Criminal justice system criticised

 

The criminal justice system is a savage arena for survivors of sexual abuse, it was claimed today.

Support group One in Four said men and women are traumatised and left feeling like when a sex attack just happened.

Maeve Lewis, executive director, said while suspects have the right to a fair trial, she called for an overhaul of the criminal justice system.

“The gardaí have been able to completely turn around their organisation, that’s 14,000 people, change the culture and make them very sensitive to victims,” she said.

“The court system is archaic, completely insensitive and is not taking account at all of the needs of victims.

“Victims are sidelined. Victims leave the court system, even if there is a conviction, feeling retraumatised and as distressed as the time of the original abuse.

“Victims have the right to have their hurt acknowledged by society.”

One in Four has supported an unprecedented number of people in recent years after the launch of several reports into clerical abuse and high-profile court cases where young children were abused within the home.

Ms Lewis also raised concerns over the Health Service Executive’s failure to investigate his every case it refers from clients - claiming as little as 10 per cent were being probed by child protection officers.

“All our clients are people who are adults who were sexually abused in childhood so when we bring their concerns to HSE child protection services they tend to go to the bottom of the pile,” she said.

“Jut because somebody was abused 10 years ago or 20 years ago it does not mean that offender is still not out there abusing other children.

“It is vital historic allegations are taken just as seriously as an allegation more recently.”

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald - who revealed she is expecting to receive several child protections reports in the coming weeks - admitted there are resource implications in terms of protecting children.

“The demand is greater this year in relation to child protection,” she said.

“We will have to examine very carefully the resources that are needed in this area.

“This is not going to be dealt with overnight, but that should not stop us doing the right thing for children.”

The Minister said child protection was a priority for Government, including moving legislation on mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect and refining the wording for a Children’s Referendum.

“I would have thought that after 10 years of the Celtic Tiger that our child protection services would have been in a better place than they are at the moment but the goal now is to ensure they are,” she added.

Some 931 adult survivors of child sexual abuse attended One in Four last year. The organisation said 182 people attended for counselling and 749 people came for help in dealing with gardaí, the Health Service Executive, or going to a criminal trial.

The One in Four 2010 annual report reveals that 21 sex offenders were also treated through the organisation’s treatment programme. Over half of these individuals had abused children in their families.

Some 25 families affected by sexual violence were also supported.

According to the report, 182 people attended for individual and group counselling. Of these, 48 per cent had experienced abused within the family, 27 per cent had suffered clerical abuse, 34 per cent were abused by family friends, neighbours or professionals, and 2 per cent were abused by a stranger.

A total of 749 individuals attended One in Four for advocacy support in reporting to gardaí, the HSE or attending a criminal trial.

Chief executive of One in Four Maeve Lewis said the organisation makes the protection of children a priority.

“This is a very complex issue. We have to balance the needs of vulnerable and distressed adults who have reached out for help against the real possibility that the person who sexually abused them is currently abusing other children," she said.

“We believe this information must be passed to the child protection services if we are honestly to intervene in the cycle of abuse," she added.

PA