March 20, 2012
One in Four says that the Vatican is still not accepting responsibility for its role in creating the culture of purposeful cover-ups of the sexual abuse of children. Responding to the Summary of the Findings of the Apostolic Visitation to Ireland, One in Four says it is disappointing that the Vatican did not use the opportunity to acknowledge that its interventions in the abuse scandal had allowed individual Catholic Church leaders in Ireland to ignore guidelines and to protect the good name of the Church at the expense of the safety of children.
Executive Director Maeve Lewis says: “While we welcome the findings of the Visitation that the Irish Church now has good child protection practices in place we feel it is a lost opportunity to address the role played by the Vatican in perpetuating the policy of protecting abusive priests at the expense of children”
Maeve Lewis adds: “ We also welcome the recommendation that the Bishops and Religious Superiors should devote much time to listening to survivors and attending to their needs. In the past year at One in Four we have noticed a hardening of attitude on the part of the church authorities to the question of compensation for survivors. We have had grotesque situations where senior Churchmen meet with survivors, assure them of their remorse for what happened while at the same time are instructing their legal teams to file full defences in relation to civil compensations suits. This only compounds the pain and hurt of survivors. It brings into question the authenticity of the Church’s repentance”
March 13, 2012
At One in Four we have just finished a training course in restorative justice practices. We decided to do the training because so few cases of sexual abuse actually get to a criminal trail and even when they do, the survivor often feels side lined by the trial process. Restorative justice works from a different viewpoint to the criminal justice system. It brings together (usually) the person harmed with his/her family and friends wiht the offender and his /her family. It tries to create a space where the harm done can be acknowledged, where the survivor has the opportunity to describe the impact of the crime on him or her and where agreement can be reached as to what needs to be done to repair the harm.
Restorative justice is currently used in Ireland mainly with less serious crime and primarily with juvenile offenders. Many people think that it is not a suitable way of addressing serious crimes such as sexual abuse but international experience suggests otherwise. For example, there is an incredible documentary called “Facing the Demons” showing the work of Australian Terry O’Connell with the family of a murder victim and those who murdered him and their families.
There is a place for the criminal trial, and it is important that sex offenders should be punished. But the criminal justice system consistently fails survivors. Even in the rare instances where there is a conviction, most survivors do not feel that justice has been done. At One in Four we are optimistic that restorative justice, used either with or as an alternative to the criminal justice system will place the survivor right at the heart of the process. While it won’t change what has happened, it will allow the survivor to tell all the important people in his/her life, and perhaps the offender, exactly what they have suffered. It could also allow the survivor to regain some sense of control over life.
We are beginning to offer this service to our clients, so watch this space.
March 6, 2012
It’s a quieter week than usual here at the One In Four offices. Most days we have a constant stream of clients coming in and out, but right now our Advocacy and Therapy teams are getting trained in Restorative Practices, a powerful and effective set of techniques for building communities, overcoming harm that has been done to people, and helping wrong-doers learn the effects of their actions.
Restorative Practices were first developed by educators in Pennsylvania in the nineteen nineties as a way of helping troubled teenagers grow and make positive changes in their lives. Since then it has been used across the world as a method of settling everything from industrial disputes, to vandalism to violence and abuse.
Restorative Process is not a replacement for the criminal justice system. However in certain cases it can complement it, and provide an outlet for those affected by abuse to speak openly about their experience.
The Restorative Practice technique is built around a structured meeting between someone who has done wrong, and those who have been affected by these actions. Before the meeting takes place preparatory work must be done with all those who will be attending the meeting. They will be briefed on what questions they will be asked, how the meeting will develop, and what outcomes can be realistically expected. This briefing is important because the process of Restorative Practise is based firmly on the idea of fairness.
After the preparatory work, the full meeting will take place. The wrongdoer will state what he or she did, what they were thinking at the time, and how they were affected by their actions. After this those who suffered the harm, either directly or indirectly, give their side of the story, and then everyone discusses what they would like to see happen next.
Obviously a process like this will not be suitable for all cases involving sexual abuse. Some people who have suffered abuse have no interest in meeting their abusers again, which is perfectly understandable. However we will be offering the service in certain cases where both the abusers and the victims are undergoing therapy. In these cases Restorative Practise has the potential both to aid the recovery process, and make re-offending less likely.
March 2, 2012
We have painters in One in Four this week smartening up the reception area. One of them said to me this morning that he was amazed at the numbers of men he saw coming in to meet a counsellor or advocacy officer. His comment made me realise that there is still a belief out there that boys and men do not suffer sexual violence, that it is a crime against women.
The SAVI Report showed that about one in six Irish boys experience sexual abuse in childhood. This is not reflected generally in the statistics from sexual violence services. Male survivors often find it much harder to come forward for help, often believing that they are the only one this has happened to, living with terrible feelings of shame. One in Four is different, in that each year about 55% of our clients are men. We are truly pleased that men find a welcome in One in Four and feel comfortable coming in to the office. We hear the terrible stories they have to tell, the suffering they have endured, often for decades, and feel their relief at finally being able to unburden themselves in a safe place. Unlike the women who come to us, most men have never told anybody else about what has happened. Many of the men have been married for years but have never even told their wives. The loneliness is palpable.
So I hope that any man out there who has been abused will realise that he are not alone, that many other men have been through the same violation. Most importantly, I hope he will come to know that it is possible to work through the fear, anger, shame and despair and to move on to a fuller,
happier life. The journey is difficult, but other men have walked that path and come out the other side. We would love to hear from you.
February 29, 2012
Sex offenders have been in the news again this week when it emerged that just over a third of those in prison had engaged in a treatment programme during their sentence. This is worrying because all the international research shows that engagement with a good programme reduces the risk of re-offending and therefore helps keep children safe.
There is a very good treatment programme available in Irish prisons so we must ask why the uptake is so low. Are there situations where offenders are willing to engage but a place is not available to them? Or is there a culture among convicted offenders that encourages people not to participate?
There have been suggestions that all convicted offenders should be obliged to undergo treatment. A key criteria for successful treatment is that the offender acknowledges that he has sexually harmed another. It is possible that some offenders are still in denial of what they have done and forcing them to undergo treatment is likely to be ineffective. We should instead consider ways to incentivise offenders to engage. One suggestion is that early release might be considered for those who participate fully in a treatment programme and whose risk to children is assessed as being reduced.
What is essential is that sex offenders continue to be monitored after their release. On conviction all offenders are placed on the sex offender register, and some are given post-release supervision orders when they must engage with the probations services and theGardai. The law needs to be changed so that all convicted offenders are given post-release supervision orders.
Research also tells us that the time of release from prison is difficult for sex offenders. Many are excluded from their families and communities and are therefore more vulnerable to re-offending. They need to be supervised and managed, but also to have access to community treatment programmes such as the One in Four Phoenix Programme to ensure that they do not relapse into old ways.