Not enough is being done to keep children safe from sexual harm, according to one of the country’s leading sexual abuse charities.
One in Four has called on the Government to tackle the situation immediately.
“We must encourage adult survivors to come forward and take very seriously their accounts of their childhood experiences,” said executive director Maeve Lewis ahead of today’s launch of the charity’s annual report.
“If we are to keep children safe we must have the commitment and resources to put in place an effective child protection system and a criminal justice system that honours the experience of victims of serious sexual crimes, making sure that sex offenders cannot continue to act with impunity.”
Ms Lewis said this country still has “a long way to go” before it becomes a society where lives are not “blighted by child sexual abuse”.
She said most underage victims of sexual abuse do not come forward, which is why the One in Four organisation has to rely on the testimony of adult survivors.
“Do we really encourage adults to come forward?” said Ms Lewis. “Are their accounts taken seriously by child protection services when they report the person who abused them and is still active in the community? Have we a criminal justice system in place that forces sex offenders to account for their actions? The answer, sadly, is no.”
Last year, the charity provided counselling to 116 survivors and 43 families, a total of 2,643 therapy hours. Advocacy officers from One in Four provided information and support to 672 people.
One in Four also revealed that it had to close its waiting list for four months because it could not afford to employ enough counsellors to deal with the demand for services, something Ms Lewis describes as a “truly terrible situation”.
While Ms Lewis admits she was “heartened” to hear about the new Child and Family Agency, Tusla, which was set up last year, and hoped the response to historic allegations of sexual abuse would improve, she said this was not the case.
“Despite policy and legislative developments, we still meet a child protection service in disarray, with inconsistent responses across the country and poor assessments of risk,” she said.
“We are also not happy with the way anxious, distressed clients are treated by social workers.”
One in Four said it worked with 32 sex offenders and their wives or partners last year. More than a third of the offenders were young men aged between 18 and 25.
“During the past year, sex offenders have travelled from all over the country to access the Phoenix Programme, our sex offender intervention programme,” said Ms Lewis.
“The majority of these men (53%) sexually abused children in their own families. Others abused children they came into contact with in their own communities. Most will never be convicted for their offences because their victims do not want to make a complaint to the gardaí. This means that there are dangerous individuals in every community in this country who are able to continue abusing children.”
This is a problem which needs to be tackled immediately, she said, by properly training gardaí in how to deal with sexual abuse victims in a sensitive manner, by encouraging survivors to come forward, by improving the criminal justice system and by implementing effective intervention programmes for offenders.
For more information on One in Four, go to www.oneinfour.ie or phone 01 6624070.
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