April 17, 2012
The report of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in Primary schools was published last week and has generally been welcomed across all shades of opinion. However to my mind it fails to address a key issue: why is the State not responsible if a child is sexually abused at school?
A couple of years ago a brave woman from Cork called Louise O’Keefe went all the way to the Supreme Court to try to establish that the Department of Education was legally responsible for her sexual abuse by the man who was the principal of her primary school. The Department of Education vigorously defended the case and the Supreme Court found against her. It held that in this instance it was the patron of the school, the Bishop of Cork, who was legally responsible for the conduct of the teachers employed under his patronage.
Now, I’m not a legal person or a learned judge, but it has always seemed to me to be nonsense that the Department which lays down the standards for teacher training, pays their salaries, decides the curriculum and provides inspections of their work should be able to avoid all responsibility when a
teacher sexually abuses a child. Currently over 90% of primary schools are under the patronage of the Catholic Church and I do wonder if bishops, given their track record, are the best people to be responsible for child protection? And even if some schools shift to another patron, be it the VECs or Educate Together, should the Department of Education really be able to hand over such a crucial responsibility?
Louise O’Keefe is currently pursuing her case to the European Court and she has my absolute support. But it makes me angry that one courageous woman should have to risk everything, including her home, so that the Irish state be made to face an essential obligation of democratic governance: ensuring the safety of the nation’s children.
April 4, 2012
Here at One in Four we are all looking forward to Easter. We’re closed for four days and our overworked staff are ready for a good break. All sorts of plans are afoot to get away or to stay at home, to hang out with friends and family.
But we need to spare a thought for the many people who dread weekends like this. I’m thinking of the people who were sexually abused as children and who are continuing to deal with the effects of that. One casualty of abuse can be relationships with family members especially if the abuse was in the family. For people in this position times like Christmas and Easter can be lonely and grim. Everybody else seems to have family plans and abuse survivors can feel isolated and different. Every family has its strains and its dysfunctions, but this may be exacerbated where there has been abuse. This can make it impossible for survivors to remain in contact with their family.
One in four Irish people have been sexually abused so we are talking about an awful lot of people who may be feeling sad and excluded this weekend.
April 3, 2012
MACSAS, a UK-based organisation for survivors of clerical sexual abuse are conducting a survey of people who have been affected by such abuse. Full details of the survey are available at http://www.macsas.org.uk/
The deadline for completing the survey has been extended to April 30th.
March 29, 2012
Over the past year we have developed a new service at One in Four. Most of the people who come to us have been sexually abused within their families – by a father, brother, uncle, grandfather and sometimes by a female relative. If the offender is still alive, the survivor is often very concerned about the safety of other children in the family. The man who abused his own children might now have access to grandchildren, the abusive uncle might be targeting a whole new generation of children. This means that the survivor has to disclose their abuse to family members and this can cause a huge disturbance in the family.
Some family members immediately believe and support the survivor but others cannot accept what has happened and reject the survivor. Some of course may have been abused themselves. The family really needs support at this time.
In this type of situation we offer to meet with all the members of the family who wish to come. This sometimes will include the offender but most often not. We have a series of meetings to explore the impact of the disclosure of abuse on each family member and to allow the survivor to describe the effect the abuse has had on him or her. It also allows the family the chance to begin to understand how sexual abuse happens in families, what are the factors in their particular family that enabled the abuser. Most importantly, it helps the family to understand what must happen if other children are to be kept safe.
Last year we helped over 53 families and the demand is growing. The feedback has been very positive from survivors and from families. By giving people the space to talk to each other and by empowering them with information, real change can happen and the next generation is protected
from sexual harm.
March 23, 2012
One thing that has really interested me in the past few years is that senior Catholic Churchmen have continuously apologised for the sexual abuse of children yet the apologies have had very little meaning for the survivors. Why should this be so?
One reason, I think, is that the Catholic leadership still does not really appreciate the full horror of child sexual abuse and the devastation that it causes throughout a person’s life. They just do not grasp the immense pain and suffering that the survivors they meet are going through. Another reason is that most of the apologies are made on behalf of the individual sex offender priests, not on behalf of the institutional Church. The role played by the culture of deference, secrecy and loyalty in facilitating the ongoing abuse of children has never been fully acknowledged. In fact it seems as if the Vatican does not accept at all that it has played a part in perpetuating this culture and many of the Irish Bishops seem to be equally deluded. Finally, survivors are deeply hurt by the actions of some church leaders who sit with them for “pastoral” meetings while at the same time instructing their legal teams to vigorously contest any claims for compensation that a survivor may make. This contradictory approach undermines any possibility of the survivor feeling heard.
If remorse is to be meaningful, it must encompass full knowledge of the harm that has been done together with a commitment to make reparation for that harm. Money alone will never compensate for the devastation of so many lives, but it is the language of money that we recognise in this society. Until the Church leadership grasp these simple points they can apologise until the end of time but it will never resonate with survivors.