With the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse being expected to continue for some time yet, church organisations need to consider how they will respond if they receive any past abuse allegations.
It’s vital to be prepared for this scenario, particularly with the average length of time for people to report abuse being 22 years. The Commission estimates there could be as many as 65,000 survivors who could be eligible for compensation. With average payments of $65,000 each this could amount to over $4 billion under the redress scheme. Organisations will be expected to fund their own claims in this regard, and insurance cover will be dependent on the policies that the organisation had in place at the time of the incident.
Responding appropriately to historical allegations can help to contain costs and to also protect your organisation’s reputation. As such it’s vital that you have a response plan in place so you know what steps to take if an allegation does occur.
Developing a response plan
If a disclosure is made it’s not your job to do an investigation, or to counsel the survivor or confront the perpetrator with the allegations. These actions should be left up to the relevant experts and authorities. It’s also important to remain calm and not become personally involved in the matter, but to gather as much information as possible to pass onto the police or other authorities.
Suggestions for developing a response plan:
- Designate a senior person in the organisation to deal with abuse allegations.
- Take each allegation seriously. Do not attempt to deny, minimise or dismiss the complaint, but reassure the survivor that you are taking their disclosure seriously and that you are supportive.
- Do not push the survivor for more details – allow them to disclose information at a level they are comfortable with.
- Determine if the matter should be reported to the police and do so if required.
- Pass on the information you have gathered to the authorities.
- Keep a documented record in a secure place.
- Contact your CCI office regarding insurance cover if required.
To assist you regarding sexual abuse risk management for your organisation, a ‘Self-Audit Questionnaire’ is available at the Forms section of the Churches of Christ Insurance website.
A Fact Sheet on the physical and sexual abuse of children is also available here.