Sexual abuse victim calls new redress scheme ‘a sham’

Sean O’Donnell (58) says victims are wrongly being divided into cohorts, but ‘rape is rape’

Sean O’Donnell, who from the age of 11 was raped almost daily by one of his teachers while attending school in Dublin. Photograph: Moya Nolan

Sean O’Donnell, who from the age of 11 was raped almost daily by one of his teachers while attending school in Dublin. Photograph: Moya Nolan

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A man who has made several attempts on his life after a harrowing childhood when he was raped by his teacher on a daily basis for a year, has said he is “livid” at the terms of the new redress scheme.

On Wednesday, the Government announced details of a scheme that will entitle about 350 victims of child sexual abuse in schools to ex gratia payments of up to €84,000.

Sean O’Donnell (58) has been hospitalised 10 times at St Patrick’s University Hospital in a bid to address the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression he has suffered following the abuse he endured at a national school in his native Dublin.

His abuser, who is now dead, was a Cork man who travelled to Dublin to teach and “abuse boys” and then went home to his family at the weekends. His teacher molested, sexually assaulted and raped him in various settings including the school toilets, the classroom, and in an apartment the man lived in. He was aged between 11 and 12 and in sixth class when the abuse occurred.

Mr O’Donnell wept when he read the terms of the redress scheme; shocked at how differently certain cohorts were going to be treated.

“My main cause for being disgusted, and when I read it I cried, is that I was raped every day in sixth class by my teacher. And they are saying that the rapes I had to endure were less heinous or less despicable because they happened in a day school.

“It manifests itself in the treatment of different cohorts of pupils. They are limiting this to a maximum award of €84,000. As day-school pupils we were deliberately omitted from access to the Residential Institutional Redress Board and its maximum award of €300,000.

“They are basically saying because I went to a day school, the rapes that happened were less despicable and are only worth a maximum of €84,000 rather than a maximum of €300,000. Rape is rape is rape, irrespective of where it happened.

“We were in the care of a teacher on their payroll. It smacks to me of discrimination against different cohorts of people.”

Mr O’Donnell also felt it was cynical that the announcement was made a week after the Dáil rose for the summer and just before solicitors take holidays following the closure of the courts.

“She [Minister for Education Norma Foley] looks to be putting road blocks or stumbling mechanisms in the way of people being able to access the scheme.”

He is also troubled that a person had to take court proceedings to be eligible to apply for the scheme. His abuser is dead since 2005.

Mr O’Donnell has had to retire prematurely on ill-health grounds. He finds it hard to maintain relationships, with the abuse colouring every moment of joy he has ever had. He finds it shocking his abuser travelled from Cork to Dublin on a Monday morning and then abused boys for the week before returning to his family at the weekends. The teacher also moved around, teaching in Cork, Dublin and Limerick, which, he says, should have served as “red flags” to the Department of Education.

O’Donnell says the abuse has ruined his life. “I have had a number of attempts on my life. I was 10 weeks in St Pat’s for the 10th time just after Christmas. It [the abuse] is a life sentence. I go out for a walk every day with my dog. It keeps me sane because my relationships have all broken down. I have to pass a school and my stomach physically heaves. I am physically sick because I am back in the room with him.

“It wasn’t just me [he abused]. I have spoken to other people and the guards found their and my allegations to be very credible. Had he been still alive they would had enough strong evidence to convict him.”

O’Donnell said he was struck by the callousness of his abuser. “One minute he was on top of you doing what he was doing. Then he was telling you to get dressed and look at your sums; threatening me he would kill my Ma and Da if I told anyone.”

Two years ago he travelled to Cork to visit the grave of his abuser after a medical professional told him it might be a cathartic experience. Unfortunately he didn’t feel any sense of solace. “I thought I could just unload and give out to him and ask him why. I saw his wife was buried beside him. Again I just cried at the grave. Why? Why? Why? But it didn’t really help,” he added.

“People say all the time that the experience won’t define them. But this thing is in my head first thing in the morning and last thing at night. The Minister and the Taoiseach’s office don’t even answer my correspondence. It is so disrespectful. This redress scheme is a sham,” he believed.