Treatment For Sex Offenders And Their Families Is Key To Keeping Children Safe From Sexual Harm
October 12, 2016
At the launch of their 2015 Annual Report today One in Four said that providing treatment for sex offenders and for their families is the key to keeping children safe from sexual harm. Executive Director Maeve Lewis said “We provide a rigorous two-year group treatment programme to sex offenders and the outcomes are very positive. Most of these offenders will never face a criminal trial because their victims do not wish to make a Garda statement. But we have also learned that the wives and partners of the offenders play a vital role in child protection. Many of these women are highly dependent on their partners, and often blame the child for what has happened. One woman told us that her 11 year old daughter was ‘a slut who had stolen her husband from her’! Through our work with the wives, they come to understand the part they have played in the family dynamics that supported the abusive behaviour. They can then work with Tusla to keep their children safe.”
In 2015 One in Four provided counselling to 116 adult survivors of child sexual abuse and to 40 families, a total of 2,563 therapy hours. Our advocacy officers provided practical information and support about child protection notifications and complaints to the Gardai to 663 people.
45% of our clients were men, which challenges the idea that boys are not sexually abused.
Almost 40% of our counselling clients had been sexually abused in their own families. The others were abused in their communities (11%), in the Catholic Church (22%) and by strangers (15%). 11% were sexually abused by multiple abusers.
In 2015 we worked with 38 sex offenders and 19 wives and partners.
Maeve Lewis continues “We meet men and women from all walks of life and from all over the country. What they have in common is the devastating impact that child sexual abuse has had on their lives. Many experience chronic post-traumatic stress. Some struggle with relationships and parenting. Many experience suicidal thoughts. Sadly, we cannot respond immediately to the people who contact us and some are waiting up to six months for an appointment. We know that 4 people have taken their own lives while on our waiting list in the past four years. This is an absolutely preventable tragedy.”
At One in Four we can ensure that clients are supported on every step of their journey. But our clients also have to engage with statutory agencies. We notify Tusla child protection services of all allegations of sexual abuse because we know that even if the abuse happened years ago, that sex offender may still be abusing other children. During 2015 Tusla began to put in place retrospective allegation teams around the country, and this has improved the way notifications are dealt with. Maeve Lewis continues “We made 49 notifications to Tusla in 2015 but most of these were deemed to be “unfounded”. While we appreciate the difficulty social workers face in assessing retrospective allegations, this does imply that many credible allegations will not be pursued, and children will be at risk.”
We welcome the enactment of the Children First Act in 2015 which will introduce mandatory reporting for a range of professionals. However, we urge the Minister for Children to speed up its commencement which currently seems to be moving at a snail’s pace.
Fewer than 15% of our clients decide to make a complaint to the Gardai. Generally our clients experience the investigating Gardai as both professional and sensitive. However, in some cases investigations are not carried out in an appropriate manner. We have supported a number of clients in making complaints to GSOC in 2015.
The biggest barrier to engaging with the criminal justice system is fear of the criminal trial. Maeve Lewis says “Our clients are routinely humiliated and re-traumatised by the accepted practices and protocols of the criminal trial. Is it any wonder that the criminal justice process is viewed with such terror by victims of sexual crime? And what message does this state of affairs send to sex offenders who can abuse so many children with impunity?”
“We welcome the EU Victim’s Directive of November 2015 which introduces important victim -focused measures, including specialist training for judges and legal professionals. We also welcome the Criminal Justice (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 which is currently proceeding through the Oireachtas. This will bring Irish law up to date with developments in internet child grooming and sex offending and will also introduce changes in criminal trials which may improve our clients’ experiences of the criminal justice system.”
Maeve Lewis ends “There has undoubtedly been a sea change in Irish society’s understanding of child sexual abuse and this is reflected in the raft of legislative and policy changes that have emerged in the past two years. However, I do not believe that people really appreciate how pervasive abuse is, how so many children are abused at home and how devastating the impact is throughout a person’s life. While this mind-set persists, children will continue to be sexually abused”.
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