As the Abuse in healthcare Royal Commission research has shown, it is lifelong and intergenerational implications of child abuse are devastating. Many children who had been placed in state and religious institutions – many of whom had already experienced harm and pain – were then abused by those who were supposed to care for them.
The countless accounts of horrific abuse over many years are devastating and heartbreaking. The commission has heard so much evidence that its reporting deadline has passed extended until March next year.
It is hoped that a positive outcome of this traumatic process will be the introduction of mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse. Because at this time in Aotearoa, New Zealand, there is no legal requirement to report child sexual abuse – or child abuse – when it is seen or suspected.
In spite of the Children Act 2014 Because it was designed to increase child safety, reporting child abuse was no longer required – even for professionals such as teachers, doctors, counselors and nurses.
Instead, every agency dealing with children should have a “child protection policywhich sets out how the organization should respond to, document and communicate child safety concerns.
While this system allows for professional assessment of individual cases, it does not always result in robust child safety practices. Some employees are not up to date of their own policies, some don’t feel confident to report, and a lot base decisions about whether or not to report their own personal views and experiences.
Lasting consequences of abuse
We know that experiencing childhood abuse is harmful, with sexual abuse often difficult to detect and prevent. It can be painful, confusing and terrifying for children at the time. Lifelong and even life-threatening consequences include an increased risk of suicide And self harmNegative self image, depression, tension And substance use problems.
Survivors fare worse in terms of health quality of life measures, experience worse Educational And employment opportunities outcomes, and are at increased risk of a range of others physical and psychological problems.
Read more: Victims of child sexual abuse continue to face significant legal hurdles in suing churches – here’s why
Many also show tremendous courage and strength and go on to live fulfilling and extraordinary lives in spite of their experiences. Various factors influence this resistancewhere community and other adult responses to the abuse strongly influence how well children fare later in life.
But the investigation into abuse in healthcare has also revealed serious injustices. Many child victims disclosed their abuse to other adults, but they did not believed – and, in some cases, punished for the charges. There are many more cases than there are ever reported. Of those reported, few lead to a conviction.
Increased risk of prosecution
Mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse would send a clear signal children’s bodies do not exist for adult enjoyment. Child sexual abuse is considered abhorrent everywhere, but child sexual exploitation through pornography is grown over time. This carries the risk of normalizing abuse and increasing perpetrators’ access to victims.
Many child abusers do multiple victims. When individual cases are not reported to the police, even if the child is protected after the disclosure, the perpetrator can continue to look for another victim.
The police can only follow up on events of which they are aware. Mandatory reporting means more information, with cases more likely to go to the prosecution.
Read more: Children can now report rights violations directly to the UN – it’s progress, but Aotearoa New Zealand still needs to do more
Concerns have been raised that social services could be overwhelmed by increased reporting, and that reporting could be biased against certain ethnic or socioeconomic groups.
Where Māori are already disadvantaged, there is a risk that changing the rules will exacerbate this existing injustices, and it is not clear what impact mandatory reporting may have on ethnic differences. Nevertheless, the current rules allow for more discretionary decision-making, which is unintentional reinforces existing prejudices.
Based on Australian evidence, however appears the concerns about overloaded systems have not materialized.
Reporting child sexual abuse became mandatory in Western Australia in 2009. Certain professionals were required to report their “reasonable belief” that abuse may have occurred. Evidence of this change in law showed a two- to five-fold increase in reports, investigations and confirmations that abuse had occurred.
Read more: The cost of living crisis means bolder budget decisions are needed to lift more NZ children out of poverty
Another Australian study showed that the increased reporting rates mainly benefit boy victims. These studies suggest that there were known and suspected perpetrators, but that other adults had not communicated their concerns.
If even some of these offenders have multiple victims, a conviction will increase the safety of children around that particular offender. Offenders also receive treatment and rehabilitation.
A public health approach
Currently, when suspected cases are reported, children in New Zealand are offered information about psychological services Police and youth care agency Oranga Tamariki.
However, many parents and caregivers are not aware of the ACC-funded process for sensitive claims. It provides public access to mental health services for victims of sexual violence and abuse – whether crimes are reported or substantiated.
Mandatory reporting ensures that all children and whānau are at least aware of support options. More than that, already turning a blind eye to New Zealand high level of child abuse is unscrupulous.
And while it is true that Oranga has been Tamariki widely criticized for unnecessary intervention and causing damage can do nothing result in tragedy at.
Read more: Changes in how Oranga Tamariki are controlled threaten to weaken children’s rights and protections – what needs to be done?
Despite obvious differences in policy and practice in this area of limited resources and enormous risk, child sexual abuse is so harmful that consensus on mandatory reporting may still be possible.
Good policy models are set up abroad. And every new law should be part of a wider one public health approach to child protection, including tackling inequality, poor housing and access to adequate mental health and substance abuse treatment.
Even if introduced today, mandatory reporting alone would not prevent or fully address child sexual abuse. We need cooperation between housing, health, justice and social services, with a shared social responsibility for the well-being of children.
But it’s a small change that will help us respond decisively and protect children. As the Abuse in Care Royal Commission prepares its final report, it should carefully consider making mandatory reporting one of its key recommendations.