A DUBLIN BASED inter-agency says that since their establishment they have treated 240 adolescents who sexually abuse.
The Northside Inter-Agency Project (NIAP) provides a community-based treatment programme to young people, male and female, between the ages of 13 and 18 years who have sexually abused and to their parents and carers.
Young people who sexually abuse
NIAP is funded through the HSE’s Children and Family Services and was established by a group of professionals who noticed an increasing trend in young people who sexually abuse.
Speaking to TheJournal.ie Joan Sherry from NIAP, said that one third of all sexual abuse is perpetrated by those under the age of 18 years, adding that over the years a number of reports show that this is a growing concern.
“The Rape Crisis Centre report found that 39 per cent of those abused know their abusers and the SAVI report in 2002 found that a quarter of those surveyed were sexually abused by someone under 18-years-old,” she said.
Through its therapy, NIAP aims to protect the community through early intervention with young people who sexually abuse.
Girls who sexually abuse
We treat adolescents, both male and female. Only 5 per cent of perpetrators are female but there is a persisting tendency for female abuse to be under reported.
Over the last 21 years however, there have only been five girls in the treatment programme, three of which were all in treatment last year. Sexual abuse by women is really the last taboo for people.
NIAP gives individual therapy and group therapy to service users, with family work also being an integral part of treatment. Sherry said that adolescents are generally treated for 18 months to two years.
Not all adolescents have been charged with a sexual offence, explains Sherry. “The HSE Child Protection Services often make referrals and the gardaí are notified also. Usually it is their first offence and they generally get a caution or are referred to the juvenile liaison programme”.
Abuse within families
She said that inter-familia abuse would be most common, adding:
Often families are reluctant to see their son charged. You might have a case where a brother has sexually abused his sister. Parents struggle terribly because they want their son to get help, but they want to protect their daughter also. So often these adolescents are not charged.
She added that the majority of young people continue to live at home with their parents and carers, while a small number will be forced to find alternative accommodation and will be placed in care.
“It’s a hugely traumatic issue for parents that are going thorough this. They are devastated. But we need to get away from this message of ‘stranger danger’ because it is generally perpetrated by people we know,” Sherry said.
Sherry said that the adolescents and families in treatment come “from all walks of life,” adding:
People represent all socio-economic groups and cultures with all levels of learning ability and intelligence. This is not something that is confined to one section of society.
She added that while some service users have a history of neglect or sexual abuse, not all do, adding “they are all quite different”.
In terms of the success of the treatment, Sherry said it can be difficult to quantify.
“It can be difficult to determine if they re offend as this is something that adolescents like to keep to themselves and it can be difficult for us to find out – because, what are we gauging it by – rumours, reports or charges. In the last 21 years, I know of three that have abused again, but that is not to say there is not more,” she said.
“We try and target what sets them off to offend and we try and develop a non-abusive lifestyle for them, she explained.
NIAP is unique collaborative arrangement between the HSE, Daughters of Charity, the Probation Service, Temple St Children’s University Hospital and the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service, Mater Hospital.