Irish Times view on child abuse and Scouting Ireland

Transparancy and accountability are vital within any organisation where children or young adults can be targeted by sexual predators

Scouting Ireland has 13,000 adult volunteers working with 40,000 juvenile members.

Scouting Ireland has 13,000 adult volunteers working with 40,000 juvenile members.

 

Scouting Ireland finds itself in a dark place because of the “deeply flawed” handling of a rape allegation made by a young female volunteer and by emerging evidence of other hidden historic sexual abuse allegations. A review of files by the organisation’s child protection manager Ian Elliott has identified more than 100 victims and 71 alleged abusers who were active in the organisation between the 1960s and the 1980s. More victims came forward yesterday and that trend is expected to continue.

Given what is now known about clerical child sex abuse, wrong-headed efforts by Scouting Ireland to avoid scandal some 40 or 50 years ago may be unsurprising. But the “deeply flawed” response by some senior volunteers to a much more recent rape allegation is another matter. Elliott was invited to investigate this incident. When his report criticised individuals, it was rejected as an unwarranted attack. Disclosure of the findings by Jack Power in this newspaper was described as “a betrayal and a breach of trust”.

Parental confidence is fundamental for any organisation that deals with children. This is particularly so when camping away from home is involved. Scouting Ireland has 13,000 adult volunteers working with 40,000 juvenile members. Minister for Children Katherine Zappone acted firmly when she withheld State funding from the organisation because of a lack of confidence in its governance. The protection of children must always take precedence in such matters. Her actions encouraged four senior volunteers to step aside, pending a barrister’s report, while the entire board was recently replaced.

There is an endemic problem involving child sexual abuse in this State. It is rooted in a reluctance to believe and support the victim or to confront and publicly shame the abuser. Why else should only four per cent of these cases result in a court conviction? Is it because close on half of sexual offences involve family members, or because of policing failures? A report by the Police Inspectorate encouraged the Government to establish Garda divisional centres where victims can be medically examined, interviewed and offered therapy. At the same time, the force’s ability to deal with online grooming and computer sex offences has been insufficiently resourced.

Openness and accountability are vital elements within any organisation where children or young adults are vulnerable to abuse by sexual predators. We have learned the hard way that these individuals can be ruthless and manipulative, threatening their victims while engaging in serial offences. What happened at Scouting Ireland offers a cautionary lesson to other child-centred bodies. There is no such thing as absolute child safety. But vigilance, a willingness to listen, robust intervention and, most of all, total transparency offer the best protection for children.

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