got away with it or been able to continue offending. He has called for a "clear, direct law that everybody understands" and says a criminal penalty would "focus people's minds". Starmer made his comments on a BBC /Panorama/ documentary, /After Savile: No More Secrets/. The programme, which will air tonight, claims schools and hospitals repeatedly failed to protect children from sex offenders. Declassified government files going back 60 years show how senior civil servants were well aware that school authorities routinely hid child abuse and the law was an inadequate deterrent.
Who is in favour of Starmer's proposal?
The Catholic Church and the Church of England have come out in support of mandatory reporting. Bishop Paul Butler, head of safeguarding at the Church of England, said: "We have to think of the child first, not ourselves, not the institution, what's best for the child." /Panorama/ also heard from two abuse victims, including a woman who says she was raped by Jimmy Savile at the age of 12 while recovering from an operation to have her tonsils removed in Stoke Mandeville hospital in 1977. Despite telling a nurse, she claims she was told to keep quiet. The woman's solicitor echoes Starmer's call, saying that victims "may have been spared" if there had been a compulsion to report.
What does the government say?
The Department for Education says it currently has no plans to change the law and insists that existing professional guidelines requiring teachers and others to immediately refer concerns to social workers are the best approach. "Mandatory reporting is not the answer," it said in a statement. "Professionals should refer immediately to social care when they are concerned about a child. This happens every year in many thousands of cases and numbers of referrals have increased over recent years." It added that in countries, such as the US, Canada and Australia, where reporting of child abuse is mandatory, there was no evidence to show that it is a better system for protecting children. ·