Churches need ‘eternal vigilance’

Bob Pull advises churches on keeping children safe from abuse. He tells Amy Taylor about his work addressing the problem among different denominations and networking with social services

Since retiring from the police in September, Pull has set up his own business, The Safe to Worship Partnership, which supports faith communities on child safeguarding. He is working as a communities consultant for CCPAS on a part-time basis and describes his role as that of a “networker”, providing links with a range of organisations such as the Congolese Pastorship, which represents around 60 Congolese churches, and children’s services departments.

There are more than 200 registered sex offenders attending London churches, according to Bob Pull, who has just taken up the new role of communities consultant at the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS).

He believes the number could be even higher as not all sex offenders are known to the authorities. With 30 years of service in  the Metropolitan Police – his last job was as operational leader of Project Violet which tackled child abuse in faith communities – Pull’s estimate is likely to be accurate.

He is urging churches across the UK to adopt a position of “eternal vigilance” to ensure children are safeguarded in the light of such figures. Pull says that until recently faith communities had been lax with the safeguarding agenda, due to the belief that “only nice people want to go to church”. Now this is changing.

Project Violet was set up early last year after a Met investigation found an eight-year-old girl had been tortured by three people who believed she was bewitched. They were later jailed. The girl, known as Child B, was brought to the UK from Angola in 2002. She was living in Hackney, east London when she was stabbed in the chest, beaten, had chilli rubbed in her eyes and put in a laundry bag.

For the most part the media fallout from the case solely focused on faith-related child abuse and “witchcraft” in African faith communities but Pull, a trainee Baptist minister, believes this was misguided.

“The biggest mistake is for us to just look at emerging communities as established Christian communities have had difficulties for many years,” he says.

A CCPAS survey released last spring found that more than 2, 000 churches in the UK lacked formal child protection policies and Pull recognises there is still work to be done.

Practitioners also need to be aware of the potential for situations to arise within faiths not traditionally associated with the issue.

He points to a current trend for prisoners to convert to Islam in prison and says faith schools and mosques could be new arenas for child abuse.

During his time in the Met, Pull believes he was able to bridge the ethnicity and culture gap with many of London’s communities due to his Christian faith. He says this was vital to gaining communities’ trust and that at the time of the media cover  age of the Child B case it was only the relationships he had built up through his church work that enabled him to continue carrying out his police job.

Since leaving the police, Pull has noticed a “different dynamic” in his relationship with faith communities and says the independent status of CCPAS has helped in enabling people to speak to him in confidence.

Pull says social workers need to know where to go for help when their cases involve child abuse in faith communities. At present some get “frightened rabbit syndrome” when they run into certain cultural issues and “become less proactive than they should be”.

Fear of vilification is also affecting social workers’ practice, Pull argues, and while he believes strongly in accountability he says the balance has now swung too far the other way.

“As a social worker you make a mistake and there is an inquiry. You can become quite inactive from fear of doing wrong,” he concludes.

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 Amy Taylor

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