In the event of an allegation of child sexual abuse in the workplace, it is essential that immediate steps are taken to ensure the safety of any child allegedly involved.
Following from this crucial first response, mandatory reports need to be made to the relevant statutory child protection authorities and subject to any police investigation, the allegations must be objectively investigated. The investigation report must be provided to the appropriate authority.
As a society, we are beginning to understand the true nature and extent of child sexual abuse, including the insidious manner in which this crime can take place. Employers must be swift to report where required, providing all necessary support to various parties throughout the course of the investigative process.
If in doubt, reporting child abuse allegations to the Police is preferable to inaction.
preying on vulnerability
Child sexual abuse by its very nature is a violation of trust, relying as it does upon the vulnerability of minors. As well as involving criminal physical and sexual acts, emotional abuse ‘grooming’ and ‘crossing boundaries’ are now recognised as being part of the matrix of child sexual abuse.
For example, in an educational setting or community group, crossing boundaries and grooming can involve subtle favouritism from the employee towards one or more children. This can develop into a falsely ‘special’ connection that can ultimately lead to more tangible forms of abuse.
For employers, protection against child sexual abuse by employers will require knowing the warning signs of inappropriate relationships and acting swiftly where needed.
Employers’ responsibility to report
If an allegation of child sexual abuse arises in the workplace, the first priority for the employer is to secure the safety and welfare of the child/ren allegedly involved. This holds true even if the allegation is speculative or based upon unverified reports.
Some employers will have mandatory reporting requirements dictated by legislation, which will require the reporting of any activity causing or likely to cause harm to a child as soon as is reasonably practicable in the circumstances.
Above all, employers who become aware of possible child sexual abuse in the workplace must not delay reporting until a finding has been made. A report needs to be made as soon as the employer becomes aware of the allegation.
Further, while strong policies around the reporting of child sexual abuse will guide timely and appropriate action, a failure to act cannot be blamed upon the lack of such resources.
Across australia – reporting child sexual abuse
As a nation – and particularly since Australians have become more aware of our institutional failures – we have learned to better protect and support children who are subject to child sexual abuse.
If an allegation of child sexual abuse arises in connection with employment, there will be subtle differences between the Australian States and Territories regarding the form that a report should take.
A summary report by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) demonstrates that while there are some differences in the size and quantity of State and Territory legislation protecting children, the overall structure is similar – a Child Protection (or similarly named) Act, plus in many cases statutory reporting requirements to a statutory child protection department and/or Ombudsman, or similar body.
Regardless of which jurisdiction an employer operates in, it is important to remember that procedural fairness must be provided throughout the entire process from allegation through to investigation and reporting.
internal or external investigation?
An allegation of child sexual abuse in the workplace will ordinarily be followed by practical steps to ensure the immediate safety and welfare of the child involved.
Following this, the person or persons alleged to have carried out the abuse need to be informed of the allegation and advised of the next steps to be taken.
Depending upon the severity of the alleged conduct, a period of immediate leave might be provided. It is vital to ensure that the person accused is given all necessary information about the process. This will include giving an initial outline of the allegation, the nature of reporting requirements and the type of investigation to be undertaken.
Whether an investigation should be carried out internally or externally is a vital question for employers to consider. In such sensitive cases as child sexual abuse allegations, an internal investigator would need to be knowledgeable and experienced in all facets of objective and fair workplace investigations, be familiar with Child Protection Legislation and be experienced at interviewing children. If a workplace exhibits turmoil and division regarding the allegation, or expertise is simply not available in-house, then it might be best to source external assistance in conducting the investigation.
When allegations of abuse arise the primary focus must be the safety, welfare and wellbeing of any child who may have been involved in the alleged conduct – or who may be at risk of harm due to contact with that employee.
If you work with children and want to ensure your practices are current, WISE provides training services, including investigating abuse in care. Alternatively, if you have an allegation of abuse, and are unsure what to do, contact WISE today!