Churches, Medics, Schools Reporting More Sex Abuse Cases

By Luke Douglas
The Jamaica Observer
July 16, 2006

THE delay in reporting the role of one of its deacons in the alleged sexual assualt of a teenaged girl notwithstanding, the police say reporting of sex offences by representatives of churches and schools is on the increase.

While not divulging figures, Inspector Dutress Foster-Gardner of the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA) told the Sunday Observer that pastors of churches and guidance counsellors in schools have been more forthcoming with information about sexual offences within their organisations.

"Reporting has improved since the passage of the new Child Care and Protection Act, which requires compulsory reporting of cases of child abuse," said Foster-Gardner.

The child care law passed in 2004 encourages the reporting of even the suspicion of abuse, and punishes failure to report actual cases by a fine of $500,000 or six months in prison.

Knowingly making a false report attracts a $250,000 fine.

The inspector said CISOCA has been visiting schools to communicate to teachers and students the importance of reporting abuse cases to the authorities.

The churches, unlike the Dayton deacon case currently in the courts, has been blowing the whistle on abusers.

"Since this new law we have been getting a lot of calls from churches about people who are being abused," said Foster-Gardner.

The nature of her work requires strict confidentiality, but the police inspector related a case in Spanish Town in which she posed as a worshipper to nab an alleged child abuser.

"There was this man who was hiding for some time; he had buggered a little boy about seven years old. We got word that he was going to this particular church. I sat outside all day until he came out of church and I held him," Foster-Gardner stated.

"I apologised to the pastor, but he was supportive. He said 'Inspector, if you have to, take them from the church, you sit in as a member and take them out'. He was thoroughly against it (the abuse)," the inspector said.

She said she had worked with pastors who had brought in victims and perpetrators to her.

CISOCA says it has also been receiving more reports from medical practitioners.

"The private doctors are calling us. As soon as a case comes to them, they report it to us," said Foster-Gardner.

General Secretary of the United Church of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, Rev Colin Cowan says the church has a duty to bring matters of sexual abuse to the attention of the police.

"The church over time has been saying there needs to be good working relationship between the law enforcers and ourselves because all of us are committed to social justice and community development. It requires therefore that in criminal matters the church should be absolutely clear about its committment to cooperate with the law enforcement officials and to ensure that justice is done," said Cowan.

The Roman Catholic church, which has a history of covering up abuse cases involving its priests, says the official edict is that all criminal cases must be reported to the police.

"The new guidelines issued from Rome are that criminal cases should be reported to the civil authorities immediately," Monsignor Richard Albert told the Sunday Observer.

In the past, however churches and schools did not always cooperate with the police, as it was the practice of some schools to cover up sex abuse cases.

"Persons ususally hid these crimes especially when they are committed in the schools," Foster-Gardner said. "There are some cases where guidance counsellors knew what was happening, and didn't do anything."

Often, the children are afraid to confide in the guidance counsellors because their privacy cannot be assured, the policewoman said.

Sometimes word of the assualt gets around the school, "and we have to remove the child to another school," the inspector said.

Police statistics show 700 to 900 sex abuse cases against minors annually, but the authorities believe many more cases go unreported and undocumented.


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