• Testimony of adult survivors of child sexual abuse is crucial in keeping other children safe

  • Investigating these types of allegations is notoriously difficult

  • Professor Geoffrey Shannon, Special Rapporteur on Child Protection makes several recommendations to improve the way in which these allegations are investigated

We know that one in four Irish children are sexually abused. We know that most children do not tell until they are grown up. We also know that most sex offenders continue to abuse children until they are caught. That is why the testimony of adult survivors of child sexual abuse is so important: it helps protect other children from sexual harm.

Mandatory reporting of child protection concerns was introduced by the Children First Act 2015 and thousands of mandated professionals now have a legal obligation to notify Tusla of concerns. This specifically includes allegations by adults of sexual abuse they suffered as a child.

However, retrospective allegations of child sexual abuse are notoriously difficult to assess. There are usually no witnesses, no physical evidence and the passage of time has an impact on memory. In recent years Tusla has developed new ways to deal with retrospective allegations, and most areas now have special retrospective teams. Yet the reality is that very often social workers struggle to properly adjudicate these types of allegations and their work has been the subject of a series of
judicial reviews in the High Court.

In his latest Report Professor Geoffrey Shannon, Special Rapporteur to the Government on Child Protection explores the difficulties faced by Tusla staff in dealing with retrospective allegations and he makes some important recommendations as to how the situation could be improved. He highlights the fact that the Child Care Act of 1991 is now almost 30 years old and needs to be reformed to take into account constitutional and legislative developments since then. He also acknowledges the difficulties in investigating retrospective allegations and suggests that social workers do not have the forensic skills to carry out such investigations. He discusses failures in liaison between Tusla and the Gardaí, especially in relation to conducting joint interviews of complainants, resulting in people being subjected to multiple unnecessary interviews. He also reviews a series of High Court judgments which uphold the right of an alleged perpetrator to fair
process in the investigative process.

Professor Shannon makes several important recommendations:

To reform the Child Care Act 1991 to specifically address retrospective allegations and the powers of Tusla to compel third parties to attend for interview, to act to protect unnamed children and to share information with third parties
To strengthen the partnership between Tusla and the Gardaí
To establish specialist units staffed by trained forensic investigators to establish the veracity of a retrospective allegation. This decision would then be reviewed by an independent decision-making forum that would make a final determination. Both the forensic investigators and the alleged abuser would be represented before the forum. If the forensic investigators’ decision is upheld, the information could be shared with third parties to prevent further harm. This forensic investigation team should work closely with the Gardaí to support any criminal investigation.
This comprehensive investigation and fair procedure for the alleged abuser would address many of the concerns raised in by the High Court regarding due process.

One in Four welcomes Professor Shannon’s recommendations.
Executive Director Maeve Lewis says: “As mandated professionals, we make an average of 90
notifications to Tusla each year. When our clients engage in a Tusla investigation, the majority of
decisions are that the allegation is “unfounded”. I do not for a minute believe that our clients are
lying about the abuse they suffered. Rather this highlights the immense difficulties faced by social
workers in substantiating an allegation. This means that many sex offenders can continue to
abuse children with impunity. Professor Shannon’s recommendations, if implemented, will ensure
that more Irish children will be safe from sexual harm.”