Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Over half of victims were told not to tell of sex abuse
A review of children’s files at one of the country’s main sexual abuse assessment units shows that in more than half of all cases, the children had been told not to tell of the abuse.
The research also highlighted some other themes linked to the abuse, with the review showing parental domestic abuse was a factor in 35% of cases, that the alleged perpetrator of the abuse was aged under 20 in 41% of cases, and that the abuse began for children aged between five and 12 in more than half of all cases reviewed. In more than 17% of cases, the abuse began when the child was aged four or under.
The research will form the basis for a presentation by one of the authors at a major conference on disclosure and child sex abuse to be held on Friday in Sligo.
The review of 80 children’s files was conducted by Dr Rosaleen McElvaney and Aisling Costello of Dublin City University and Dr Rhonda Turner of Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children. It shows abuse by another family member was present in 62.5% of cases, while extrafamilial abuse was a feature in 35% of cases.
Almost three quarters of children still confined the secret to a small group even when the abuse was disclosed, with 65% saying they had difficulty in talking about it and 64% stating they felt shame, while 61% said they did not want to upset others. Some 55% said they were told not to tell, while 41% said they thought they might be in trouble if they spoke about it.
There was a huge amount of distress caused by the abuse, and in more than 71% of cases the victim had either tried to stop the abuse or had tried on a previous occasion to tell someone about it.
As for confiding, 41% told a parent and 38% used the support of a teacher or a counsellor.
Dr McElvaney, the programme chair of the doctorate in psychotherapy at the school of nursing and human sciences in DCU, is among the speakers at the conference. She said the data highlighted how more needs to be done to create an atmosphere and environment that encourages children to disclose if they have been abused.
“The State can raise awareness, of the extent of it, how common it is, and what are the behaviours associated with it,” she said.
“At school level and in community groups we need to make sure staff are comfortable and open to the possibility that abuse has occurred. Within families, we need to give children the opportunities to ask them and to create an atmosphere that they will tell if there is something wrong in their lives.”
The research, funded by BASPCAN, the Association for the Study and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, found three ‘typical’ themes were identified as influencing the disclosure process — feeling distressed, opportunity to tell, and fears for self.
Four ‘variant’ themes were identified — concerns for others, being believed, shame/guilt, and peer influence.
Friday’s conference, organised by the Independent Guardian Ad Litem Agency , is called Getting it Right — Responding to Children who Disclose Sexual Abuse and will be chaired by district judge Paul Kelly.