2020 is a year none of us will ever forget.  The swift spread of Covid 19 across the globe took us all by surprise and changed the way we work in previously unimaginable ways.  We realised on March 14th that we would have to close the office immediately to keep clients and staff safe.  We were deeply concerned at the impact this would have on our clients, men and women who experienced sexual abuse in childhood and their families, and men who had caused sexual harm.  Many of our clients are very vulnerable and we worried what would happen if there was an abrupt shutdown of services.  Happily we had prepared a contingency plan and switched overnight to delivering our psychotherapy and advocacy services online.  We have even managed to facilitate group therapy on Zoom! Some of our clients did not have access to broadband or lived in circumstances where they did not have the privacy or safety to engage online so we offered a telephone service to them.

As the months wore on we realised that online psychotherapy worked well for some people but did not replace the in-depth work of face to face meetings.  We reopened our offices in a very limited way in August to facilitate the clients who could not manage online.

In normal times men and women who have experienced child sexual abuse regularly describe feelings of depression, anxiety, self-hatred and loneliness.  These emotions were heightened for many people by lockdown when the ordinary routines of life – work, meeting friends and family, sport and so on were removed.  People described an increase in intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and the level of distress through the isolation of Covid.  There has been a surge in new contacts and sadly we now have a very long waiting list.

Lockdown also had a huge impact on our fundraising.  We had to cancel all events and 50% of our fundraising income was wiped out.  We are very grateful to all our supporters who responded to an emergency appeal so generously.  We also developed a suite of online fundraising events and a big thank you to everybody who took part.  We also really appreciate all the people who ran their own events, and are so grateful to the people who became regular monthly givers.

At One in Four many of our clients have to engage with statutory processes – the criminal justice system and Tusla child protection services.  We believe that it is important that those processes are sensitive to the needs of our clients and recognise the dangers of re-traumatisation for people impacted by child sexual abuse.  During 2020 we worked with a number of other organisations to engage with Tusla about our concerns of their protocols to investigate allegations of sexual abuse.  We were consulted by the O’Malley Review of sexual crimes in the criminal justice system and are currently involved with the Dept. of Justice on the implementation of Professor O’Malley’s recommendations.  We responded to the Scouting Ireland Review of the high incidence of historic abuse within that organisation.  We also worked with other organisations on a call for child safety online to be prioritised in the new Programme for Government.  We were delighted to be awarded a grant from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to establish a focus group of survivors who have been through the criminal justice and child protection systems which we hope will give survivors a voice in reforms and improvements in those processes. 

We have participated actively in public discourse on child sexual abuse through regular interviews on TV, radio and the print media and through social media.

I am very proud of our dedicated staff who adapted without complaint to working from home and to using very different methods to keep our clients well.  Their commitment to the difficult work we do is extraordinary and I want to say a big thank you!

Looking forward to 2021, there is a glimmer of hope that widespread vaccinations will allow us to return to some form of normality, but I know it still is going to be a tough year.  Delivering our services and raising the funds to support them will continue to be a challenge in the coming months.  I am extremely grateful to all the people who supported us through this unbelievable year.  We know it won’t be easy but with your generosity we will flourish in the coming year.

I wish everybody a very peaceful and gentle Christmas,

Maeve Lewis

P.S. Your support this year meant so much to our staff. The photograph above is of them saying 'Thank you' to you.