'We don’t know what to tell abuse survivors’

Survivors of sexual abuse in day schools have been inundated with calls from people coming forward about their own abuse who are seeking advice on redress, prompting calls for a dedicated helpline.

'We don’t know what to tell abuse survivors’

Survivors of sexual abuse in day schools have been inundated with calls from people coming forward about their own abuse who are seeking advice on redress, prompting calls for a dedicated helpline.

Following a recent review, which found the State is imposing an “illogical” requirement on victims of abuse seeking compensation, survivors who highlighted their cases publicly are now being approached by other victims who want to know if they qualify for redress.

Having never discussed their own abuse with anyone outside of their family, or with anyone other than their legal representatives, many of these victims coming forward wish to remain completely anonymous.

“I’ve gotten quite a few inquiries since the review through phone calls or through other people, people who are unsure of what information they should be looking for or what they should be doing,” said John Boland, a survivor of sexual abuse from Limerick.

A helpline that people can contact for impartial advice on the scheme would help, he added.

Sexual abuse support group One in Four has also received a significant number of calls from new clients in the days since the review’s findings went public. “We don’t know what to tell them,” One in Four director Maeve Lewis told the Irish Examiner. “The real problem is that it is not clear at all what the process and procedures are now, so we don’t know what to advise. We’re taking a list of names and numbers and telling people we will get back to them,” she added.

The review, carried out by retired High Court Judge Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill, assessed 19 failed applications to an ex gratia (out of court) scheme set up following a landmark European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruling. Since it was established in 2015, not a single applicant has been paid out through the scheme, administered by the State Claims Agency.

To qualify, the Department of Education requires abuse victims to prove evidence that a prior complaint was made against their abuser. Cases can’t be statute-barred and legal action against the State must be discontinued. However, Justice O’Neill found the ‘prior complaint’ criteria imposed by the State is “inconsistent” with the ECtHR judgment, ruling 13 of the 19 applicants be paid.

While both the Taoiseach and Minister for Education Joe McHugh have indicated that the scheme will be re-examined, “consideration” is still been given to Justice O’Neill’s findings, a spokesperson for the Department of Education confirmed.

‘The minister has updated the Government on the matter,” the spokesperson confirmed

It is “urgent” advice to survivors is clarified, Ms Lewis said. “For years we have been urging the department to change the absolutely ludicrous requirement of proof of a ‘prior complaint’. We welcome the judgment but we are urging the department to act quickly.”

A helpline would beneficial, she said. “Or even if One in Four is advised on the procedure, we can advise.”

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