One in Four calls for national abuse strategy


ONE IN Four, the charity most commonly associated with victims of clerical child abuse, has found that two-thirds of its current clients have been abused within their own families or by someone in the community.

The charity was set up by Colm O'Gorman, himself a victim of clerical abuse, over five years ago following publicity surrounding the BBC Suing the Pope documentary.

Then, the majority of its clients were victims of clerical abuse, according to One in Four executive director Maeve Lewis. "Today, 64 per cent of our clients have been abused within their own families or by people they know in the community."

She said it had been a huge challenge to accept that people had been abused by priests, but it was an even bigger challenge to accept that most children who were sexually abused were violated within their own families.

Ms Lewis called for a national strategy on childhood sexual abuse. She said there had been separate responses to clerical and institutional abuse but there were voids in the system, particularly regarding familial abuse.

"Families struggle to get assistance from overstretched HSE staff, and often have to wait long periods for affordable individual and family therapy," she said. Ms Lewis was speaking at the publication of One in Four's 2007 annual report. The organisation provided more than 5,192 individual psychotherapy sessions last year and almost 2,000 hours of group therapy.

Some 15 sexual offenders accessed its perpetrator assessment and treatment programme. Ms Lewis said most people felt revulsion towards sexual offenders, but that unless we could provide treatment programmes, they would continue to reoffend.

Last year, a number of offenders who did not come to the attention of the authorities contacted One in Four voluntarily, because they were concerned about their thoughts or behaviour.

If such treatment programmes were more widely available, more people could be prevented from offending, she said.

She called for a mandatory treatment programme for sexual offenders in prison, with "rigorous support, treatment and monitoring services on their release".

Only three in 1,000 sexual offences resulted in a prosecution, so a sexual offender could be "almost certain" that he or she would never be held accountable for their deeds, she said. Men accounted for 60 per cent of the people who attended psychotherapy in 2007, dispelling the myth that boys and men are not victims of sexual violence, she said.

The report shows that the majority of sexual offenders were men, but 3 per cent of clients reported being abused by a woman. Ms Lewis said she believed the actual figure was higher and she called for a public awareness campaign on the issue.

Ms Lewis also expressed concern that the group's State funding be protected. Launching the report, Minister for Children Barry Andrews said that "if ever there was a sector that requires to be protected" in the event of Government cutbacks, it was child protection services.

He could not guarantee that cuts might not be made, but said: "I will be doing everything I can to delineate the priorities according to those most in need."

He said he was trying to include people from residential institutions in a new Bill which would wipe the criminal record of people who had served six months or less in prison. Sexual offenders would be excluded from the Bill.