News Carol Hunt

Saturday 20 September 2014

We continue to excuse the abuser and vilify the abused

The rights of abusive and violent men still trump those of women and children, writes Carol Hunt

Published 13/10/2013 | 05:00

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AINE ADAMS: Her rights should have been prioritised

IT STARTS right at the beginning, when the mother is required to attend her local maternity hospital in order to deliver her child. It shows where both mother and child stand in the hierarchy of things. These hospitals are "not fit for purpose". But sure, being maternity hospitals, they're only for the use of women and their babies.

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This is presumably why the recommendations advised after the avoidable death of Tania McCabe and one of her twin sons were not implemented. It's why Savita Halappanavar died. It's why Minister Frances Fitzgerald is now commissioning reports on reports already commissioned. Because where the health and welfare of women and children is concerned, it's a case of ticking boxes. Just look as if you're doing something when yet another death occurs or another child is abused, and that's enough. We've already forgotten about the Children's Referendum, haven't we? Not that it concerned too many at the time, having one of the lowest voting turnouts in any referendum. Tick a box, that's all we had to do, and – abracadabra – all the children of the country were cherished.

Prior to the vote, critics of the amendment argued that, if passed, it would put the rights of the family above the rights of the child. By "rights of the family", one wonders if they meant the rights of the male parent. They need not have worried. The rights of men – of abusive, violent men, whether within the church or the family – still trump those of women and children.

In the vast majority of child sexual abuse cases, as evidenced by last week's shocking report from the National Rape Crisis Network (NRCN) – Hearing Child Survivors of Sexual Violence: Towards a National Response – the perpetrator of child sex abuse is not some strange, evil beast. He is a person (98 per cent of perpetrators are male) who lives among us, is known by us and is sometimes loved by us.

The findings of the NRCN report show that children under the age of 13 are most vulnerable to sexual assault by males in the (survivor's/ abuser's) home. Children over the age of 13 are most vulnerable to abuse by a male, non-family member, usually a friend, neighbour or acquaintance, in locations outside the home.

Children First is Ireland's national guidance for the protection and welfare of children. The hint, supposedly, is in the name. If we think of anything but the welfare of children first, we end up with the situation we have been collectively condemning for the last few decades, when the Catholic Church told themselves that their greater good was served by hushing up the sexual abuse committed by its members. It was easy for many of us to point to the church and roundly condemn it for its hypocrisy and cruelty. Yet, within State and family, we seem to be seamlessly continuing this honoured tradition of excusing the abuser and vilifying the abused.

As blogger Donal O'Keeffe put it succinctly last week, this is still "No country for small children".

It took RTE journalist Philip Boucher-Hayes four years to highlight the case of "Maggie", an 11-year-old- girl who was repeatedly raped, sometimes at knifepoint, and whose consequent treatment at the hands of the HSE is a disgusting indictment of all of us. Because Maggie's mother, quite rightly, asked for a female doctor to examine her daughter, both mother and daughter were relentlessly punished for being "difficult" – with Maggie being advised that it was in her interest to drop the case against her abuser.

"Emma's" story followed Maggie's – a mother revealed to Boucher-Hayes that, when her child would return from visits to her estranged husband (Emma's father), she exhibited all the psychological and physical signs of abuse – with Emma disclosing repeatedly that abuse was taking place. The HSE talked to the father and, against garda advice, decided that his rights trumped those of his estranged wife and abused daughter. He is allowed see his daughter, the mother was sent for psychiatric assessment – she and her daughter were the problem.

Boucher-Hayes says he has "11 remarkably similar files" sitting on his desk.

And we saw again recently, the 'rights' of the abusive male being prioritised. Aine Adams claimed that her uncle Gerry tried to convince her to keep her father's abuse a secret. Rightly horrified, she said, ". . . it was turning into Liam was the victim. 'Our Liam is sick in the head . . . Our Liam can't deal with what he did to you . . . Our Liam can't cope'." Poor Liam, eh?

This trick of turning the perpetrator of abuse into some sort of victim, while the real victim is made to feel as if they are being unreasonable for demanding justice, seems to be the way we deal with crimes against children in this country.

We have some questions to ask ourselves.

In a country which prides itself on "cherishing its children", will we ever face up to the fact that we collectively, innately, treat children (and often their mothers) like second-class citizens?

Will mothers continue to be told they are "unreasonable" and "difficult" by state agencies for trying to protect their children?

Will maternity hospitals ever become "fit for purpose"?

Will a single person in the HSE be dismissed because of the cruelty and misjudgement exhibited in cases like Maggie's or Emma's?

Will anyone in authority, ever, be held responsible for anything?

What do you think?

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