Mixed reaction to draft child abuse law

ONLY one in 80 perpetrators of child sexual abuse end up with a conviction, a leading survivors’ organisation has claimed.

One in Four told the Oireachtas Justice Committee that the vast majority of offenders were “walking about with impunity.”

Children At Risk in Ireland (CARI) said that there were 2,300 new allegations of child sexual abuse every year and that the main place of danger for children was the home.

The two groups, along with the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland (RCNI), spoke to the committee during submissions on the Criminal Justice (Withholding Information on Crimes Against Children and Vulnerable Adults) Bill 2011.

Under the draft law, a person who knows that sexual abuse has been committed against a child or vulnerable adult will be guilty of an offence if he fails, without “reasonable excuse”, to disclose that information to the gardaí.

One in Four director Maeve Lewis said their research showed that for every 40 rapes on adults there was one conviction, but the figure for children was one conviction for every 80 offences.

Supporting the new legislation, Mary Flaherty, chief executive of CARI, said 2,300 new allegations of child sexual abuse are made to the HSE each year.

“The reality for children is still quite harrowing and the place of danger is the family.”

She said with the investigations into child abuse within the Catholic Church there had been insufficient focus on the family.

“The culture of secrecy in families is as strong as we have seen it in institutions, as is the desire to protect itself,” she said.

Ms Lewis said while they broadly welcomed the bill, non-offending family members should not be obliged to report the crime.

She said these members were often “torn” between the offender and the child and that disclosure was like a “bombshell” going off.

“To criminalise a wife who cannot bring herself to report her husband would not necessarily be in the best interest of the child,” said Ms Lewis.

Caroline Counihan, legal director of the RCNI, said they were against imposing criminal liability on a person who knows of a crime for failing to make a formal statement.

The groups admitted that the issue was “very complex”. There were suggestions that the bill be changed to oblige people to provide the HSE with information about a crime.

More in this section