Dogs could aid victims of child sex abuse

Dogs could aid victims of child sex abuse

Researchers at University College Cork are exploring the use of dogs in the justice system to help children who have been the victims of child sexual abuse.

Dogs have been used in the US justice system for more than a decade to help child victims to deal with the various stages of criminal justice and social service systems, including forensic interviews and courtroom testimony.

A team of UCC researchers will explore the prospect of a launching a pilot scheme in Ireland.

Conor O’Mahony, senior lecturer in constitutional law at UCC, is leading the project. He said that Ireland’s criminal justice system “is not child-friendly”.

“Children who have suffered the trauma of child sexual abuse typically struggle to share details of their experiences with others and are likely to mistrust adults, which can hinder communication,” said Dr O’Mahony.

Interaction with the criminal justice system, and most particularly giving testimony in court proceedings, has been shown to have significant potential for re-traumatisation of victims.

“Facility dogs can help to overcome this difficulty in several different ways.

“The animal helps to calm the child and can provide a bridge between a child and a social worker or lawyer during questioning about a traumatic event.”

Evidence from the US around the use of courtroom dogs has been extremely positive, but in Europe, the use of dogs to support child sexual abuse victims is only beginning to emerge.

The Seattle-based Courthouse Dogs Foundation will be in UCC for a seminar on Thursday to share their evidence on the benefits of using dogs. 

The seminar is open to the public from 4pm.

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