Sex abuse support group warns over lack of resources

By Joe Leogue

A support group for victims of sexual abuse has warned that it cannot cater to the demand for its programme to rehabilitate offenders — and that victims feel demeaned by the Irish criminal justice system.

One in Four yesterday launched its 2017 annual report, and revealed that last year its Phoenix Programme worked with 54 sex offenders and 23 of their family members.

Of the offenders engaging with the rehabilitation programme:

  • 35% had abused a child in their own family.
  • 35% had downloaded and shared images of child sexual abuse.
  • 26% had abused a known child or children in their communities.
  • 31% had abused more than one child.

One in Four executive director Maeve Lewis said helping sex offenders understand what led them to harm a child is the key to prevention.

One in Four executive director Maeve Lewis

“We liaise very closely and effectively with Tusla child protection teams and the Gardaí in this work. We are the only agency that works with both convicted and non-convicted sex offenders,” she said.

“People are travelling from all over the country to attend the Phoenix Programme showing that this programme needs to be rolled out nationally. Unfortunately we now have a waiting list for the Phoenix Programme.

“Can it be right that men who wish to stop abusing children cannot get a place on an intervention programme due to lack of resources?” she asked.

Its annual report also details the support One in Four gave to survivors of child sexual abuse as their cases went to trial.

Last year the organisation supported 38 clients whose cases went to trial with seven concerned mentions in the District Court and 31 went to trial in the Circuit or Central Criminal Courts. Of the 31, there were five guilty pleas, 11 guilty verdicts and eight not-guilty verdicts. Four cases are ongoing.

Ms Lewis said they estimate that fewer than 5% of child sex offenders are ever prosecuted for their crimes, partly because victims are afraid to engage with the system. Those that do, she said, say they found the experience “re-traumatising and degrading.”

“They are afraid of not being believed, afraid of the fallout in their families and communities but most especially they are afraid of the criminal trial,” she said.

“Regardless of the verdict, almost all our clients stated that if they had known the ordeal they were facing, they would never have made a complaint in the first place,” she said.

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