Tusla policy ‘endangering’ victims of child sex abuse, say therapists

Victims no longer asked to name abusers, as Tusla must inform alleged abuser of complaint

Maeve Lewis,  executive director of One In Four: ‘It places our clients in physical danger and in danger of harassment.’ Photograph: Alan Betson

Maeve Lewis, executive director of One In Four: ‘It places our clients in physical danger and in danger of harassment.’ Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Therapy services are no longer asking child sex abuse victims to disclose their abusers’ names due to a Tusla policy mandating that alleged abusers must be informed of any complaints.

Under current guidelines, therapists and victim-support groups must disclose reports of child sex abuse, including historic cases, to the child and family agency, along with the identities of the complainants and alleged abuser.

Tusla policy is to then inform the alleged abuser of the complaint and to begin an assessment. This is the case even if the complainant does not want an investigation.

Victims’ groups say the policy of informing alleged abusers of complaints places their clients in physical danger as a result of retaliation.

They say it also means victims cannot open up properly during therapy, due to the therapists’ obligation to pass on identifying data to Tusla.

In response Tusla cited a “complex legislative space” and said court decisions and “natural justice” mean it must inform alleged abusers of complaints.

It said this approach will not change under a revised policy framework which is due to come into effect next year.

The counselling service One In Four stopped asking clients the name of their alleged abusers in November 2019. “It’s just too dangerous,” said executive director Maeve Lewis.

“If we pass on our client’s name and the name of the alleged offender, Tusla informs the alleged offender. Obviously we are very, very worried about that. It places our clients in physical danger and in danger of harassment.”

One In Four’s new policy, along with the coronavirus pandemic, means it has made “very few” notifications to Tusla so far this year, Ms Lewis said.

She said the situation is also a “huge” problem for the therapeutic process. “What we have found over the years is encouraging clients to give us the name is a big part of breaking the silence. It’s an empowering process for the client.”

Two other therapists working with victims of child sex abuse said they operate similar policies. “We have a conversation at the outset where I inform them of what happens if they tell me a name, or even the nature of their relationship [with their alleged abuser],” one told The Irish Times. “Many don’t come back.”

Cliona Sadlier, head of Rape Crisis Network Ireland, said one of the first questions clients ask is “if I come in to you do you have to report me?”.

‘Deep distress’

“We tell them that once we know the identity of the abuser we have to report. They generally ring us in deep distress and because they need support and counselling. And they generally disappear. And we don’t know want happens to those people.”

Tusla said there are “significant challenges” in the area and that it has an obligation to protect victims and “to ensure fair procedures are applied in relation to the person subject to abuse allegations.”

The policy of informing alleged abusers is “a requirement which has been placed on Tusla by case law and all of the interpretations of natural justice,” a spokeswoman said.

“Together with our partner organisations we will always seek to find a way to support adults disclosing retrospective abuse,” she added.

Ms Lewis said One In Four will retain its current policy until Tusla changes its policy. However, Tusla says the current practice will not change under the revamped procedures, which are due to come into force next March.