Justice system stacked against abuse victims, says group

One in Four calls on DPP to give reasons where decision is made not to prosecute

Maeve Lewis Executive Director of One In Four:   ’no one wants the alleged offender to be denied a fair trial but it (criminal justice system) is stacked against the victim.’  Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Maeve Lewis Executive Director of One In Four: ’no one wants the alleged offender to be denied a fair trial but it (criminal justice system) is stacked against the victim.’ Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Thu, Oct 3, 2013, 19:31

The criminal justice system has been criticised for “retriggering” the trauma of child sex abuse suffered by survivors who pursue actions in the courts. Maeve Lewis, executive director of the One in Four agency, which assists abuse victims, their families and offenders, said today “no one wants the alleged offender to be denied a fair trial but it (criminal justice system) is stacked against the victim.”

Praising the sensitivity with which gardai deal with abuse cases, something that “had been transformed in the past decade,” she continued, “if a huge macho organisation like the Garda can change culture (where such cases are concerned) we can see no reason why barristers and the judiciary cannot do the same.”

She said “it should be treated as a special type of crime with a special type of crime victim, as in other countries.” She was also critical of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in such cases. There, she felt,” the solution is very simple. Give reasons when it is decided not to prosecute,” as when the DPP decided not to prosecute, abuse survivors “take this as disbelief.”

Ms Lewis was speaking at the launch in Dublin of the 2012 annual report for One in Four, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

Launching the report clerical abuse survivor Marie Collins, a former member of the agency’s board, praised “the vision of the founder of One in Four Colm O’Gorman, without whom there would not be a 10-year report.”

She warned against theportrayal of child abusers as “evil beasts” etc. in headlines. “The reality is those who harm children are part of our society - they are brothers, fathers, sons, husbands and partners. Ignoring them does not change that. Working to try and prevent their offending in the future, as the (One in Four) Phoenix programme does, is an important part of child protection...no matter how difficult the path to it may be.”

She praised the work of the Catholic Church child protection watchdog, its National Board for Safeguarding Children, particularly under its chief executive Ian Elliot “a determined and effective advocate for children” who retired last June. But she expressed concern “that his successor has not yet been appointed” and hoped it was not “an indication that the Church leadership might step back from the strong oversight shown by Mr Elliott. ”

She praised the “ warm pastoral response from bishops and religious leaders” when it came to dealing with some abuse survivors but found it “indefensible” that some such survivors “are still met with a sceptical, legalistic and adversarial response” by some senior figures in the Church.

“Maybe if even one senior cleric had been indicted for facilitating sex offending priests by covering up their activities, then things would be different. We have a right to expect more....this is simply not acceptable,” she said.

While there had been improvement in the area of child protection in Ireland over the past 10 to 15 years, “there is still a great deal to be done,” she said. An example was the fact that “fewer than 10 per cent” of abuse notifications passed on to the HSE by One in Four had been investigated.

She noted that frequently the reason given for this was that these were historic cases. This was “wrong in every way. In my own case I reported - 30 years later and my abuser was still abusing.”

Reflecting on the past 10 years Maeve Lewis said there had been many positive development. There was now“a full Minister for Children, a Children’s Referendum, a new Child and Family Support Agency with more transparent and consistent child protection practices, Garda vetting of people working with children, a new offence of reckless endangerment of children, and new legislation which will shortly introduce mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse. This reflects a growing awareness that we all have a duty to act to protect children. Ireland should become a much safer place to be a child”.

But, she continued, “many challenges remain as the events of this week show.”