More abuse victims seeking help


The number of child sex abuse survivors seeking support doubled following the publication of two reports on paedophile priests, according to a leading charity.

One in Four's annual report for 2009, which shows a doubling in demand for its advocacy and psychotherapy services after the release of the Ryan and Murphy reports into clerical sexual abuse.

A total of 1,432 survivors of sexual violence looked for help last year, compared with 672 in 2008, according to the organisation's annual report.

The charity's executive director Maeve Lewis said the publications encouraged people to reach out for help, in the expectation that they would be believed. “Deciding to make a complaint of sexual abuse requires enormous courage,” she said. “Unfortunately, many of our clients are failed by the child protection and criminal justice systems.

Ms Lewis accused the HSE of failing to investigate allegations of sexual abuse because social workers were over-stretched.  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 gardaí 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, while 27 per cent were abused by priests or religious officials, 23 per cent by neighbours and professionals, and 6 per cent by strangers. The agency is currently treating 21 sex offenders, all men.

Ms Lewis said good community-based treatment was proven to work, and helped keep children safe.

“As recent controversies show, we have a long way to go as a society before we accept the reality that sex offenders, convicted or not, live in every community in Ireland,” she said. “One in four Irish people experiences sexual violence. That signifies a lot of offenders. We need to find ways to manage offenders rather than drive them underground.”

The biggest demand was for advocacy support, with 1,140 clients seeking help in contacting the Garda, reporting child protection concerns to the HSE, engaging with Catholic Church authorities and other practical support. Some 60 per cent of these were abused within the Catholic Church.

Additional reporting: PA