Incentives crucial to treating sex offenders

Thu, Sep 16, 2010, 01:00

SEX OFFENDERS should be encouraged to come forward for treatment by offering them early release and other incentives, according to a charity which supports victims of abuse.

One in Four director Maeve Lewis said that while it was pointless to engage with sex offenders who were in denial, social attitudes often made it hard for offenders to offer themselves for treatment.

The recent controversy over the release of convicted sex offender Larry Murphy showed clearly that Irish people did not understand there were sex offenders in every community, she said.

Ms Lewis called for a discourse about treatment of offenders in the community, and said treatment could work. “The response to people like Larry Murphy serves to drive sex offenders underground, where they become more dangerous and where children are seriously at risk.”

She was speaking at the publication of One in Four’s annual report for 2009, showing a doubling in demand for its advocacy and psychotherapy services. This followed the issue of the Ryan and Murphy reports on clerical sex abuse.

Ms Lewis accused the HSE of failing to investigate allegations of sexual abuse because social workers were overstretched. She said she could “wallpaper her office” with letters from the HSE informing victims that their allegations would not be investigated because the agency did not have enough staff. “The HSE response depends very much on the area in which the report is made, and in some instances complaints are never even investigated.”

The Garda had shown what could be done if an agency changed its approach to victims, she said, praising the force for its sensitive handling of victims. However, the criminal courts remained an arena where victims could be “annihilated” by archaic, tortuous procedures.

Launching the report, journalist Mary Raftery said that while the redress scheme for victims of clerical sexual abuse was “not ungenerous”, the process involved had become “unacceptably savage” for the victims. Other countries could learn from Ireland about how a redress scheme could “go bad”.

According to the report, 1,432 people who experienced sexual abuse attended One in Four last year, up from 672 in 2008. Some 371 people attended for psychotherapy; 44 per cent of these had been abused within their families. The agency is currently treating 21 sex offenders, all men.

Fine Gael’s spokesman for children, Charlie Flanagan, said One in Four’s claim that sexual abuse allegations were not being investigated raised serious concerns. The Government’s failure to employ 200 extra social workers, as promised after the Ryan report, was allowing an overstretched system to fail, he said.