Please find the money to tackle child abuse

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health - Padraig O’Mo­rain Padraig O’Mo­rain (po­ is ac­cred­ited by the Ir­ish As­so­ci­a­tion for Coun­selling and Psy­chother­apy. His lat­est book is Mind­ful­ness for Wor­ri­ers. His daily mind­ful­ness re­minder is free by email Twit­ter: @PadraigOMo­rain

Jus­tice de­layed is, as we all know, jus­tice de­nied. Dis­turb­ing re­cent in­stances of this de­nial of jus­tice have in­volved the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of his­tor­i­cal sex­ual of­fences against chil­dren – and also a more re­cent child pornog­ra­phy case.

Although th­ese is­sues have been raised, by the Om­buds­man and by a judge, the whole mat­ter seems to have faded into the gen­eral swirl of news events. But this re­ally is not an is­sue that should be al­lowed to fade away and be for­got­ten about.

His­tor­i­cal child abuse al­le­ga­tions are made by adults about abuse they suf­fered or wit­nessed as chil­dren. They pose a chal­lenge for child pro­tec­tion ser­vices such as Tusla be­cause the pri­or­ity for al­lo­cat­ing so­cial work­ers must be the pro­tec­tion of chil­dren suf­fer­ing abuse in the here and now.

But peo­ple who come for­ward with al­le­ga­tions that they them­selves were abused as chil­dren are also en­ti­tled to jus­tice. In May, Tusla had 1,895 his­tor­i­cal cases “on hand” and 754 were wait­ing to be al­lo­cated to a so­cial worker. Mean­while, his­tor­i­cal abuse al­le­ga­tions are ar­riv­ing at the rate of more than 100 a month. Th­ese fig­ures sug­gest that “jus­tice de­layed” is likely to be the norm for some time to come.

A re­cent re­port by the Om­buds­man high­lighted the case of a grand­fa­ther who was un­der sus­pi­cion for the last five years of his life. He was cleared of the al­le­ga­tions af­ter he died. He had been de­nied con­tact with a grand­child un­til the Om­buds­man in­ter­vened.

Over­shad­ow­ing life

It is rather shock­ing to think that an al­le­ga­tion could over­shadow a per­son’s life in this way for many years. If the child pro­tec­tion sys­tem is go­ing to deny peo­ple ac­cess to chil­dren, that sys­tem surely has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to get on with its in­ves­ti­ga­tion in a timely man­ner. But for this to hap­pen, the sys­tem must have the re­sources it needs. That means many more so­cial work­ers and more gar­daí.

Re­sources that go into his­tor­i­cal abuse are re­sources taken away from cur­rent abuse – un­less both as­pects of child pro­tec­tion get the staff they need. The fi­nan­cial cost as­so­ci­ated would be huge, but it should be in­curred.

On child pornog­ra­phy, it was dis­turb­ing re­cently to read of a case in which it took four years for gar­daí to is­sue an anal­y­sis of a com­puter which con­tin­ued many se­ri­ous child abuse images. In this case the man was guilty and the judge sus­pended his jail sen­tence in view of the de­lay and other fac­tors.

But this is a shock­ing sit­u­a­tion. Imag­ine that you are a child who is be­ing ex­ploited by the child pornog­ra­phy in­dus­try. You might expect that the au­thor­i­ties would act with great speed if th­ese images were found on any com­puter in the world. Four years is an eter­nity in the life of a child.

Or imag­ine that your com­puter is seized in a child pornog­ra­phy in­ves­ti­ga­tion and that you are in­no­cent but must wait for four years be­fore you know what is go­ing to hap­pen next. There is no pos­si­bil­ity that your life is ever go­ing to be the same again, even if the mat­ter is dropped.

Just over 10 years ago, a num­ber of men in var­i­ous coun­tries were wrongly ac­cused of hav­ing ac­cessed child pornog­ra­phy be­cause of iden­tity theft and credit card fraud – or be­cause they had bought le­gal, adult pornog­ra­phy from web­sites linked to child pornog­ra­phers.

Some of those un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion took their own lives. Of those who were cleared, some lost jobs or mar­riages. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion, I should add, also iden­ti­fied many peo­ple who had ac­cessed child pornog­ra­phy.

In the re­cent case of the four-year de­lay, Judge Thomas O’Don­nell noted that this was due to pres­sure of work in the sec­tion of the Garda that deals with this. Again, how can we de­liver jus­tice to chil­dren and to the ac­cused if the gar­daí are not given the num­bers of peo­ple they need to do the job in a timely man­ner?

Let’s tackle this. Let’s put the re­sources, which means the money, into it. Chil­dren de­serve it and so do the ac­cused.

Re­sources that go into his­tor­i­cal abuse are re­sources taken away from cur­rent abuse – un­less both as­pects of child pro­tec­tion get the staff they need

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