A group of women who were abused by their fathers as children are coming together today to kick-start a campaign for the prosecution of mothers and other adults who covered up their ordeal.
The Survivors Side By Side group will meet for the first time in Limerick today when they will question what they believe is official reluctance to go after the people who stayed silent while they suffered.
Since 2012 it has been an offence under the Withholding of Information on Offences against Children and Vulnerable Persons Act not to report the abuse of a child. However so far, there has been just one known investigation under the Act and no charges pressed.
Shaneda Daly from Shannon, Co Clare, whose father was jailed in 2011 on 227 sample charges of sexual assault and rape that lasted her entire childhood, said the people who ignored abuse often inflicted as much pain on a victim as the abuser themselves.
“As a girl you’re closer to your mother and when your mother stands by and lets your father abuse you, the effect is just devastating. That’s when you say to yourself, it must be my fault this is happening, there must be something wrong with me and that’s why she won’t stop it. Getting over those thoughts is nearly as hard as recovering from the abuse,” she said.
Ms Daly said she had been shocked by the number of people who contacted her by social media with similar stories to tell when she set up a Facebook page last year.
“There were a lot of people, not just women, who still haven’t reported their abuse.
“When it happens in a family, it can be very hard to reveal because you know the trouble it’s going to cause. The amount of people who say they’ve been disowned, not just by their mothers, but by aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings — because they reported their fathers — it’s terrible,” she said.
As a mother-of-six herself now, Ms Daly, 40, said she could not understand how the instinct to protect a child could be so absent.
“I have some understanding of a woman who is being beaten by her husband and is in terror of him, but my father never lifted a hand to my mother and still she turned a blind eye,” she said.
Ms Daly is being joined in the campaign by other brave women who waived their right to anonymity to enable their fathers be named after they were convicted in the courts of their abuse.
They include Fiona Doyle, Cynthia Owen, Heidi Conroy and sisters Emma and Vanessa Witherow who will meet each other for the first time today. Their hope is if mothers and other close adults are treated as potential suspects in criminal investigations into abuse, more people will act faster against abusers.
“I understand it’s difficult to prove but it is the law and unless it’s used, we won’t know how powerful it can be. I want anyone who knows about abuse to straight away think, ‘if I don’t do something about this, I’m guilty too and the law will come for me’.”
The group can be contacted on its Facebook page, ‘Jail Anyone Withholding Information About Abuse’.
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