The duty to avert criminal acts in practice

The duty to avert criminal acts applies to all of us. If you work with and treat people who are victims of violence or abuse – or have been a victim yourself – then the duty can mean a lot. It is about reacting in a way that can prevent violence and abuse from happening.

– The law is there because it has to be there

The duty to avert criminal acts may involve making difficult choices, even for professionals such as doctors and teachers.

The purpose of the duty to avert criminal acts is to prevent abuse and violence. For medical personnel, the duty to avert criminal acts takes precedence over the duty of confidentiality.

For many who work in the healthcare sector, there is a difficult balance between protecting the patient and the requirements of the duty to avert criminal acts, and it is easy to think that you are protecting the patient if you do not report something that could have negative consequences. But is that the right choice?

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– People knew something was wrong

Marius Bråtelund was sexually abused by his father for ten years. In retrospect, he has come to realise that both neighbours and doctors understood that “something” was wrong.

Marius was six years old the first time he was raped by his father. The abuse continued until he was 16. As a result of the shame, he never told anyone about what was going on, but both neighbours and his pediatrician explained in court that they had seen signs that something was wrong, but they chose not to report their concern to either the police or Child Welfare Services.

“People knew something was going on. Especially at school. I was absent a lot and participated little in class. The neighbours heard a lot of screaming and loud noises, so I know that people knew that something was going on,” says Marius.

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– Reporting does not necessarily break trust

Many people find it difficult to notify the police or other authorities because they fear that they are breaking the trust they have been shown. This is not necessarily true, says Professor Kjartan Leer-Salvesen, who has researched trust in relation to reporting violence and abuse.

The duty to avert violence and abuse can force private individuals and professionals into difficult moral dilemmas, where they must make choices that can affect both themselves and people with whom they have a relationship of trust.

For example, you may find yourself in a dilemma where a friend tells you that she has been the victim of serious, long-term violence by her husband or partner, at the same time as she forbids you from taking the matter further. This may be a situation where the duty to avert criminal acts applies.

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