Sex abuse survivors feel demeaned by legal system, One in Four says

Charity cites credibility fears, and shame and doubt in dealing with gardaí as main causes

Maeve Lewis, executive director of One in Four, says  it estimates fewer than 5 per cent of child sex offenders are prosecuted for their crimes. Photograph: Alan Betson

Maeve Lewis, executive director of One in Four, says it estimates fewer than 5 per cent of child sex offenders are prosecuted for their crimes. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Most survivors of child sexual abuse who engaged in the criminal justice system felt demeaned and humiliated, a charity has said.

One in Four, which provides support to men and women who have experienced childhood sexual abuse, said it supported 31 clients through a criminal trial last year.

Maeve Lewis, executive director of One in Four, said it estimates fewer than 5 per cent of child sex offenders are ever prosecuted for their crimes.

“This is partly because most victims of sexual crimes are afraid to engage with the criminal justice system. They are afraid of not being believed, afraid of the fallout in their families and communities, but most especially they are afraid of the criminal trial,” she said.

Helping sex offenders understand the pathways that led them to harm a child is the key to prevention and to keep the next generation safe

Ms Lewis said while many of their clients met a sensitive and professional response when making a statement to gardaí, others felt shamed and doubted, “usually because they were dealing with a young, inexperienced investigating officer”.

“Trials of sexual offences are different from other trials. There is often no forensic evidence or witnesses and everything hinges on the credibility of the witness.

Court ordeal

“Defence barristers use cross-examination not only to challenge the complainant’s account but also their behaviour, character and history in an effort to undermine the reliability of their version of events. Regardless of the verdict, almost all our clients stated that if they had known the ordeal they were facing, they would never have made a complaint in the first place.”

The charity said it met 150 people for a first assessment last year, of whom 35 had previously attempted suicide.

Its advocacy officers supported 646 people to engage with the criminal justice system, to make child-protection notifications and with other practical issues. One in Four said it made 90 child-protection notifications to Tusla.

Phoenix Programme

The charity also worked with 54 sex offenders and 23 of their family members under the Phoenix Programme, which it describes as “a core child-protection strategy”. Of those, 35 per cent had abused a child in their own family, 31 per cent had abused more than one child and 26 per cent had abused a known child in their community.

“Helping sex offenders understand the pathways that led them to harm a child is the key to prevention and to keep the next generation safe. We liaise very closely and effectively with Tusla child-protection teams and the gardaí in this work,” Ms Lewis added.

“We are the only agency that works with both convicted and non-convicted sex offenders. People are travelling from all over the country to attend the Phoenix Programme, showing that this programme needs to be rolled out nationally.”