By Colm O'Gorman in The Irish Independent
THE UNHAPPY but undeniable reality of sexual abuse in Ireland is that 27pc of this country's children will be sexually abused in childhood. One in four of our children have experienced sexual abuse before the age of 17. Almost one in 20 have been raped as children.
These are some of the main findings of the SAVI report into sexual violence commissioned by the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, conducted by the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, and published earlier this year. It is no longer just the Catholic Church, or Ferns or Dublin or Donegal that have to come to terms with this reality. Ireland has to face up to it.
In recent years, the main focus of public concern has rightly been on abuse perpetrated by clergy - in institutions and in parishes. In the wake of such revelations and public outcry, the Government has instituted different inquiries; the Laffoy Commission into institutional abuse; the Ferns Inquiry which is due to begin its investigations shortly; and a proposed inquiry into clerical abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin.
Welcome and necessary as these inquiries are, what has become even clearer is that there is a need for a wider national inquiry. Given the likelihood of future revelations that demand inquiry beyond Ferns and Dublin, it is no longer sustainable that a decision to hold future inquiries must be preceded by either media revelations or public outcry. It is time for a pro-active approach by the Government to what is unquestionably a nationwide problem whose impact on Irish society is both profound and long-term. Our current system of tribunal-based inquiry would not be in any way appropriate to examine cases of the mishandling of sexual abuse. The issue is too complex, the necessary process of investigation too delicate. Indeed, if we were to use such a mechanism, there is no doubt that we would still be trying to work our way through a morass of legal challenges by hundreds of separate legal teams, and arguments as to the proper function of the inquiry, 20 years from now.
In calling for a national inquiry, One in Four wants to ensure that the mechanism chosen by the Government is adaptive enough to deal with cases yet to emerge and to the changing state of our knowledge of the problem. The evidence to date suggests that the problem is both complex and systemic. To this extent, the approach outlined in the Dail by the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell represents welcome progress in the development of an effective mechanism of inquiry at national level.
While the first field of examination in a national inquiry is likely to be clerical abuse, One in Four believes it is essential that a form of inquiry be adopted which will facilitate the examination of other vocational and professional fields where adults entrusted with the care of children and vulnerable adults have grossly abused that trust and where people with responsibility have failed to deal properly or adequately with that abuse. One In Four is seeking the establishment of a standing inquiry that will undertake such investigations as they emerge. If we are to embark on a new future, one where abused children are no longer silenced and denied, then we must first acknowledge and bear witness to the children we have so silenced in the past.
The children that are still with us, whose pain and trauma is carried within the adults they have become. The first step now has to be to name what happened. Once we have named it, we can then respond to it. Once this inquiry has found fact, and publicly reported its findings in each field of examination, then and only then can we begin to respond appropriately.
Only then can we begin the healing and ensure that we do everything to prevent such appalling failures in the future.
Posted by Colm at December 04, 2002 09:38 AM
Colm O'Gorman is Director of One in Four an organisation working with victims of abuse.