Wednesday 22 October 2014

Abuse victim Sophia to need `years of therapy'

Published 21/01/1998 | 00:11

A CHILD abuse expert yesterday described Sophia McColgan one of four members of a family suing the North Western Health Board and a doctor as ``a most impressive lady with a lot of insight into her own situation''.

A CHILD abuse expert yesterday described Sophia McColgan one of four members of a family suing the North Western Health Board and a doctor as ``a most impressive lady with a lot of insight into her own situation''.

Dr Alice Swann said she diagnosed Sophia as suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, the result of the serious physical and sexual abuse she suffered over the years. She also had a marked dissociative element in her behaviour and suffered from marked cognitive disorder.

Dr Swann, who interviewed Sophia for two and a quarter hours last week, was giving evidence on the 11th day of the hearing before Mr Justice Johnson in the High Court.

Sophia (27), her sister Michelle and brothers Gerard and Keith, are suing the health board and Dr Desmond Moran, Stephen Street, Sligo.

They were severely sexually and physically abused over a prolonged period by their father, Joseph McColgan, Ballinacarrow, Ballymote, Co Sligo, who is now serving a 12-year jail sentence.

Belfast-based Dr Swann who interviewed Ms McColgan in the company of a US psychologist who gave evidence to the Court last week, said she was very impressed by the young woman. Both she and her American colleague needed all their skills to control the interview.

The post traumatic stress disorder from which Sophia was suffering was present for several years, she said.

Ms McColgan's decision not to disclose the abuse she and other members of the family had suffered by their father until she had completed her degree in Sligo RTC was not a rational decision objectively. But from Sophia's perspective it was a rational decision.

Sophia believed getting an education and a good degree would make her stronger and put her in a position where she would be able to disclose what had happened to her and be believed when she felt able to confront the past.

But that decision was not objectively rational because if it was taken to its logical conclusion, it posed the question of whether she would be believed more if she obtained a first class honours degree or become less credible if she failed.

Getting an education before disclosing was a goal Sophia had set herself, one that was perfectly understandable from Ms McColgan's perspective.

Dr Swann said the abuse suffered by Sophia as a child made it extremely difficult for her to cope with any of the crises of adulthood. To a certain extent, she did not have a reference point by which she could steer her life.

Sophia had marked cognitive disorder which was illustrated by her self-blame for the situation that had happened to her and her family. She had a sense of responsibility for her own abuse and that of other members of the family. Her sense of the world was that it was a very unsafe, malevolent place.

But, added Dr Swann, Sophia had shown some improvement and she would be positive about her eventually recovering from her trauma. She would, however, need several years of intensive therapy, which could be difficult for her.

Dr Swann said Sophia did not find it easy to study because of having PTSD. She felt she had to study three times as hard as anybody else.

Cross-examined by John Rogers SC, for the NWHB, Dr Swann acknowledged she was neither a psychologist or a psychiatrist. But this did not preclude her from making a diagnosis of PTSD such as she had done in this and other cases.

Sophia, she said, in deciding to enrol at Sligo RTC and to get a degree, made a decision that was rational to her (Ms McColgan) and based on self-interest. She agreed Sophia's marks at college showed an element of determination in a competitive setting.

Dr Swann said that in 1984, formal training in diagnosising and assessing child sex abuse was just beginning. It would have been far more difficult for Sophia to get help than it was years later when she finally went public and eventually saw through the prosecution of her father.

Because of what had happened to her, Sophia was utterly incapable of managing her own her own affairs in certain important aspects of life.

Mr Paul Gilligan, Directive of Services with the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and a clinical psychologist, was then recalled to the witness stand.

Before he gave further evidence, discussions took place between counsel for both sides and the judge on what documents the witness would be allowed to refer to during his further evidence.

Mr Rogers said the plaintiffs had to prove every document, otherwise they could not make a case. Where facts were alleged to have taken place, they had to be proven. Evidence would have to be given to prove the truthfulness of documents tendered.

He was not engaged in a tactical game but was anxious only to ensure that all the evidence before the court was presented in a proper way.

He argued the evidence that Mr Gilligan was about to give was not admissible, based as it was on documents that had not been proved in a comprehensive way.

Mr Justice Johnson said all documents handed into the court since the start of the trial and up to Day Eight, and to which neither side had taken objection, he would regard as having been proved.

The hearing continues today.

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