-with reporting from Cormac O'Keeffe
Delays in providing treatment and support for children and teenagers who have experienced sexual assault are seriously detrimental to their recovery, a leading psychotherapist was warned.
In its annual report, Cari, a national therapeutic voluntary organisation, said many teenagers have reported being sexually assaulted after socialising with their peers
The report also highlighted that there was 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:
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.
Stella O’Malley was reacting to a report from Cari, the organisation that provides support for children affected by child sexual abuse, that revealed they have a waiting list of 83 children and require more resources to provide treatment.
Ms O’Malley told RTÉ radio’s Today with Séan O’Rourke show that any delay is seriously detrimental to recovery.
“They need treatment when they talk so that they know they did the right thing in speaking out and they will now be supported. It is the most crucial part in their recovery and it is absolutely appalling that CARI would have people on waiting lists. It is just not good enough.”
Eve Farrelly, the executive director of Cari said that the organisation provided support for over 1,000 children last year. Their services include therapy, a helpline and a forensic and court accompaniment service.
“All of those children presented with various different issues from sexualised behaviour through to disclosures of sexual assault and disclosures of rape.
“This piece of info came from the work we did through our forensic accompaniment service last year, we provide onsite accompaniment support for children and families when they have to attend for a forensic examine after a disclosure or an assault.”
The Cari report found that in the case of younger children the alleged offender was commonly a family member, while with teenagers the incident occurred while out with peers.
“This happens in many different fashions, in some cases it was one person assaulting another, in other cases it was in a group and in other cases it was one assaulting another, but a group was around and maybe it was filmed or photographed and shared around.
“There's no two instances or no two children that present to us with the same issues. It's really important when we're dealing with a child and their family that we deal specifically just for them and what they're presenting with, but the impact and the trauma is as high for everybody.”
Ms Farrelly said that Cari's waiting list is at 83.
“The service we provide is child led - so the therapy will run as long as the child needs it, and so the waiting times as a result can vary. What we really need is the appropriate resources for us to be able to provide access so children get access to us a lot quicker.
“We know from these kind of experiences that timely and appropriate intervention is really key with children.
“When children get that kind of intervention they can develop capacity to manage their life issues, they can build resilience, they can build on their confidence and self esteem, they can emotionally regulate, they can trust, they can feel safe.
“When they're not getting those timely interventions really, some of the negatives can happen from that. It's been really important that we try and gain the appropriate resources for these kids.”
Ms O'Malley said that teenagers are learning inappropriate behaviour from viewing porn online. The real problem, she said is that violent sex is being normalised and that should not be the case for 14 and 15 year olds starting to explore their sexual side.
She added that in nine out of 10 cases a teen will start to talk about something and then reveal an incident that bothered or confused them.
She gave the example of where somebody has gone to bed after a house party and found someone in their bed who then behaves inappropriately with them, “or assaults them or is violent, and they're not quite sure what happened, maybe somebody filmed it and everybody is laughing and they're thinking ‘I hated it, I'm not sure I consented to that, what just happened there?’
“We're talking about rape and sexual assault here. This is where sex education has to play its part, to discuss the impact of porn, the problems with porn, the violence of porn and massive emphasis on what is consent and what isn't consent and what is enjoyable sex and what isn't.”
She said she was not sure if there had been a massive upswing in such crimes or if girls are now just more willing to report it.
Ms Farrelly responded that she thinks it is a bit of both, but she said it feels like it is happening more and more.
“I think we need to be talking to our teenagers about what respect and consent look like.
“So before you take a photograph or start filming or press share, think about it would feel if this was happening to your little brother or it was happening to your little sister, or Mam or grandmother and if that is a thought that is upsetting to you there's a real opportunity in that moment to take a different choice.”