Legislation needed to remove gaps around rules on child sex abuse disclosures

Special Rapporteur on Child Protection to make four recommendations to Government
Legislation needed to remove gaps around rules on child sex abuse disclosures

One in Four has consistently raised its concerns over  the requirement to inform alleged perpetrators of the fact that an allegation has been made. Picture: iStock

The Special Rapporteur on Child Protection has said the Government will have to legislate to remove gaps regarding the assessment and management of disclosures of childhood sexual abuse.

Conor O'Mahony, law lecturer at University College Cork, was speaking at the launch of One in Four's 2019 annual report and said he would be making four recommendations in his forthcoming report to deal with the issue.

One in Four has consistently raised its concerns over procedures aimed at protecting survivors of abuse and allowing them to come forward, with the requirement to inform alleged perpetrators of the fact that an allegation has been made.

In the annual report One in Four said: "We have had difficulties over the years with the manner in which Tusla social workers respond to these retrospective allegations and with inconsistencies in practice in different parts of the country.

"We were pleased when Tusla announced that a new unified protocol would be put in place around the country. However, when we had sight of the proposed Tusla Child Abuse Substantiation Practice (CASP) we became very concerned.

"While there is lack of clarity in many areas, two main issues stood out. In order to ensure due process to the offender, Tusla proposes to pass on the name of the person making an allegation and the details even if the allegation is passed on by a mandated professional and the survivor does not wish to meet with a social worker.

"CASP also allows for the possibility that the alleged abuser would have the right to cross-examine the survivor. These practices could place our clients in danger of intimidation or physical violence and cause immense anxiety and further trauma."

The organisation, which last year worked with 673 clients, also said it was concerned that this practice may dissuade survivors from reaching out for help in the first place.

Tusla CEO Bernard Gloster has already stressed that the Child and Family Agency would not be rushing anyone into a situation where they would be cross-examined and the CASP policy has been deferred into next year.

However, Conor O'Mahony said the Government needed to address legislative gaps. 

He said his upcoming report  — his first as rapporteur — will make four recommendations: 

  • That there be a revised statutory basis for the balance of rights between victim and those accused; 
  • A separation of the investigative and decision-making roles of social workers; 
  • A streamlined process that takes account of the needs of victims; 
  • A need to address the significant challenge surrounding data protection issues in this area.

Responding to Conor O’Mahony’s comments, Assistant Professor of Social Work at UCD, Joe Mooney, said that while the possibility of a victim being cross-examined will be extremely rare, it is the dynamic created by this very possibility that could interact with the trauma created by abuse which may deter victims and survivors from coming forward.

Half of the psychotherapy clients One in Four worked with last year had been abused in their own family and the report also highlighted the delay in cases coming before the courts as an issue.

Of the 42 people who had perpetrated abuse and who undertook its Phoenix Prevention programme last year, 24 had been involved in extra-familial abuse, and, of those, online abuse was most common when it came to their relationship to the victim.

One in Four CEO Maeve Lewis said the impact of Covid-19 had been significant, with disruption to the "scaffolding" of normal daily routines of work, school, socialising and family events, while some survivors had found themselves returning to homes where the abuse had originally taken place.

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