Monday 24 October 2016

Abusers go free as children remain unidentified and at risk

Published 25/06/2014 | 02:30

Picture posed. Thinkstock Images
Picture posed. Thinkstock Images

When it comes to protecting children, this Government is long on rhetoric and short on action.

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Since reports of a mass grave at the Tuam mother and baby home first surfaced, government TDs have made powerful, emotive speeches about the protection of children being a priority of the coalition.

Their lips quiver and their voices shake as they vow that the sins of a "dark past" will not be visited on today's children.

However, a cursory look at any number of statistics reveals the emptiness of their words and the paucity of their promises.

There are currently 500 homeless children living in temporary accommodation with their families in Dublin.

Across the State, there are 375,000 children experiencing deprivation, going without food, heat or adequate clothing.

Last year, Children at Risk in Ireland (CARI) revealed that 3,000 children who had reported sexual abuse were unable to access counselling from the HSE – because they don't live in the right area.

Thousands of children with disabilities have been waiting for years to access services, stymieing their chances of development.

More than 2,000 have been waiting a year for occupational therapy, nearly 5,000 have been waiting for assessments or treatment by speech and language therapists and 3,000 are on waiting lists for mental health services.

It was reported this month that a case against a man suspected of possessing scores of sadistic and violent images of child pornography collapsed because of a three-year delay in processing the prosecution.

Obsolete computer equipment and inadequate staffing levels in the Garda unit tasked with investigating these kinds of sickening crimes – the Computer Crime Investigation Unit (CCIU) – has led to this lamentable state of affairs.

Think about the fact that there are 1,300 such cases in a three-year backlog, meaning hundreds of cases are at risk and hundreds of paedophiles may walk free.

To give an idea of the level of depravity involved in some of these cases, one American investigation found a paedophile had posted a sonogram photograph of an unborn baby to a child porn site with the message, "I have a new baby about to be added to the game."

We can't investigate these crimes because gardai do not have the requisite computer equipment to break powerful encryption software and search huge caches of images.

This doesn't just mean that child pornographers walk free, it also means that the children abused by them remain unidentified and at risk.

The three-year delay in scanning computers means that their images lie undiscovered on hard drives for years before they are added to databases that seek to identify and rescue them. For many, help will come too late.

The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) has decried the delay as a "national scandal and outrage".

And it is. But it's a scandal that we have known about for at least two years. In October 2012, it was revealed that a computer seized in 2009, and found to contain more than 300 images and 27 movie clips of child pornography, was not analysed by gardai for more than three years.

The judge in the case said he was "flabbergasted" at the delay. One assumes that he is even more flabbergasted today, having learned that the same lengthy backlog exists.

According to Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, new operating guidelines, with the intention of speeding up investigations, were only instituted at the CCIU in October 2013 – 12 months after a judge expressed his astonishment at the delays.

But, really, it doesn't matter how many new guidelines are enacted, if gardai don't have the resources and software required to do their jobs then the backlog will remain.

Despite the dearth of resources allocated to investigating child porn, it is an alarming prevalent crime.

A 'Prime Time' investigation in 2012 revealed that in just a 30-day period, more than 1,000 individuals all over the country had downloaded and shared images of child abuse.

Criminal profiling suggests that most stay under the radar because they are middle class, the kind of respectable people who wouldn't dream of speeding but go home and watch children being raped.

Today, many of them can sleep soundly at night in the knowledge that even if they are caught, they are unlikely to ever be convicted.

Colette Brown

Irish Independent

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