Yesterday, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs was delighted to announce the publication of the Children First Bill.
There was much self-congratulation as Minister Frances Fitzgerald and her department tried to tell us how this would make life so much easier for children in Ireland.
Well…..I’m calling bullshit.
The new act is a toothless instrument of the law. It’s all very well to say that reporting is mandatory; but if there are no sanctions against those who choose not to report, then what good is such a mandate?
I would suggest that a change in the culture is what’s needed before we can hope for a law that actually makes a difference. Naively, you might question what kind of person would choose not to report a crime of abuse against a child? Surely, if a person- particularly a person in authority – knows (or even suspects) that a child is being abused, that person would report it? Even without a law dictating that they should? You might think that, but I recently got sight of documents which blow that theory right out of the water.
I do think those involved should be named and shamed – but have been advised against so doing for the time being. (Patience was never my strong point. This is a hard lesson for me).
Without naming names, then, let me give you the broadstrokes:
In the early 1990s, a woman (let’s call her Deirdre, because that’s not her name) was in her mid-teens. She was being treated at a centre for the effects of sexual abuse. During this time, the psychiatrist under whose care she was (lets call her Dr C), asked Deirdre if she was still being sexually abused. Deirdre revealed that her father was still sexually abusing her.
What did this doctor do? Did she call the Gardai? No. What? Not even anonymously? No. What she did was seek a meeting with the paedophile in question. At this meeting (documented by the doctor herself), she confronted him with the information she had regarding the allegations Deirdre had made. Did he deny abusing her? No. Sure why would he? What he did, instead, was tell Dr C that ‘there (was) nothing sexual’ about his sexual abuse of this child. Instead, he averred, he was doing it ‘to comfort’ her because he was aware she had been sexually abused by other people as well. Doctor C’s response? She told him to ‘be more sensitive’.
I mean, seriously, what does that amount to? Isn’t that the same as saying ‘Rape her more gently’?!
Of course, you can say that this is a case of historic abuse, and no one would behave in such a way in this day and age. If you did say that, I would like to agree with you. Unfortunately, I couldn’t. When these documents surfaced (as the result of an FOI request Deirdre made), Deirdre met with a representative of the centre where she had been ‘treated’ (Dr C was on holiday – though she still works in the centre). Dr C’s colleague confirmed that, were the same set of circumstances to arrive in front of Dr C today, she would act in precisely the same way because that is the policy of the centre. To do otherwise would be a ‘breach of confidentiality’.
What does this tell you? It tells me what I already know: Children don’t come first in this country. We do not have a culture (yet) that puts children at the top of the pile. We do not have a society that cherishes, protects and loves its children. Every time I say that, people (women, usually) respond indignantly telling me how much they love their children. Sure, individuals among us may cherish our own personal children – but what about the snotty child at the end of the road, whose parents are drug addicts? Do you love that child? Really? Would you step in to help that child if he or she were being hurt? Would you? Would you really?
We, in Ireland, do not have a culture that views children as precious. We really don’t.
No law will make any difference if there are no sanctions against those who do not obey it. It is ludicrous to suggest otherwise. And, unfortunately, no law will make any difference if the cultural attitudes of the nation enacting it are not in-step with the letter and the spirit of that law.