Therapy files used to ‘get abusers off hook’

DEFENCE solicitors in child abuse cases which go to court are increasingly looking for therapy notes in a bid to “get their client off the hook”, a children’s support group has said.

Children At Risk in Ireland (CARI) launches its annual report today, with helpline figures showing a 38% increase in calls from people regarding sexualised behaviour in young children, and a 13% overall increase in the number of calls received.

However, CARI will use today’s launch to raise its concerns over the “significant increase” in demands for access to files of children attending therapy sessions provided by the organisation.

CARI chief executive, Mary Flaherty, said the rate of requests had grown from one application over a 10-year period to “a couple of times” in the past two years.

Given the relatively small number of child sex abuse cases which make it to court, she said this was a “marked increase” and that new legislation was needed to defend the right of victims to keep their therapy notes private.

CARI is notified of between 70 and 100 new cases of child sex abuse every year, but Ms Flaherty said “only a tiny amount” make it to court, meaning two or three requests for therapy notes were “significant”.

“In the past such requests were exceptional and normally sought by the defence, but have become more frequent and are now being sought by the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) at the earliest stage in cases,” she said.

Ms Flaherty said a failure to disclose a file has been used for grounds for appeal, which was why the DPP was now tending to include them routinely in certain cases.

As for defence requests for the files, she said: “It is to find any weakness in their [the victim’s] account, any variation. It is to see if there is anything there that can help them to get off the hook.”

She said this was a “huge imbalance” in the justice system and one which needed to be addressed as it caused “absolute devastation” for the victim.

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald will launch the CARI report today and is expected to address the issue.

Government Special Rapporteur for Children, Geoffrey Shannon, has outlined possible changes to the law that would offer greater protection for victims in his latest report to the Oireachtas, which was submitted in May.

In it Mr Shannon states: “Any new statutory framework proposed should seek to achieve a balance between the competing interests of the complainant, the public, and the accused in deciding whether non-disclosure is justified.”

Call surge

CARI annual report statistics.

- 1,417 calls.

- 13% increase in completed calls.

- 38% rise in calls linked to sexualised behaviour in children.

- 17% rise in calls linked to rape/sexual assault.

- 24% increase in therapy services being used in Dublin.

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