Charities face potential sexual abuse claims in light of new reports
The Charity Commission’s annual report, published on 20 July 2020, suggests that abuse unfortunately remains an issue within the charity sector. According to their report, 5730 serious incidents were reported to the Charity Commission in 2019/20 - the majority of which involved abuse and mistreatment. This is a rise of almost 50% on the serious incidents reported in 2018/19.
Of the serious incidents reported in 2019/20, 60% related to safeguarding. This is an increase of 1000 reports from the previous year.
It is of great concern that allegations of abuse within the sector have increased so quickly in such a short period of time.
The Charity Commission report and statistics come amidst the background of a third inquiry into abuse in the charity sector which began on 8th July 2020, by the International Development Committee, which is concerned that sexual abuse and exploitation is “endemic within the aid sector”. The inquiry is currently welcoming written evidence ahead of hearings to be announced at a later date.
Previous concerns of this nature were brought to the attention of the public in 2018, when appalling allegations were made against Oxfam workers who were in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. There followed a Parliamentary inquiry, which found significant failings. Unfortunately the recent statistics and launch of a further inquiry suggests that this is not a problem that has yet been resolved.
The worry is that there may be a culture within the sector that enables abusive behaviour. The significant increase in reported incidents of abuse does nothing to quell these concerns.
It is possible however that the increased reports may indicate a change in behaviours and an increased willingness for victims and witnesses to come forward. It may also be in part as a result of the Charity Commission making reporting more straightforward in the past year. However, the increase of almost 50% in one year is highly unlikely to be solely due to this – unfortunately, such a large increase suggests abuse remains a significant problem in the sector.
As long as such behaviour continues and is not adequately identified and dealt with, charities face a lack of trust in the sector and a risk of serious reputational damage.
It is critical that charities remain alert to the issues and have strong safeguarding practices in place, most importantly to protect the vulnerable people who they support and to ensure ongoing trust.
From a claims perspective, increased compensation claims stemming from incidents of abuse are likely to come forward. This will have a detrimental effect on charities’ finances at a time when the Institute of Fundraising reports that they already anticipate on average a 24% reduction in income due to COVID-19 and whose finances would better be spent for the benefit of the individuals who need their support.
Keoghs awaits the reports and outcome of the most recent Parliamentary inquiry with interest.