Friday, May 22, 2009

Irish Catholic Church Child Abuse

From the Guardian:
For 10 years [Patrick] Walsh has campaigned alongside the group Irish Survivors of Child Abuse to expose a system that allowed thousands of vulnerable children to be exploited and sexually abused while in the care of both church and state. [...]

From the mid-1920s until the early 1970s thousands of Irish children officially in the care of the state were subjected to a double regime of sexual abuse and wageless slavery. Ireland's notorious industrial schools and orphanages – all run by Catholic orders – were home to boys and girls who had been officially declared criminals by the courts.
This man's efforts highlight once again why all allegations must be taken seriously immediately even when they are made against those who seem above reproach or when they are made by those who seem completely unsympathetic, untrustworthy or self-serving.

His efforts also highlight why telling survivors to "get over it" is counter productive to public safety. If every survivor "let it go" there would be even more victims.

I'm sure many children who left these institutions acted out in ways which would make them seem less moral than their abusers. The effects of trauma can be ugly, but that should never be an excuse to dismiss allegations of abuse.

Since an entire environment can become abusive the official oversight of institutions, especially those where children or adults are not free to leave, need to go beyond surface-level inspections and responding to allegations.

Some of the boys who were abused toured with the Artane Boys Band and people who listened to them perform likely assumed that all those boys were well cared for and much better off than they had been before they were sent to an institution. The abuse they faced likely ensured that the boys would maintain the facade that those boys were happy and treated well.

From the Irish Times:

The commission, which was chaired by Mr Justice Seán Ryan, heard from more than 500 witnesses who said they had been sexually abused. There were also many reports of injuries, including broken bones, lacerations and bruising.

Eight chapters in the report are devoted to the Christian Brothers, the largest provider of residential care for boys in the State. More allegations were made against the Christian Brothers than all other male orders combined.

The report sharply criticises the Department of Education for failing to carry out proper inspections. “The deferential and submissive attitude of the Department of Education towards the congregations compromised its ability to carry out its statutory duty of inspection,” the report says. The commission, which was set up in 1999, investigated industrial schools, reformatories, orphanages, institutions for children with disabilities and ordinary day schools. It heard evidence covering the period from 1914 to the present but the bulk of its work addressed the period from the early 1930s to the early 1970s.

More than 1,700 men and women gave evidence of the abuse they suffered as children in institutions, with over half reporting sexual abuse. Accounts of abuse given in relation to 216 institutions are detailed in the report, which runs to nearly 3,000 pages.
These numbers are a reminder that those who perpetrated this violence were not a few bad seeds. Much of this abuse was likely used as a tool to control children while the rest would happen simply because those who perpetrated this violence knew they could get away with it. For the abusers abusing children became normal.

When people say never again the only way for this statement to be a reality is to ensure that the systems are required to be healthy, respectful and accountable.

Some responses I've seen to this report seem to focus not on the violence but on the age of the victims, but this violence should be just as unacceptable and repulsive if it were committed against incarcerated adults. Systematic physical and sexual abuse are wrong, period.

Children are more vulnerable and abuse at an earlier age can severely alter emotional and physical development. That definitely needs to be considered when issues of victim compensation or disability are discussed. But it shouldn't be the only reason we are outraged.

Unfortunately not everyone is outraged. Some, including the Catholic League, have chosen to minimize this pervasive violence.

Regarding sexual abuse, “kissing,” and “non-contact including voyeurism” (e.g., what it labels as “inappropriate sexual talk”) make the grade as constituting sexual abuse. Moreover, one-third of the cases involved “inappropriate fondling and contact.” None of this is defensible, but none of it qualifies as rape.

"Rape, on the other hand, constituted 12 percent of the cases. As for the charge that “Irish Priests” were responsible, some of the abuse was carried out by lay persons, much of it was done by Brothers, and about 12 percent of the abusers were priests (most of whom were not rapists).

"The Irish report suffers from conflating minor instances of abuse with serious ones, thus demeaning the latter. When most people hear of the term abuse, they do not think about being slapped, being chilly, being ignored or, for that matter, having someone stare at you in the shower. They think about rape.

"By cheapening rape, the report demeans the big victims. But, of course, there is a huge market for such distortions, especially when the accused is the Catholic Church."
This way of thinking matches the rationalization of sexual abusers and rapists who give themselves permission to abuse by comparing themselves favorably with the "real" rapists. In their minds other people who demand accountability for all abuse and all violence are the only ones who are harming the "real" victims.

The Catholic League has communicated that it is only interested in the "big victims" (and the biggest victim of all seems to be the Catholic Church leadership) which means they are not genuinely interested in the victims who were raped. This is because all of the small acts of violence and disrespect provide the foundation needed to support the "big" acts of sexual violence mentioned in this report.

Those who perpetrated this violence and those who protected perpetrators should be named and they should be held legally responsible for their crimes. This is needed not only for the sake of past victims, it is needed to help protect potential future victims from potential future perpetrators. If past perpetrators get away with their crimes even when those crimes become public knowledge then potential perpetrators who are in positions of authority will make their decisions based on this expectation. And those decisions will harm many people.

Lack of accountability works directly against prevention. Acknowledgement of past crimes is not enough.

Accountability is critical to prevention. So the question being answered is: How serious are officials and citizens about preventing future violence?


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 8:10 AM   7 comments links to this post


At May 22, 2009 11:02 AM, Blogger Marj aka Thriver said...

Saw your Tweet on this. This post is the perfect balance of my two main interests at my own blog: awareness about child abuse and sexual violence. Would you submit it for the next Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse?

I think a big point here is that our society allows all forms of sexual violence and children are its most vulnerable and helpless victims.

At May 22, 2009 11:47 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Marj, submitted it to your carnival.

Unfortunately, we as a society too often do allow this type of violence to continue by the frequent minimization of all but the most horrific actions and by dismissing allegations as false based on the alleged abuser's public image.

At May 22, 2009 8:23 PM, Blogger Georgia Girl said...

Marj aka Thriver, I visited your blog and can easily relate to many of the comments written by survivors. Since your blog goes back to 2006, I'm wondering how these survivors are now dealing with their lives.

Glad I found you!

At May 23, 2009 12:26 PM, Blogger Jacob said...

It would at the very least be worth noting that the sexual violence was almost exclusively committed against boys and was detailed by the reports as systemic. It is fine that you acknowledge in general that violence against children in wrong, however, one should acknowledge the fact that boys were the primary victims and face far greater hardships as a result. This was specific gendered violence committed by priests and nuns against boys, and while it is understandable that one does not technically consider unwanted sexual acts against boys as rape, that does not mean that one should avoid noting the obvious, particularly since it was a focal point of the reports.

At May 23, 2009 1:29 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...


The sexual violence was not almost exclusively committed against boys. It was committed against both boys and girls. I did not put more emphasis on girls who were victims. The only survivor I focused on was a man. I certainly didn't minimize the trauma of boys and I never said they couldn't be raped.

At May 24, 2009 3:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any sort of sexual violence is worng and cannot be categorized 'bad to worse'. The voyuerism described in the report, for example is likely to leave long lasting emotional scars for the people involved, especially when the victims are children and the perpertraitor the child's caregiver.
There is no way for such children to grow up with healthy ideas about theirselves and others, or with any sense of stability.

By trying to imply that some acts of sexual violence (emotional, physical or threatened) are lesser than others in the effects they have on the children abused we allow some abusers to feel themselves justified in what they do and even as better than other abusers.


At May 29, 2009 1:42 PM, Blogger Child Person said...

"Unfortunately not everyone is outraged"... and so it all continues. Alice Miller explores the reasons why so many deny, minimized etc. when it comes to all forms of child abuse...and so they tried to silence her. But she is so on target in her books like Thou Shalt Not Be Aware. We do make progress but oh how painfully slow... thanky you for your work and for sharing this with The Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse


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