THE families of two young girls brutally sexually assaulted in Athlone last weekend have broken their silence to thank gardai and local people for their support.
A man has been charged with the alleged rape of two girls aged six and nine who were playing outside a birthday party in the town on Saturday when they went missing.
The families of the two girls who are now recovering from their ordeal said: "We would like to express our heartfelt appreciation of An Garda Siochana for their support and tireless efforts at this difficult time.
"Their compassion and professionalism has been a source of great comfort for us and, more importantly, for our precious little daughters.
"The other professional care providers have also helped us to begin to find our way through this challenging period.
"Finally, we would also like to recognise the kindness and practical support that we have received from the people of Athlone. The level of public empathy and practical assistance has been immense and again it has been a source of comfort to us all at this most difficult time."
The statement was issued yesterday by the families.
Meanwhile, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) has published advice to parents on how to keep their children safe when out and about in public places.
ISPCC director of services Caroline Kingston said that while parents wanted to protect their children, they could not be there 100pc of the time while children went to school, played with friends or attended birthday parties. "While incidents like what happened in Athlone are rare, as parents we need to equip our children with the skills and confidence they need to be as safe as possible in public," she said.
The ISPCC recommends teaching children simple rules about personal safety from as young as two or three such as not to go off with somebody without asking, even if they know them.
They should also be taught they never have to do anything they don't like with an adult or older child – and as part of this parents should make sure children are never forced to kiss or hug an adult at home if they don't want to.