Sexual Abuse Victims’ Groups Under Pressure

Help groups have been inundated with calls since the publication of the Ryan Report on sexual abuse carried out by members of the Irish Catholic church, but cannot rely on sustained funding from the government.

Over the past six weeks, 476 people have contacted sexual abuse advocacy group One In Four for the first time. This figure represented more new victims coming forward than the agency would normally encounter in an average year.

Since the Ryan Report which investigated physical, sexual and emotional abuse at industrial schools in Ireland was published last month, One In Four and the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) have been flooded with requests for first-time assistance by abuse survivors. Around 200 of those who contacted One In Four in the past month required referral to the agency’s in-house clinical psychotherapy service.

The agency would usually deal with such numbers in a full year. “Our staff have responded magnificently,” said Maeve Lewis, director of One in Four. “They are coping with a level of demand way over the resources at hand. It is impossible for people to continue to work at this level of intensity without falling short of meeting the needs of people who are accessing our services.”

Lewis wrote to Barry Andrews, the Minister for Children, in recent days, saying that her agency was in dire straits and desperately required funding. She said that the avalanche of new people coming forward for advice and help was directly related to the release of the Ryan Report, which found ‘‘endemic’’ levels of rape and sexual assault in places of detention, orphanages and schools run by the Catholic Church.

It also found that state inspectors had failed to intervene, even though some religious-run schools operating between the 1930s and 1990s had ‘‘operated a high level of ritualised beating’’. Three weeks after the release of the report, Taoiseach Brian Cowen, ‘‘on behalf of the state and of all citizens of the state’’, issued a ‘‘long overdue’’ apology to victims of childhood abuse.

Cowen said that the implementation of Ryan’s recommendations was a government priority. In the same Dail debate, Andrews said that proposals for full implementation of the recommendations would be introduced this month.

When the Ryan Report came out in May, One In Four was already dealing with a reduction of 5 per cent in its baseline funding from the Health Service Executive (HSE), compared with 2008. The charity which was founded by Colm O’Gorman, director of Amnesty Ireland and a former victim of Wexford cleric Fr Sean Fortune briefly had to defer some of its psychotherapy services earlier this year as part of a cost-cutting programme caused by a shortfall in its finances.

Lewis and her staff took pay cuts. She implemented cuts in administration, office-related spending and the group’s training budget. Staffers attended fewer conferences and training seminars, and there was a drop in staff expenses.

Two non-clinical staffers were made redundant. The group also deferred plans to hire an additional psychotherapist to provide counselling to victims of abuse. Advertising, fundraising expenses and communications were all slashed. The organisation provided more than 5,000 individual psychotherapy sessions in 2007 and almost 2,000 hours of group therapy.

Comparable figures for 2009 are on course to double.

Meanwhile, another surge of people coming forward to support groups could follow the publication of the report from the Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation. The commission, chaired by Judge Yvonne Murphy, spanned a selection of abuse cases which occurred in the archdiocese of Dublin between 1975 and 2004.

It is expected to present its report to Dermot Ahern, the Minister for Justice, in the next ten days. The report is almost completed, but Murphy is considering whether or not known offenders awaiting criminal court proceedings should be named.

Last week, Lewis and Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop, chief executive of the DRCC, co-signed a letter to Ahern, in which they asked him to consider delaying the release of the Dublin report until the autumn ‘‘at the earliest’’.

"We are living in total dread of the release of the Dublin Commission report,” Lewis said.

In 2007,the organisation received €621,000 from the HSE and had a total income of over €1.3 million with the remainder coming from fundraising, donations and smaller grants. This year, private fundraising will fall short of previous years, due to straitened economic circumstances in line with the decline generally in private donations to NGOs and charities, according to Lewis.

In previous years, funding had generally risen in line with increases in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The fall in CPI will go some way to softening the blow to groups such as One In Four, but only to a limited degree.

‘‘We need €130,000 extra to fund for the provision of one extra psychotherapist to deal with the near-doubling of the work load,” Lewis said.

However, not all the 70 people who rang the One In Four last Monday will become new clients.’ ‘Some just wish to speak to someone maybe only briefly before building up the courage to go a step further and make further contact,” Lewis said.

‘‘It’s the first step on the road to dealing with what happened to them.”

Original source: Sunday Business Post