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Young sexual offenders move from downloading images to sexually harming children

There has been a “marked rise” in the number of 18 to 25 year olds looking for treatment.

Image: Child Abuse via Shutterstock

THERE HAS BEEN a rise in the number of young sex offenders seeking treatment, support group One in Four has said.

The organisation has seen more young men, aged 18 to 25, referred for its treatment programme, it confirmed during the launch of its annual report.

Last year, 30 sex offenders were given treatment by One in Four, which works with the Gardaí and the Child and Family Agency.

Executive director Maeve Lewis says the jump in numbers means that the age category makes up a quarter of all offenders.

“Many of these young men began offending as adolescents by downloading internet images of children being abused and then moved on to sexually harming children themselves,” she continued, noting that “serious questions” are posed for the digital-age society in terms of supporting young people to develop “healthy notions of sex based on consensual sexual intimacy”.

Survivors

There has also been a shift in the profile of the survivors of child sex abuse that One in Four sees for psychotherapy services.

Previously, the group was closely associated with adults who were abused in the Catholic Church but last year, most of its clients were harmed within their own families and neighbourhoods.

This is the more accurate reality of child sex abuse in Ireland, according to Lewis.

“People who have been sexually abused in their family have very complex needs,” she continued.

They need support in dealing with the impact of the abuse in their adult lives, but their families also need support in coming to terms with the truth of what happened and in understanding the intricate dynamics that allowed family members to be sexually abused.

Altogether in 2013, 115 clients and 43 families were helped through the services. Separately, advocacy officers supported another 633 individuals.

Lewis is concerned that Ireland may become complacent, believing that children are no longer at risk because of the reports into clerical abuse.

“The experience of our clients shows that child sexual abuse sadly continues to be the reality for far too many children and we see the heart breaking consequences of that in our work every day.”

Child Protection

Lewis believes there has been a “notable improvement” in the way the new Child and Family Agency consistently deals with allegations of sex abuse. She said that retrospective allegations are “usually taken very seriously now” and that there is a recognition that those who harmed 15 years ago could still present a risk to children today.

One in Four says that child protection continues to be a major aspect of its work and 51 child protection notifications were made to the Child and Family Agency in 2013.

Justice System

One in Four has again highlighted the problems with Ireland’s justice system’s handling of serious sexual crimes.

Of the survivors who deal with the group, just 15% have taken a complaint to the gardaí and even fewer have made it to trial (only 35 clients in 2013).

“Our advocacy officers regularly witness our clients being humiliated and their characters maligned during cross examination in a criminal trial,” explained Lewis.

“With all due regard to the right of an accused person to a fair trial, we have created a criminal justice system that so terrifies victims of sexual crime that most prefer to remain silent rather than seek justice for the terrible harm they have endured.

“This creates a culture where serious crimes are committed with impunity, surely an intolerable situation in a modern democracy.”

Read: Child sex abuse survivors far more likely to be disabled, poor and live alone in later life

More: Man given two life sentences for rape of two children in Athlone

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