We must change system that makes abuse victims relive horrors – Zappone
THE way child abuse victims are treated by our legal system needs to be re-examined, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone has said.
In today’s Irish Independent the minister writes that young victims of sex crimes are being forced to retell and relive their trauma “over and over again” in a way that could cause further harm.
And while she does not specifically mention the case of paedophile Tom Humphries, Ms Zappone says: “In recent days the response of our legal, care and support systems to the needs of children and young people who have been abused has been in the spotlight.
“Questions are being asked about whether we have lost our child focus and that our processes are themselves re-victimising young people and prolonging the trauma.”
Her comments come amid significant controversy over the two-and-a-half year sentence handed down to former ‘Irish Times’ journalist Humphries, who exchanged over 16,000 text messages with his teenage victim during a four-month period.
The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre criticised the leniency of the sentence, with its CEO Noeline Blackwell suggesting too much emphasis was put on Humphries’s place in society and “not the level of harm that this man purposely did many, many times to a young girl”.
The minister is currently in New York with representatives from the child and family agency Tusla and An Garda Síochána for a series of meetings with the New York Police Department’s Special Victims Unit (SVU).
The SVU, which was made famous by the TV series ‘Law and Order’, operates one of the most advance child protection services in the world. Its work was singled out in a recent report by child protection rapporteur Geoffrey Shannon, who is accompanying the minister on this week’s visit.
The SVU runs specialised child advocacy centres which bring together under one roof welfare services, health supporters, police officers and prosecutors who deal with child abuse and sex crimes.
“By working together in the one centre – those who protect children and those who are determined to bring abusers to justice can ensure that a child is clear of the necessary work to assist an investigation within 24 hours,” Ms Zappone said.
On the back of her discussions, the minister has identified a number of actions which she believes must be “fasttracked” in Ireland.
“There will be greater co-operation between Tusla and gardaí,” she said, adding: “I have seen and heard enough to convince me this must happen.
“Our first step must be to address short-falls in our outof-hours services. We need a single 24-hour social worker service which can work with gardaí in responding to emergency cases.”
Tusla will also be told to have two on-call social workers at each of its 17 regions.
The agency has a budget of €750m, a significant portion of which will be used to upgrade its IT systems.
“It is no longer acceptable that much of the communication between our agencies is still on paper – this is a practice of a different era and will be ended,” Ms Zappone said.
In an article for today’s Irish Independent the minister also says Ireland has “reached a key moment in child protection”.
On December 11 mandatory reporting of abuse will be introduced for the first time.
This means all individuals and groups dealing with children will be obliged to report child protection concerns to Tusla.
The agency previously expressed concerns about its ability to deal with the likely increase in its workload but received an extra €40m in the Budget.
Questions are being asked about whether we have lost our child focus
Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone with Cormac Quinlan of the child and family agency Tusla in New York for an Irish fact-finding mission on child protection agencies