Failure to report sexual abuse should be an offence: Inquiry

The Victorian Parliament’s inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations has made 15 recommendations to the Government, several of which are likely to be strongly opposed by the Roman Catholic Church.

The two-volume report was tabled in the State Parliament’s Upper House this morning.

Among the recommendations is a call to change laws to ensure anyone failing to report serious child abuse is guilty of an offence.

The Catholic Church hierarchy has always insisted that information gathered by priests in the confessional should remain secret.

The report also recommends the creation of new criminal offences of “grooming” children and “endangerment” where figures of authority within institutions can be sanctioned for not taking enough precautions.

The report calls upon the Victorian Government to work with Canberra to require religious and other non-government organisations to incorporate legal structures, a move which has also been resisted by the Catholic Church.

Police applaud

Victorian police say they’re pleased the issues raised by the government’s inquiry into child abuse have been given the prominence and scrutiny they demanded.

Victoria Police made significant submissions to the inquiry, including that the Catholic Church destroyed evidence, shielded paedophile clergy members and put its own image ahead of the needs of victims.

In its response, the church acknowledged past failures but said it was not aware of a single example of a clergy authority not co-operating with police.

The inquiry’s final report, tabled in parliament on Wednesday, recognised Victoria Police’s work in dealing with victims of sexual abuse.

The committee found the approach adopted by police towards victims was vitally important because it could increase the rate of reporting and conviction and reduce the attrition rate.

Victoria Police said it was reading the report’s recommendations and would comment in more detail once it had time to reflect on the findings.

“We are pleased that the issues raised through this process have been given the prominence and scrutiny they demanded,” it said in a statement.

Key recommendations from the inquiry include making the concealment of sexual abuse a crime, creating the criminal offence of grooming, and making people in positions of authority criminally responsible for placing children at risk of harm by other individuals.

It also recommends an independent statutory body be established to monitor and oversee the handling of sexual abuse allegations within government, non-government and religious organisations.

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