Residential Institutions 2012

Residential Institutions Statutory Bill

Dáil Éireann, 14th June 2012

Deputy Dan Neville

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Bill, which provides for the establishment of a statutory fund to support the needs of survivors of child abuse in residential institutions. I note that 1,500 former residents are expected to be eligible to apply for support from the fund and every effort is being made by the Minister, who I welcome to the Chamber today, to minimise the administration involved. The fund should target resources at services to support former residents’ needs, such as counselling, psychological support services and mental health services, health and personal social services, educational services and housing services. While the Residential Institutions Redress Board provides financial compensation to those who suffered abuse while resident in the institutions, this Bill provides for a new statutory fund, which will focus on meeting specified needs which many survivors have as they struggle with the effects of abuse that may have taken place many years ago.

Following on from the last speaker’s contribution, I wish to deal specifically with the effects of child abuse and the trauma experienced by those who were in institutional care at the time. Studies examining the relationship between childhood trauma, such as that suffered by many people in institutions, and adult suicidal behaviour have reported evidence the two are frequently linked. For example, 12 of the 100 young people who were abused in children’s homes in Clwyd, north Wales, have since taken their lives. My contribution is based on consultation meetings with people who experienced industrial child sexual abuse conducted by the National Suicide Research Foundation based in Cork, which examined this issue. This consultation took place in Tralee, Limerick, Waterford, Enniscorthy, Galway and Cork and involved 90 survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. Some of the survivors had numerous insights themselves with regard to risk and protective factors for suicidal behaviour among people experiencing institutional abuse.

When she spoke about a female patient of a psychiatrist, she said:

I do not think she will ever tell him [her husband] because when he hears the [television] programmes, he says “look at all those dreadful people lying just to get money”, so of course she is never going to. “That never happened”, he says, so she will never tell him now. Well, she says she will not. So, all her life this was a piece kept away. Her deepest friends do not know …. and her husband knows nothing.

I would like to speak about the effects of child abuse. It is right that we abhor child abuse. As earlier speakers have said, it is important to understand its effects and its destructive outcomes for children. When child abuse occurs, the victim can develop a variety of distressing feelings, thoughts and behaviours. No child is psychologically prepared to cope with repeated sexual stimulation. Even a two year old who cannot know sexual activity is wrong will develop problems as a result of his or her inability to cope with over-stimulation. A child of five years or older who knows and cares for the abuser will become trapped between affection or loyalty for the person and the sense that sexual activities are terribly wrong. If the child tries to break away from the sexual relationship, the abuser may threaten the child with violence or loss of love. A child who is the victim of prolonged sexual abuse usually develops low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness and abnormal or disordered views on sex. The child may become withdrawn or mistrustful of adults. He or she can become suicidal. Children who have been sexually abused sometimes have difficulty relating to other people other than on sexual terms. Some of them become child abusers or prostitutes or experience other serious problems when they reach adulthood.

There are often no obvious physical signs of child sexual abuse. A number of signs can be detected through physical examination by a doctor. Sexually abused children may develop an unusual interest in, or avoidance of, things of a sexual nature. They can experience sleep problems and often have nightmares. They can suffer depression and become withdrawn from friends or family. They may make statements about their bodies being “dirty” or “damaged”. They might think there is something wrong with them in the genital area. They may refuse to go to school, or become delinquent and have behavioural problems. They often become secretive. They sometimes display aspects of their sexual molestation in their drawings, games or fantasies. They may be unusually aggressive. The child may be extremely fearful of telling someone, although he or she might talk freely when a special effort has been made to help him or her to feel safe. If a child says he or she has been molested, parents and supporters should try to remain calm and reassure him or her that what happened was not his or her fault. They should seek a medical examination and a psychiatric consultation.

The initial and short-term effects of sexual abuse usually occur within two years of the termination of the abuse. These effects vary depending on the circumstances of the abuse and the child’s stage of development. They may include regressive behaviour such as a return to thumb-sucking or bed-wetting, sleep disturbance, eating problems, behavioural or performance problems in school and non-participation in school and social activities. The negative effects of child abuse can affect victims for many years and into adulthood. High levels of anxiety in these adults can result in self-destructive behaviours such as alcoholism, drug abuse, anxiety attacks, situation-specific anxiety disorders, insomnia, depression, attempted suicide and completed suicide. Many victims encounter problems in their adult relationships and adult sexual functioning. Revictimisation is a common phenomenon in people who were abused as children. Research has shown that child sexual abuse victims are more likely to be victims of rape or be involved in physically abusive relationships as adults.

The ill-effects of child abuse are wide-ranging. There is no one set of symptoms or outcomes. Some children report little or no psychological distress from the abuse. These children may be afraid to express their emotions and may be denying their feelings as a coping mechanism. Other children may have sleeper effects – experiencing no harm in the short term but suffering serious problems in later life. In an attempt to assess whether a child can recover from sexual abuse and to better understand the ill-effects of such abuse, psychologists have studied the factors that seem to lessen the impact of such abuse. The factors that affect the amount of harm done to the victim include the age of the child, the duration, frequency and intrusiveness of the abuse, the degree of force used and the relationship with the abuser. Issues such as the child’s interpretation of the abuse, whether he or she discloses the abuse and how quickly he or she reports it can also affect the short-term and long-term consequences of the abuse. As I have said, it is very easy and important to abhor child abuse and to establish redress boards to deal with this vital issue. It is just as important to understand the effects and destructive outcomes for children who have suffered child abuse in institutions

Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan

I would like to acknowledge Deputy Neville’s moving speech. He showed great understanding of and compassion for people who have been abused. I am familiar with his work in the area of suicide prevention. I am glad to have been present to listen to his contribution to this debate.

Following the publication of the Ryan report in May 2009, the congregations that managed the residential institutions were called on to make further substantial contributions by way of reparation. The word “reparation” can be associated with words like “repair” and “reparable” that involve setting things right, making amends, mending and compensating. When the Cloyne report was published, I had to read it in stages because I found it so grim and awful to read what was done and was allowed to be done by the church and the State.