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Survivors group 'concerned' that alleged child abusers could be allowed interview complainants

Tusla’s new guidelines mean social workers could have to “stress test” allegations during interviews.

Tusla offices in Dublin.
Tusla offices in Dublin.
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

AN ABUSE SURVIVORS’ group has raised concerns that people under investigation for child abuse, including child sexual abuse, could be allowed personally interview alleged victims, under new Tusla procedures. 

Tusla’s new guidelines, which are set to come into effect in June, will mean social workers will have to “stress test” allegations when interviewing complainants. 

The new guidelines were drawn up after several High Court judgments criticised Tusla’s process for investigating sexual abuse allegations and found that accused persons weren’t afforded due process following allegations. 

The Irish Times reports that Tusla social workers should, in some cases, facilitate questioning of complainants or witnesses by suspects, under these new procedures. 

If direct questioning is considered inappropriate, suspects should be allowed write questions to be put to a complainant and, in some cases, a suspect may be allowed in the room while questioning is taking place. 

“Tusla staff are instructed that the identity of the alleged victim should be disclosed to the suspect at an early stage, even in cases where the ‘complainant is at serious risk from the [alleged abuser]‘,” the Irish Times reports. 

If the complainant is still a child or is a “vulnerable adult”, it would be “generally” inappropriate for them to be questioned by their alleged abuser, the guidelines state.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke this morning, Maeve Lewis of abuse survivors’ support group One in Four said she is “concerned” by the new guidelines. 

“What’s very clear is that the rights of the alleged abuser are very prominent in this new policy and rightly so. But due consideration hasn’t been given to the rights of the person making the complaint,” said Lewis. 

Lewis said it is not clear from Tusla’s guidelines who decides if an adult is vulnerable or not. “All our clients are people who’ve been sexually abused in childhood. Some of them are, indeed, very vulnerable…I’d be very concerned if a decision was made that they’d be cross-questioned by the person who had allegedly abused them.”

Lewis also raised concerns that the new procedures could prevent sexual abuse survivors speaking out. 

“It is so hard to for survivors to come forward in the first place and I am very concerned that this will deter people from coming forward,” said Lewis, adding that clarity is needed regarding how their information is processed. 

‘Cross-examine’

Tusla’s new guidelines – ‘The Child Abuse Substantiation Procedure’ (CASP) – are a revision of the agency’s 2014 ‘Policy and Procedures for Responding to Allegations of Abuse and Neglect’. 

In a statement, Tusla said the new guidelines are “based on learning that indicated the need to further enhance consistency of practice across the Agency.

“In addition, changes were also required to incorporate new legal judgements in this complex area of law and practice,” a spokesperson said.

Tusla said there’s a legal requirement to afford any accused person of their right to justice and fair procedures and to undertake stress testing, which takes place at the start of proceedings. 

“To balance this with the rights of the person who has made a disclosure we are fundamentally aiming to ensure the robustness of the interview process so as to negate the need on their part for further questioning and further hurt or trauma associated with further interviews,” Tusla said. 

It said there is no requirement set out in its new procedural guidelines for a complainant to be cross-examined. 

“The Guide takes account of the fact that under due process the person who an allegation is made against may request to question or cross-examine a victim,” it said. 

“Tusla fully recognises the right of the person making a disclosure to refuse this request and we would never undermine a person’s right in this context.

“The guide outlines different ways in which Tusla might explore the request for cross-examination considering the least harmful approach for the person who made a disclosure.

“Tusla cannot and would never compel a person to participate in a process that they would deem harmful to themselves.”

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