Friday 18 October 2019

Sex abuse in North finally 'recognised', says Mairia

Former Scottish commissioner for children and young people Professor Kathleen Marshall holds her report on child sexual exploitation in Northern Ireland in her office in Belfast
Former Scottish commissioner for children and young people Professor Kathleen Marshall holds her report on child sexual exploitation in Northern Ireland in her office in Belfast

Niall O'Connor and Michael McHugh

PARAMILITARY groups have used their "self imposed status" to frighten their victims to engage in sexual abuse, Mairia Cahill has claimed.

The Belfast woman last night said she believed victims of abuse at the hands of paramilitaries are now finally beginning to receive proper recognition of their ordeals.

Ms Cahill was responding to the publication of a new report that found that sexual exploitation by paramilitaries took place at so-called pub 'lock-ins'.

The report found that abusers used their fearsome reputations to sexually exploit children.

Some victims have been left fearing for their lives if they identified perpetrators, according to accounts obtained by an independent inquiry.

Soldiers have also been disciplined for smuggling girls into two different barracks within the last three years, report author Kathleen Marshall said, part of a range of abuses of power detailed dating back to the armed conflict.

Her review estimated between 100 and 145 children are at significant risk of exploitation but most people consulted by the inquiry said what is known is likely to be the tip of the iceberg.

Prof Marshall said: "Child sexual exploitation is not new, but it has become a more significant threat to a greater number of children and young people with ready access to the internet. While it is difficult to assess the extent of child sexual exploitation, the indications are that it is widespread and growing. It is not restricted to children in care."

Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, Mairia Cahill expressed her disgust that the treatment of victims detailed in the report.

"These are the hidden victims of the conflict. They have not, until now had proper recognition. Their experiences were left invalidated and at the bottom of the pile when it came to assessing the full picture or getting to the truth," she said.

In relation to her own rape at the hands of a suspected IRA figure, Ms Cahill said: "My truth is still being denied to me by Sinn Fein, but I intend to use my experiences to try and ensure that no victim is left afraid any longer.

"No stone will be left unturned with regards to chasing down perpetrators who have been moved around this country by the IRA and who Sinn Fein are still covering for.

"The children of this island, North and South, are too important."

Meanwhile responding to the report, Stormont Health Minister Jim Wells said: "They (paramilitaries) were described as people to whom you cannot say no.

"They regard themselves as beyond the law."

Prof Marshall, former children's commissioner in Scotland, spent a year examining the extent of the problem in Northern Ireland after she was appointed by Stormont's Health Minister.

It followed the arrest of more than 30 people in a major PSNI investigation last year.

Exploitation could include party houses where drugs or alcohol may be provided free, but young people are expected to pay for it with sex.

It can be a relationship which begins consensually, but can develop into sexual activity with the partner's friends and associates. The inquiry consulted 580 young people and 795 parents.

Irish Independent

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