March 10, 2003
Child sex abuse committed by adolescents highlighted

by Lorna Siggins in The Irish Times

Care workers' conference: Society is still failing to face up to the reality that one-third of all child sexual abuse in Ireland is committed by adolescents, the Irish Association of Care Workers heard in Galway at the weekend, reports .

This was reflected in "patchy" and under-resourced Government support for therapeutic services, Ms Joan Cherry of Dublin's Northside Inter-Agency Project (NIAP), told the association's conference. Yet research showed that early therapeutic intervention was successful in up to 90 per cent of cases referred for treatment.

Ms Cherry cautioned that the research was in its early stages, partly due to society's denial of the problem. While the gender profile of offenders was largely male, there was a "taboo" around the fact that young girls have been known to abuse children, she said. International experience showed that many offenders, male and female, had been abused themselves.

Prior traumatisation, lack of intimacy as a child, a sexually repressive or oversexualised domestic environment or a home environment involving violence are factors contributing to occurrence of sexual abuse by minors.

Twenty years ago sexual behaviour by young people was viewed as "experimentation" rather than abuse, Ms Cherry said. However, any sexual behaviour by a minor with another which was "against the victim's will, without consent and was carried out in an aggressive, exploitative or threatening manner" was now defined as abuse.

The main challenge was in acknowledging this behaviour, and a percentage of abusers and their families tended to remain in denial, Ms Cherry said. A study which she carried out in her area of northside Dublin showed that of 15 young people who were confirmed as sexual abusers, only five had been referred to her project, three to other services, and seven did not receive any therapeutic service.

It was a very difficult issue and she had the utmost admiration for the courage of those who faced up to it. "But when there is denial it is impossible for social workers to intervene. The tragedy is that without help, these young people can continue their abusive behaviour."

NIAP, which was founded in 1990, is one of only two such community-based treatment programmes for adolescents in Dublin, and among fewer than half a dozen in the State, while work is also carried out in this area in private practice.

NIAP's primary aim is to prevent sexual offending through early intervention and treatment of young people between the ages of 13 and 18 years. The approach involves working with families.

"Programmes in Ireland have tended to derive from local initiatives, involving the professionals and the local population. The advantage of this is that you have very committed people involved," Ms Cherry said.

"The weakness of this is that there is very little central co-ordination of work and research, and very little government funding. So those young people who don't get help get lost in the system. Given the success rate of early action, more resources will show benefits."

Posted by Colm at March 10, 2003 11:32 AM
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