Second Opinion: The Catholic Church still does not get child abuse

Adults abuse children because they can. They believe their power over others means they will not be caught and punished. Photograph: Thinkstock

Adults abuse children because they can. They believe their power over others means they will not be caught and punished. Photograph: Thinkstock

Wed, Jul 9, 2014, 09:00

The conviction of Rolf Harris is a reminder that child abuse is an abuse of power. The crime persists because perpetrators are not challenged and dealt with speedily by the criminal justice system. Children are still abused in Ireland every day.

The HSE Annual Report 2013 shows that 6,462 children were in care at the end of 2013 and 1,547 children were on the Child Protection Notification system.

The HSE expects to receive about 40,000 referrals to the Child and Family Agency in 2014. Between April 2013 and the end of March 2014, 164 allegations were made against priests and religious to the National Board for Safeguarding Children.

Many organisations that have contact with children, including sports organisations and the Catholic Church, don’t understand the relationship between the abuse of power and child abuse so their prevention strategies are inadequate.

The 2013 annual report of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland shows that the Catholic Church does not get it.

Several sections of the report are worrying. The new chief executive officer, Teresa Devlin, hopes “that through the work of the National Board, children will be empowered [and] will influence safe practice”.

This aspiration is nonsensical. It implies that children can prevent their own abuse. They cannot, any more than empowered householders can prevent burglaries or empowered women can prevent rape. Adults abuse children because they can.

They believe their power over others means they will not be caught and punished.

Children need to be empowered about many aspects of life but the crime of child abuse is not one of them. Among other things, children must be able to deal with bullying by their peers, to make and keep friends, and to refuse to start smoking.

Other decisions, such as what food to eat and how much time to spend on the computer, need to be made for them.

 

Power imbalance

There is a power imbalance between adults and children: that is the nature of childhood. Adults have responsibilities and one of those is to protect children from abuse. It is grossly unfair to expect any child, no matter how empowered, to be able to control an adult’s behaviour.

 

The definitive guide to child protection, Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children, published by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in 2011, does not mention empowering children in order to prevent child abuse.

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