Hazel Southam - Journalist

'Naive' churches an easy target for paedophiles, says expert

The Daily Telegraph 13 April 2015: Churches are still viewed as a ‘soft touch’ by paedophiles hunting for victims, despite tighter child-protection measures after a series of abuse scandals, one of Britain’s leading experts on the issue has warned.
Justin Humphreys, the head of safeguarding at the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS), an independent body set up to combat clerical abuse, said convicted paedophiles often seek out places of worship on their release because of members’ belief in forgiveness.
Although churches now routinely carry out criminal-record checks for volunteer positions such as Sunday School teachers, Mr Humphreys said that they are ‘undoubtedly’ still missing out on large numbers of people who pose a threat to children, but have never previously been caught.
Churches of all denominations are still guilty of ‘naivety’ on the issue of sexual abuse despite the revelations, he added. A recent random survey by the CCPAS found no examples of churches carrying out the level of full scrutiny in application processes that it recommends.
The Roman Catholic Church, in particular, has been rocked by a succession of child abuse scandals across the world, leading to the introduction of new rules to protect children. Two years ago the Church of England issued an apology to victims and it is now finalising an overhaul of canon law to modernise safeguarding procedures. But last week it emerged that almost 140 new allegations involving the Church of England had been made in the past six months.
‘It’s undoubtedly the case that paedophiles target churches because they are seen as a soft touch,’ said Mr Humphreys. ‘It is a huge risk – we know that this happens.’ He said that carrying out criminal records checks on new applicants for jobs was not enough and churches must go through rigorous procedures, even for volunteer roles.
‘If churches are just doing a DBS [Disclosure and Barring Service] check, undoubtedly a paedophile could get through that,’ he said.
‘The DBS check will only pick up what is known – there are likely to be many individuals who pose a risk to children who have a completely clean DBS check because they have not yet been caught.’
Danny Sullivan, the chairman of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission in England and Wales, said the Catholic Church had learnt lessons and had been forced to ‘wake up and grow up’ to the threat.
A Church of England spokesman said: ‘Through legislation currently going through General Synod and new guidelines we are striving to improve the consistency of our safeguarding work across parishes and dioceses.’


About Hazel

Hazel Southam is an award-winning journalist who reports on religious affairs, international development and the environment. She has covered four G8 Summits.

She wrote for The Sunday and Daily Telegraph for 10 years. Her work has also appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, The Independent on Sunday, The Daily Mail and The Evening Standard.

Reporting assignments have taken her to places including Bosnia, Zimbabwe, Mongolia, Albania, Nagorno-Karabakh, Senegal and the Arctic Circle.

In the UK, she has also delivered media training to the MOD and leading businesses.

Contact Hazel