Concern over child sexualisation

 

Concern was expressed in Dublin this morning about the continuing sexual abuse of over 2,000 children in Ireland annually, as well as the growing sexualisation of children at a ever younger age due to new technology.

Mary Flaherty, chief executive officer of Children At Risk in Ireland (Cari), said contemporary sexual abuse of children in Ireland was being overshadowed, however understandably, by attention being focused on clerical child sexual abuse and historical cases of such abuse.

She also expressed concern at demands by defence counsel and the DPP for access to files of children attending therapy in court actions. She called for legislation to ensure separate legal representation “or some other legal remedy” for children in such cases.

Ms Flaherty was speaking at the launch of Cari’s annual report at Dublin’s Mansion House this morning by Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald.

The Minister and Dr Niall Muldoon, clinical director of Cari, expressed concern at the increased reports of sexualised behaviour among children under 12, which was up 38 per cent in 2010.

Dr Muldoon said that, whereas in the past such behaviour was seen as a possible indication of child sex abuse, today it was more and more due to “media, social networking, the internet, cell phones, and not an increase in sexual abuse. It is an unfortunate by-product of technology.”

"Children are learning more at 10 than most of us learned at 20," he said. "It is an issue all over the country.”

Ms Fitzgerald said she had been “very struck” by indications of increased sexualised behaviour among children. “A whole culture is impinging on that childhood space,” she said, “which requires a very serious response at a national level.”

She commended Cari for providing “a key service and for playing a key role.”

Ms Flaherty said that “as historical child sex abuse cases continued to dominate the agenda in 2010 quite appropriately, Cari found it difficult to get focus on current incidence of child sex abuse.” The report refers to the fact that an average of 2,300 new reports of children affected by sex abuse are being reported every year.

In 2008, the last year for which accurate figures are available, there were 2,379 initial reports of sexual abuse were made to the HSE.  She also noted that in “over 20 years of provision of therapy” it had “only received referrals from children abused by non-clerics, a statistic that may surprise and it is hard to get the same focus on the home and the community where sadly 90 per cent of the abuse occurs.”

Commenting on threats to the confidentiality of therapy for such children, she said the situation for children and other victims of sexual crimes "in some ways" worsened last year.

There had been, she said, “a marked increase" in demands for the therapeutic notes of those who have attended services like Cari’s and those provided by the children’s hospitals to disclose notes of the therapy sessions. "These requests are now coming from the DPP’s office whereas in the past these requests came at a later stage in the legal process," she said.

It was “an issue of great concern to us as the cornerstone of all good therapy is the safety and security given our clients by the promise of confidentiality.”

Dr Muldoon suggested that legislative change guaranteeing the child’s right to privacy might ensure that records cannot be sought routinely and organisations can continue to ensure confidentiality.

 The danger to the safety of therapeutic relationship is clear and in the long term this will make it almost impossible to offer therapy while a judicial case is still ongoing. If that becomes the norm then a child may be waiting as long as two years before therapeutic work can begin. In that vacuum the problems resulting from the sexual abuse are likely to multiply and the prognosis for successful recovery will be less favourable”, he said.

Presenting details from the annual report he said that in 2010 there had been a six per cent drop in the number of therapeutic hours offered by Cari, with an eight per cent downturn in Limerick where a therapist was made redundant in 2009 due to financial constraints.

In Dublin,  figures were up by 24 per cent “thanks to a full team being in place” and a new approach to managing waiting lists.

Cari’s helpline received over 1,400 calls in 2010, mainly from mothers, with a 13 per cent increase in completed calls (1,102) that year and a 35 per cent decrease in silent calls (114).

In 2010, Cari also helped 10 children and teenagers who were attending court hearings

Further details are available at cari.ie.