750,000 not reported sex abuse, says group

THE Government has been urged to implement a national strategy to respond to sexual violence on the basis that up to 750,000 men and women have still not reported or sought support for their experiences of sex abuse as children.

The One in Four charity, which helps the victims of child sex abuse, said the State had so far failed to address the major health and social implications caused by such a large portion of the population experiencing sexual violence.

Based on the landmark SAVI (Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland) report published a few years ago, One in Four estimates that 35% of all adults will experience sexual violence at some stage in their life with 27% of children experiencing such abuse before the age of 17.

"Any other health or social issue that impacts on over one-third of our population would demand a coherent national strategy," said One in Four founder Colm O'Gorman. "It is unthinkable that any disease that impacted so seriously on over one-third of our population would not be comprehensively addressed."

Speaking at the launch of the organisation's first annual report, Mr O'Gorman expressed concern that enormous resources were being spent on responding to the impacts of sexual violence without properly addressing its root cause.

"Crisis intervention is not an appropriate response to an issue that has enormous impact on so may of our citizens and across our communities," he said.

"It is no longer enough to respond to individual crises or scandals as they emerge; a more cohesive and well-developed strategy is required."

Mr O'Gorman said existing services were akin to "bandaging a fracture".

He also strongly criticised Catholic Church leaders for their insistence on retaining control of how sex abuse complaints against priests are handled. The decision led to the recent disbandment of the church's Working Group on Child Protection, which had recommended that such matters be left to professional care workers.

Mr O'Gorman, who was a victim of the infamous paedophile priest, Fr Seán Fortune, claimed it was extraordinary that the hierarchy did not seem to recognise that the introduction of best practice on child protection would also benefit members of the clergy. However, he stressed it was incumbent on the Government to enforce best child protection regulations on all authorities operating within the State.

One in Four's 2003 report showed that the charity provided one-to-one psychotherapy sessions to 136 people last year and advocacy services to another 113 individuals, while also dealing with almost 2,400 phone queries.

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