The state of Victoria, in Australia, is moving forward with a new law that is meant to protect victims of child sex abuse, including when such incidents happen within a religious setting. According to the “Reportable Conduct Scheme” that has just been enacted, when the police and other organisations learn of allegations or cases of child sexual abuse, they must report this to the Commission for Children and Young People, whose office will monitor all involved for compliance with the state’s Child Safe Standards.
Please note that this Commission for Children and Young People is NOT the Australian Royal Commission (ARC); these would be two completely separate entities. The ARC Inquiry Into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse , of which Jehovah’s Witnesses were a part (see this page for more details), was a short-term round of questioning held to determine what recommendations should be made regarding enacting or improving laws, in order to better protect children and sex abuse victims.
According to their website, the main objectives of this Commission for Children and Young People, and their new Reportable Conduct Scheme, is to:
- require some organisations to respond to allegations of child abuse (and other child-related misconduct) made against their workers and volunteers, and to notify us of any allegations
- enable us to independently oversee those responses
- facilitate information sharing between organisations, their regulators, Victoria Police, the Department of Justice and Regulation’s Working With Children Check Unit and us
As of right now, this law is only being enacted in the state of Victoria, not throughout all of Australia. It would be applicable to anyone in an organization that falls under government oversight and who has received a credible allegation of child sex abuse; even police would be required to report to this agency, to ensure a child’s criminal complaint is not mishandled.
Note, the requirement of reporting to this agency does not mean elders would be obligated to report to the police, only to this commission. However, as said, this agency’s job would be to ensure that an allegation of sexual abuse and the child’s rights are protected and handled properly, that a record is made of such an allegation outside the setting where it was reported, and that it is handled according to Child Safe Standards. In other words, Jehovah’s Witness elders would no longer be able to drop the matter and claim that they are “respecting the rights of the victim” by abandoning them to handle any further reporting on their own. Whether or not the victim chooses to report the matter to the police, this Commission for Children and Young People would still have a record that such an allegation was made, and would be available to assist the victim in the reporting process and ensure that the case is handled according to their Child Safe Standards.
For Jehovah’s Witnesses, this mandatory reporting would no doubt also hinder their consistent practice of destroying notes and records that pertain to abuse allegations. They may also come under more intense scrutiny for how they handle such allegations within the religion itself, and what steps they take to protect children.
It has been suggested by exJW activists in Australia that this type of law may become nationwide sometime in the future, as a result of the work of the ARC. However, even as it stands, this is a tremendous victory for the victims of sex abuse in this religion, and for activists as well, and a tremendous blow to Jehovah’s Witnesses, who want to hide how many cases of pedophilia and child sex abuse actually occur in their religion.
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