Failings in tackling child sex abuse must be addressed

Little has changed since a Garda Inspectorate report five years ago laid bare inadequate Garda procedures and structures

Chief Inspector Mark Roland during a press conference by the Garda Inspectorate marking the publication of its report on child sexual abuse. Photograph:  Gareth Chaney/ Collins

Chief Inspector Mark Roland during a press conference by the Garda Inspectorate marking the publication of its report on child sexual abuse. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/ Collins

 

The protection and welfare of children rarely dominate the agenda of governments or State agencies. Evidence for this can be found in the provision of inadequate mental health facilities, in a reluctance to confront a developing obesity epidemic and, according to the Garda Inspectorate, in failings in safeguarding children from sexual abuse. The causes are connected with inadequate funding. But a cultural bias may also be at play.

Inadequate Garda procedures and structures in cases of child sexual abuse were laid bare by a report from the inspectorate five years ago. Apart from the establishment of a Garda National Protective Bureau, however, and plans to provide divisional centres where victims can be medically examined, interviewed and provided with expert therapy, little has happened. Meanwhile, the Garda’s ability to cope with a growing number of online offenders, involving grooming and child sex abuse images, has been compromised by outdated computers and inadequate staff numbers.

Media attention has turned to computer-related offences in recent months, but these crimes, while indicative of a larger problem, should not distract attention from basic policing failures. Why is it that only four per cent of child sexual abuse cases end in a conviction? Is it because 44 per cent of those offences involve family members? Why is it that clerical abuse allegations are not investigated in the absence of a victim statement? And how can some cases of rape involving young offenders only attract a formal caution?

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan announced the establishment of an independent implementation group in response to the failures identified by the inspectorate. Officials from relevant departments, along with representatives from Tusla and the Garda, will report to a Cabinet sub-committee on a quarterly basis. The Minister spoke of the need for a whole-of-government approach to tackle the issues involved. That sounds reasonable. What is needed, however, is immediate investment to improve badly organised sexual abuse services and poorly trained gardaí.

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