Abuse report - a catalogue of horror

  • Joanne McCarthy

Children lived in ‘daily terror’ of being beaten over more than five decades in State-run institutions, and sexual abuse was widespread, according to the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse report, which was released today.

The report outlines in harrowing detail the emotional, physical and sexual abuse inflicted on young people who attended schools and institutions from 1940 onwards. More than 100 institutions and religious orders, including the Sisters of Mercy, the Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers, were investigated over the last decade.

Fine Gael said the report of the Commission discloses "an appalling litany of sexual abuse, physical brutality and neglect of children perpetrated in institutions throughout the State for decades."

The inquiry covered the period from 1936 to the present. Howwever, the complaints of abuse came mostly from the period 1936 to around 1970.

Sexual abuse was endemic in boys' institutions, according to the report, involving such abuse by some staff members and some older boys.

Sexual abuse was not systematic in girls' institutions, although girls were subjected to predatory sexual abuse by male employees (of the institutions), or visitors or in outside placements, the report states.

The report also highlights the level of emotional abuse that disadvantaged, neglected and abandoned children were subjected to generally by religious and lay staff at the institutions.

Witnessing such abuse of other children, as well as witnessing beatings, had a distressing impact on children, the report states.

The Commission found that 'schools were run in a severe, regimented manner that imposed unreasonable and oppressive discipline on children and even staff'.

According to the report, the safety of children was not a priority for the Christian Brothers.

The approach of the religious orders to the inquiry was described by the Commission in 2003 as ‘adversarial and legalistic’. The report says that the Christian Brothers Order was defensive in the way it responded to complaints, and claims the order fails to accept any congregational responsibility for such abuse.

The order today said it apologised openly and unreservedly 'to all those who have been hurt either directly or indirectly as a result of the deplorable actions of some Brothers, or by the inaction or inappropriate action of the Congregation as a whole'.

The report has strongly criticised the Department of Education for its handling of complaints about the institutions concerned. The Department dismissed or ignored complaints of child sexual abuse and dealt inadequately with them, it says.

Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe extended his sympathy to those who were subjected to abuse while resident in industrial schools.

One in Four, a charity which supports people who have experienced sexual abuse and violence, said the Commission has not been able to deliver on all the promises made at the time of its establishment.

Survivors are disappointed that all their accounts have not been heard, and that the alleged perpetrators have not been named, it said.

“We know that what the survivors most want is a public acknowledgement of the suffering they endured, and to ensure that other children are safe,” said One in Four’s executive director, Maeve Lewis.

According to One in Four, the most vulnerable children were condemned to live under a regime where sexual, physical and emotional abuse and neglect were commonplace.  Even set against the harsh child-rearing practices of the time, their treatment is shocking, it said.

“The church’s attempt to deny the magnitude and scale of the abuse perpetrated will be decimated by this report.  It is difficult for the vast majority of religious who never harmed children to live with the legacy they have inherited, but their response must now prioritise the needs of those who suffered so greatly,” it said.

One in Four believes that Irish child protection services are still completely under-resourced, and children at risk cannot be confident of intervention and support.

Some of the key findings of the report include:

* Physical and emotional abuse were features of the institutions. Sexual abuse occurred in many of them.

* Large-scale institutionalisation was an outdated response to a 19th century social problem.

* The deferential and submissive attitude of the Department of Education towards the orders running the institutions compromised its ability to carry out its duty of inspection and monitoring of the schools.

* The brutal industrial school system thrived in Ireland while better systems of care were developed in England.

*The Department knew that violence and beatings were endemic within the system. "Pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment" permeated most of the institutions.

*Children who ran away were subjected to extremely severe punishment. Severe corporal punishment was rife in the boys' institutions: "Prolonged, excessive beatings with the implements intended to cause maximum pain."

*Pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment permeated all boys' instutions. There were restrictions on corporal punishment in girls' schools, but in some of these schools 'a high level of ritualised beating' was routine.

*Sexual abuse endemic in boys' institutions. Predatory sexual abuse of girls by male employees or visitors but it was not systematic in girls' institutions.

*Substantial level of sexual abuse of boys ranging from improper touching and fondling to rape with violence. Perpetrators allowed operate undetected for long periods in institutions.

*Cases of sexual abuse managed with a view to minimising risk of public disclosure. Perpetrators were protected.

*Response of authorities was to transfer offenders to other locations, where they were often free to abuse again.

*Nuns' attitudes and mores made it difficult for them to deal with abuse reports in institutions.

*Children in institutions suffered neglect. They were frequently hungry and food was inadequate, inedible and badly prepared. Malnourishment was a serious problem, and sanitary provision was primitive.

*Disturbing levels of emotional abuse revealed. Some children forced to participate in beatings.

*Complaints by parents not properly investigated.

The report's recommendations include that a memorial be built to the abuse victims and that the lessons of the past should be learned. It is important to admit that the child abuse occurred because of failures of systems, policy, administration and failings of senior personnel.

It says steps should be taken to reduce the risk of such failures being repeated, and stresses that the religious congregations need to examine how their ideals became debased by systemic abuse.

It recommends that counselling and educational services should continue to be provided to ex-residents and their families. It says, 'Children First', the national guidelines for the protection and welfare of children, should be uniformly and consistently implemented throughout the State in dealing with allegations of abuse.

Fine Gael spokespersons on Children and Education, Alan Shatter and Brian Hayes, said it was scandalous that even at this stage in the context of the information disclosed, that some religious congregations, such as the Christian Brothers and the Brothers of Charity, while acknowledging that some abuse took place in institutions
for which they were responsible, deny congregational responsibility for such abuse.

Details of the HSE's national counselling service for victims of child abuse are at...

The full report can be viewed at...http://www.childabusecommission.ie/rpt/pdfs/

The executive summary can be viewed at...http://www.childabusecommission.ie/

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