Number of children being referred for sexually harmful behaviour on rise; Waiting lists 'unacceptable'

Number of children being referred for sexually harmful behaviour on rise; Waiting lists 'unacceptable'

Many teenagers have reported being sexually assaulted after socialising with their peers, according to a child sexual abuse service.

In its annual report, Cari, a national therapeutic voluntary organisation, said there was also a “significant increase” in the number of children being referred for sexually harmful behaviour, up 36% in 2018.

The organisation said it was “unacceptable” that children continued to sit on a waiting list to avail of its services because of a lack of resources. Its 2018 annual report shows:

  • There were 807 calls to its helpline, mostly from female adults, including mothers and social workers;
  • The main calls related to sexual assault, rape, and sexualised behaviour, with a third of cases relating to children aged 10 and under;
  • Four victims were abused in early infancy, between six weeks and two years old;
  • Children aged 7 to 12 accounted for 36% of those receiving therapy.

Calls to the helpline showed that as boys grew older, they accounted for less cases, while cases involving girls increased as they got older. In four out of 10 calls, the child knew their alleged offender, typically someone within the family.

But in Cari’s role of accompanying children and families to forensic services, it noted a rise in cases where the alleged offender was not within the family, particularly in the 13 to 15 age group.

“What we continue to see through our forensic accompaniment service is that the younger the child is, the more likely it is that the alleged offender is a family member,” said Eve Farrelly, executive director.

“When the child becomes a teenager, the alleged offender is more likely to be outside the family. Many of the teens we supported presented with a concern of sexual abuse after a social event with groups of peers.”

The report said these events “commonly involved intoxicating substance use” and that this led to “some memory loss and confusion”.

The report details one case where a 13-year-old girl had flashbacks of a sexual assault after an afternoon socialising with female and male friends, during which alcohol had been consumed.

The organisation said it also worked therapeutically with children up to the age of 12 who exhibited sexually harmful behaviour.

“There has been a significant increase in the number of children being referred for sexually harmful behaviour to Cari,” said the report.

In 2018, there was an increase of 36% in referrals for children with sexually harmful behaviour. These numbers are increasing yearly, as are the complexity of cases.

It said these cases may often have to be prioritised, especially when there was a risk to other children. The report cited one case of a ten-year-old boy who had inappropriately touched other children at school.

Ms Farrelly said Cari provided over 2,000 therapy sessions in 2018 for children and their families, with many in the 7 to 12 age group.

“Our therapy service continues to provide vital interventions for children who have been impacted by sexual abuse and children who present with sexually harmful behaviours,” she said, adding timely and appropriate intervention was “paramount”.

“It is unacceptable that Cari continues to have children sit on our waiting list because we do not have the resources that will enable children to get quicker access to us,” Ms Farrelly said.

Cari provided support for 90 children through criminal trials in 2018 and recorded 38 verdicts. Of these, 67% were either a guilty verdict or a guilty plea.

Ms Farrelly said: “Whilst we experience children still being subject to delays, we are encouraged by the increase of children who are getting to tell their experiences in court.

“The criminal justice system is an important tool of accountability to offenders. As a society we must continue to demand accountability to this type of crime.”

Cari National Helpline 1890 924 567; cari.ie

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