Education key when it comes to reporting abuse, says ex-footballer Paul Stewart

Education is key when it comes to adults reporting suspected child sex abuse, a former England footballer and abuse survivor has said.

Ex-Tottenham and Liverpool forward Paul Stewart said professionals have a duty to report abuse, whether there is requirement in law or not.

Speaking at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in London, Stewart said one of the most important aspects is for adults to be educated around spotting the signs of abuse when it is happening.

He said: “We have a duty of care as adults to report, whether mandatory reporting is in place or not.

“I genuinely believe that it’s education that we need to look to, to improve, whether that’s in the schools setting or whatever setting that’s in.”

He said awareness and education are crucial elements to dealing with the sensitive issue, for both professionals and non-professionals, adding: “It isn’t a matter of not reporting.

“It can’t ever be a matter of not reporting, it’s just being educated enough to know and see the signs of abuse when it’s happening.”

Stewart, 54, who started his professional career at Blackpool, has said former youth coach Frank Roper, who died in 2005, was the man who abused him.

He spoke publicly about the attacks decades later, in a newspaper interview in 2016 and is a co-founder of Save, an organisation aiming to bring about positive change in safeguarding and victim engagement through football.

On Monday, he sat as a participant in a discussion looking at whether mandatory reporting, in relation to child sex abuse, should be introduced across England and Wales.

Mandatory reporting is a legal requirement to report knowledge or suspicions of a crime to a designated authority.

The seminar heard expert evidence from Professor Ben Mathews, of Queensland University of Technology, on mandatory reporting in other jurisdictions.

Among the evidence Prof Mathews presented was that in Western Australia, the number of substantiated reports of child sexual abuse doubled after a mandatory reporting law – which applied to doctors, teachers, nurses and police – was introduced in 2009.

Concluding his presentations to the IICSA panel, chaired by Professor Alexis Jay, he said the evidence available supports the case for mandatory reporting.

He said: “Based on the science, empirical evidence and ethical considerations strongly support introduction of mandatory reporting for sexual abuse. It’s been shown to achieve far superior child protection outcomes with relatively little systems burden.”

He said that while “systemic change” may appear challenging, evidence indicates “substantial gains in child protection and benefits in the short term may also flow long term including economically”.

He added: “And we must appreciate that legitimate democratic government has a duty to protect vulnerable children through the adoption of proven policy measures and provision of sufficient budgetary support.”

The majority – 88% – of victims and survivors who took part in a survey published earlier this month by the IICSA, said they would support the introduction of mandatory reporting.

Many suggested that had such laws existed when they were abused their perpetrator might have been brought to justice, the inquiry heard.

The seminar will continue on Tuesday.

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