More Abuse Victims Seeking Help

The Irish Times
September 15, 2010

The number of child sex abuse survivors seeking support soared by 214 per cent following the publication of two reports on paedophile priests, according to a leading charity.

One in Four said demand for its advocacy and psychotherapy services more than doubled in 2009 once the Ryan and Murphy reports backed-up the stories that victims of institutional and clerical abuse had been trying to tell for decades.

A total of 1,432 survivors of sexual violence looked for help last year, compared with 672 in 2008, according to the organisation's annual report.

Maeve Lewis, the charity's executive director, said the publications encouraged people to reach out for help, in the expectation that they would be believed.

"Deciding to make a complaint of sexual abuse requires enormous courage," she said.

"Unfortunately, many of our clients are failed by the child protection and criminal justice systems.

Ms Lewis said the response of the Health Service Executive to complainants "varies enormously", and claimed some child protection concerns are never even investigated.

"While the Gardaí work very hard to engage sensitively with victims, the criminal courts remain an arena where victims can be annihilated by archaic, tortuous procedures," she added.

The charity's annual report also showed 371 clients attended the psychotherapy programme for individual, family and group therapy in 2009. The majority - 44 per cent - had been abused within their families, while 27 per cent were abused by priests or religious officials, 23 per cent by neighbours and professionals, and 6 per cent by strangers.

The biggest demand was for advocacy support, with 1,140 clients seeking help in contacting An Garda, reporting child protection concerns to the HSE, engaging with Catholic Church authorities and other practical support. Some 60 per cent of these were abused within the Catholic Church.

The charity also said that 21 men had engaged with the One in Four sex offender treatment programme.

Ms Lewis said good community-based treatment was proven to work, and helped keep children safe.

"As recent controversies show, we have a long way to go as a society before we accept the reality that sex offenders, convicted or not, live in every community in Ireland," she said.

"One in four Irish people experiences sexual violence. That signifies a lot of offenders. We need to find ways to manage offenders rather than drive them underground."

Ms Lewis criticised the State, adding that ironically the Catholic Church currently has a better child protection system on paper.

She said she feared that, through apathy and incompetence, little would change over the next decade.

"We have been promised that the Children First Guidelines will be placed on a statutory footing; we are still waiting. We have been promised legislation to allow 'soft information' about potential offenders to be shared; we are still waiting," she said.

"We do not know how many of the promised extra social workers have been appointed to child protection services. The waiting lists for promised support services for survivors are long. And the promised date for a Children's Referendum is fading into the future," she added.

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