Duty to Notify Police of FGM
In England and Wales, regulated health and social care professionals and teachers are required to report cases of FGM in girls under the age of 18, which they identify in the course of their professional work, to the police. In Scotland, agencies should respond to FGM using existing child and adult protection structures, procedures and policies, including multi-agency arrangements. There are sections in guidance on reporting covering a range of agencies.
Question 7. Do you think the Scottish Government should introduce a duty to notify Police of FGM? Please explain your answer.
If yes, please outline these arguments.
The respondents were much divided on this point, with both considerable support for and opposition to the introduction of a duty to notify the police about FGM.
Arguments For Introducing a Duty to Notify the Police of FGM:
- It may improve the protection of victims.
- It sends a strong message about FGM and may potentially improve reporting in contexts like schools, as a legal duty to report would encourage institutions to ensure they were acting diligently.
- One respondent noted that the duty to report to police would be part of the training provided to healthcare professionals (owing to the situation in England and Wales) so harmonising requirements would therefore make sense.
- It might improve the data on the incidence of FGM and raise greater awareness about its prevalence.
- The severity and irreversibility of FGM makes maximum reporting obligations necessary.
- This would generally align Scottish practices with those in England and Wales.
- It would make the situation very clear for anyone coming into contact with the practice of FGM.
Arguments Against Introducing a Duty to Notify the Police of FGM:
- There is already guidance that should suffice in offering protection without the need for an additional duty to notify the police.
- It may dissuade reporting due to the fear that this would lead to a criminal investigation.
- As health services were the most likely point of contact, the possibility that this would create distrust should be considered, as well as the potential to discourage the reporting of FGM related health problems.
- There may be cases where reporting is not appropriate, and imposing a duty would potentially pit the needs of the patient against the needs of process. This would also limit professional discretion, in a context where mechanisms for reporting abuse are already established.
- The potential risk that might accrue to women in the event that they lost control of proceedings.
- There is limited data as to whether mandatory reporting has improved detection or responses to FGM in England and Wales.
- It was not clear why there should be a line between FGM and other forms of child abuse, for which there was not mandatory police reporting.
- There is no clear evidence of non-reporting currently that this measure would be responding to.
Among those who objected to the creation of a specific duty to report, this largely reflected the fact that there were several risks potentially associated with mandatory reporting in a context where strong mechanisms for child protection already existed and where there was limited evidence of cases not being reported or that additional duties were effective in improving outcomes. As one respondent noted in their response, they were unsure why there would be a duty to notify the police in relation to this form of child abuse, but not in relation to others. In this context, it might be more important to raise awareness of current provisions.
It was pointed out by several respondents, however, that existing protections only apply to those under 16, leaving scope to potentially widen them to include 16 and 17 year olds. Although, as was noted, these concerns might be better addressed in the context of the upcoming refresh of child protection legislation.
The perception that mandatory reporting did not always put the individual survivor and potential victim of FGM first was shared by another respondent, who felt it could in some cases work against an individual’s best interests. The respondent emphasised that professionals should be able to exercise discretion in the instances where immediate disclosure was considered to put the victim at the risk of greater harm.
Another respondent suggested that police reporting of historic abuse would help build up intelligence in relation to these offences.
It was noted that in event of introducing such an offence, there would remain considerable work to clarify to whom it applied, the scope of the duty and the consequences of breaching it.
Another question raised in the responses was whether this would apply to cases prior to 2005 when the offence was introduced, and whether it would apply to women or girls who appeared to be at risk of FGM.
In the event that a duty was implemented, another respondent emphasised the importance of timescales, i.e. that there could be differences between what was ‘as soon as reasonable’ and what was as ‘as soon as possible’. They were also keen to ensure that professionals were able to put the interests of patients and service users first, with appropriate and consistent sanctions.