Knowledge Base

Child Abuse

Victims of child abuse including sexual assault, institutional abuse, clerical abuse, sexual abuse or harassment are protected both by the criminal law and the civil law. Victims have the right to pursue legal action through the courts.

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Compensation for Child Abuse

Experiencing child abuse can result in significant levels of emotional, and sometimes physical harm. As there are many forms of child abuse, recognising your experience and deciding to speak up about it can be an extremely difficult but important step in your recovery.

Tracey Solicitors have provided advice over many years to victims of abuse, and we can guide you through your options in the steps to redress.

It is common for survivors to not disclose their abuse until well into their adult life. This is often because the survivor may not have been aware that they were being abused, or that the perpetrator may have been a person of authority such as a teacher, priest, or sports coach. A perpetrator could have also groomed the child to the extent that they feel incapable of speaking out. Pursuing a civil compensation claim allows a person to take back control from their abuser and take legal action. This can be an empowering decision as a person transitions from ‘victim’ to ‘survivor’.

Understanding Your Options

When claiming compensation for child abuse, there are a variety of options to consider. You can bring legal action against the person who abused you personally, or against the organisation or employer they were working for at the time, even if they do not work for them anymore. If the abuser was a member of a religious congregation, like a Priest, their diocese or religious order may have a responsibility. Likewise, if the perpetrator was a volunteer, a teacher, Scout leader or a sports coach, their ‘employer’ might be found responsible. This decision depends on a variety of factors, for example, whether the perpetrator owns assets or has insurance, whether the abuser is deceased, or whether criminal proceedings have been brought against them.

Employers can only be held accountable for their employee’s abuse if their actions were closely connected to the responsibilities of their occupation. The definition of ‘employee’ is vast. Below are some examples of organisations that can be pursued include:

  • Religious Organisations
  • Sports Clubs e.g., Swimming Clubs, Football and GAA clubs.
  • Charities
  • Local Authorities
  • Care Homes
  • Schools
  • Community Organisations e.g., Scouts, Summer Camps.

Tracey Solicitors recognises the difficulties of dealing with childhood abuse after years working with survivors and helping them seek justice and compensation. The resource below contains a collection of our knowledge and content, which we hope will help answer some of your most difficult questions. We hope you find this content beneficial and realise that you are not alone. There are multiple streams of help available to guide you towards justice.

Types of Abuse

Childhood Abuse

Child sexual abuse is a harrowing experience that can have damaging effects throughout childhood and later into adulthood. The importance of suitable support during the time of disclosure is paramount. Childhood abuse can have a significant impact on people’s lives, increasing the possibility of poorer physical and mental health and poorer social, educational, and criminal justice outcomes.

Not everyone who has been sexually abused will experience significant difficulties into adulthood, but it has been proven that there is a strong correlation between sexual abuse and mental health issues such as anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, eating disorders, sleep disorders and suicide attempts. Studies show that people who had experienced childhood sexual abuse were more likely to experience such problems later in life, regardless of their gender, or how old they were when the abuse occurred.

It is not uncommon that victims are unable to develop and maintain loving relationships later in life because of the psychological abuse, neglect, and breach of trust they were subjected to as a child. At a young age, it is normal for children to not understand they are being abused which causes confusion and sometimes self-blame due to manipulation by the abuser.

All these factors lead to the victim not disclosing the abuse and there is a tendency they will carry the trauma with them into adulthood.

International studies have found that children who do not report abuse within the immediate developmental phase are less likely to disclose before adulthood, if at all.

Common reasons given for not disclosing abuse are embarrassment or humiliation or worrying that no one would believe them.

Institutional Abuse

Institutional abuse encompasses the mistreatment of children or vulnerable adults by any system of power. Institutional abuse occurs when there is an imbalance of power within an organisation. The organisation may also be systemically weak, without the proper structure or oversight.

Below, we explore common examples of institutional abuse and offer advice on first steps for survivors seeking justice and recompense.

In formal settings, institutional abuse can occur when staff are inadequately trained or poorly supervised or if they are not managed or resourced properly. There may also be a ‘closed culture,’ where outside input is resisted and there is very little transparency within the organisation.

Institutional abuse can take place in a wide range of public organisations including:

  • Schools
  • Children’s Homes/Foster Care
  • Hospitals and Therapy Centres
  • Group Homes

It can also often permeate non-residential environments such as:

  • Religious Organisations and Communities
  • Youth Sport such as Football, Gymnastics, Swimming,
  • Activity Groups such as Drama, Music, Youth Clubs, Scouts

In some cases, it can involve more than one abuser. There may be several individuals experiencing the same abuse at the hands of one or more abusers and often without realising that they are not alone.

Speaking out against institutional abuse is a brave decision. Often, the organisation in which a person has or is being abused is powerful. In this case, the organisation often tries to protect their image. Sometimes a survivor of institutional abuse may have mixed feelings about reporting their abuse, perhaps because they also have some good memories alongside the negative ones. Speaking out for the first time can seem like an impossible task, but when you feel compelled to do something about it, there are many professionals and support groups that can help you.

Abuse in Religious Institutions – The Catholic Church

Sadly, in Ireland, there have been many allegations of sexual abuse of children associated with Catholic institutions and clerics. Since the 1990s, many criminal cases were reported, and government enquiries established that priests had abused many children spanning over decades.

The abuse in Ireland included cases of Catholic priests involved in sexual assaults as well as widespread physical and sexual abuse of children in Catholic communities. It was common for the abusers to be moved to other parishes to avoid scandals or embarrassment in the parish.

In response to substantial media attention, the government carried out research which took nine years to complete and can be found here.  The report was released in 2009, which drew on testimony from former inmates and officials from over 250 church-run institutions and details the abuse of children over 70 years. The commission found that Catholic priests and nuns had mistreated thousands of boys and girls for decades and that government officials had failed to stop the persistent abuse, including beatings, humiliation and rapes.

In March 2010, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a pastoral letter of apology for the child abuse that had been carried out by Catholic clergy in Ireland. In 2010, the Pope established a formal panel to investigate the sex abuse scandal, saying that it may serve as a method of healing for the country and its Catholic communities.

Reports from both National and International research revealed that thousands of Irish clergy were accused of child abuse, but only 82 were convicted. This is a dark part of Irish history and each year, more horrendous examples of child abuse surfaces in the media. It is believed that more victims of child abuse are coming forward due to the declining power of the Catholic church in Irish society. There is now less pressure from families and communities to keep quiet about any abuse suffered. Too many victims suffered in silence and believed they had no way out from their situation. This adds to the distress of the abuse and can cause traumatic effects on a child’s development.

Your courageous decision to disclose your abuse will contribute to your own healing, as well as aiding in finding justice for all victims of sexual abuse within religious institutions.

Abuse in the Theatre and Entertainment Industry

The abuse of power has also been evident within the entertainment industry. Subsequent to the exposure of the widespread sexual-abuse allegations against Hollywood director Harvey Weinstein in 2017, the ‘Me Too’ movement became a viral trend across social media to empower and show solidarity with people who have survived sexual assault and harassment.

In response to this movement, the directors of Ireland’s leading theatres and theatre organisations joined together to issue a statement condemning sexual harassment and abuse in theatre in Ireland. The organisations included directors and officials from theatres such as the Abbey Theatre, the Gate Theatre, Rough Magic, Project Arts Centre,  Dublin Theatre Festival and the Dublin Fringe Festival.

Victims of sexual abuse by celebrities, or individuals who were well-known at the time of the abuse, may feel reluctant to seek help.  You may be thinking ‘who will believe me?’  This is understandable, especially as those in the media are perceived to be in positions of power, both financially and in status.  However, over the last few years, this has changed significantly.  Anyone coming forward with such allegations can do so in the knowledge that there is now a great deal of precedent, and their allegations are likely to be taken seriously.

Rolf Harris, Bill Cosby, Stuart Hall, Max Clifford and Gary Glitter are all well-known presenters within the entertainment industry who were convicted of indecent assaults against children. Taylor Swift ranks as one of the notable recent victims of sexual assault. She won a civil case in 2017 against a DJ David Mueller, who she said grabbed her under her skirt during a pre-concert photo shoot in 2013. She was awarded a symbolic $1 in compensation because she said she did not want to bankrupt Mueller, but rather use this case to highlight to people that “they will decide what will be tolerated with their body”. Such intention is indeed commendable.

Abuse in the entertainment industry is not limited to the higher circles of those who hold celebrity status. Drama clubs, TV and theatre production companies also hold potential for sexual abuse. It is important to seek justice because the damage caused to many victims lives, in terms of their relationships, careers, physical and mental health, deserves to be fairly compensated.  While compensation for abuse by a celebrity or someone within the entertainment industry will not undo the harm caused, the recognition that wrong was done, and payment for the pain and suffering experienced, can aid in supporting victims as they move on.

Abuse in Sports and Activities

There is nothing more important in sport than child protection. Taking part in sporting activities should be enjoyable and safe for minors.

Over the last few years, there have been countless high-profile examples involving appalling childhood abuse, including physical, psychological, or sexual abuse. There was the Larry Nassar case in US gymnastics, the Barry Bennell controversy in British football and the Where is George Gibney? podcast by Second Captains which has recently provided an appropriate reminder that Irish sport is not immune from such mistreatment.

In March 2020, there was a report commissioned by Scouting Ireland to examine the incidence of sexual abuse that is believed to have happened within scouting. Young people who are involved in scouting should have confidence in the fact that their safety and wellbeing will always be prioritized by those who are responsible for them, when involved in activities. It is sadly the case that this was not always what happened, particularly through the eighties and nineties.

There have been measures recently put in place to ensure such cases do not happen again. The Children First Act, which was first published in Ireland in 2015 and can be read in full here, is a key document when it comes to child protection in sport and has been the main driver of any recent changes in policy.

It is common for children to be eager to impress their trainers, so coaches are in a privileged position as gatekeeper to the child’s source of external validation. Coaches who are respected by their athletes, and even parents of the children, may abuse the trust and power they have.

Often the victim does not recognise what is happening to them at the time. They endure sexual abuse because they have been emotionally manipulated by the perpetrator. The subsequent emotions of guilt, shame and the fear of losing their place in a team, further preserves their silence. It is common that children feel like they cannot tell their parents for fear of letting them down or creating trouble. The child may feel trapped in this situation. This feeling of paralysis can remain well into their adult life.

Sadly, there are a minority of professionals who breach trust and use their position to abuse the children under their supervision for their own gratification.

Abuse in Schools

If you are or were abused in school, you can pursue compensation through both the criminal or civil justice routes. If you feel brave enough to speak out, at any stage in your life, you should report the abuse to the police. If the perpetrator is still alive, an investigation will be carried out. Seeing a predator being convicted often enhances closure and healing for victims.

In some cases, you may not have the option of criminal proceedings, because the abuser may have passed away or suffered from dementia. In this case, it is possible to make a civil claim against the school due to the lack of care and safeguarding in place. Receiving redress can help with recovering from the sheer trauma that the victim experienced.

Unfortunately, abuse in schools is an issue that transcends class, age, and location, but the unnerving prevalence of institutional abuse in boarding schools is hard to ignore. The structure of boarding schools provides ample opportunities for predators to groom and abuse children.

The opportunities available for paedophiles in institutions such as boarding schools is vast. Staff responsible for the children have unlimited access to every aspect of a child’s life, from supervising personal care, social activities and even putting them to bed at night. They hold a pastoral role and are meant to undertake the role of a child’s parent.

Child sexual abuse was widespread in State-run institutions and the long-awaited Commission into Child Abuse report found that children lived in daily terror of being beaten or sexually assaulted. The report outlined a harrowing account of the emotional, physical and sexual abuse inflicted on young people who attended schools and institutions from 1940 onwards. It found that corporal punishment was pervasive, severe, and unpredictable in these schools. The report said that the level of emotional abuse of disadvantaged, neglected and abandoned children by religious and lay staff was “disturbing” and that the Catholic Church was aware long-term sex offenders were repeatedly abusing children.

Unfortunately, child abuse has been prevalent in non-boarding schools as well. Most recently, John McClean admitted to sexually abusing 23 boys in the 1970s and 1980s at Terenure College, Dublin. The 76-year-old is a former rugby coach and English teacher at Terenure College. One victim said that the school was “run by priests who failed utterly in their responsibility” to the care of the children there. Fifteen of John McClean’s victims stories of how he sexually abused them were told in court in February 2021. The 76-year-old former rugby coach and English teacher has pleaded guilty to 27 charges of indecently assaulting the boys at the school on dates between 1973 and 1990. The victim impact statements from the men in their 50s, highlight the harrowing truth of how the abuse has damaged their lives.

An apology statement from Terenure College and the Carmelite Order was recently issued. Within the apology, it is stated: “We understand that words of apology are never adequate when people have experienced so much pain and suffering over many years. These men were entrusted to our care when starting out in life – young boys full of hope, promise and joy. They had that hope and promise cruelly taken from them as a result of the sexual abuse perpetrated upon them by John McClean. Terenure College and the Carmelite Order failed in their duty to protect them and for this we are truly sorry.” The full apology statement can be found here.

Another recent story emerged about former teacher and priest, Joseph Marmion SJ (now deceased), who abused boys sexually, emotionally and physically while he was on the teaching staff at Belvedere College in the 1970’s. In this statement, Fr Moloney expresses: “We are acutely aware of the pain and distress that many have had to hold and continue to hold, years after the original experience.  This pain is held by those who were direct victims of harm and abuse, by their families and also by other students who were witnesses to this abuse and felt powerless and unable to do anything about it. It is a matter of profound regret to me personally and to the Society of Jesus that children were abused whilst in our care. We are truly sorry. Words are never enough.” The full statement of the Jesuit Order can be read here.

There are no words in these statements that can excuse the years of suffering and abuse these children experienced. If you are a victim of abuse, it is important to understand that you are not alone. There are many organisations where you can receive appropriate support. Although it is an extremely difficult process, it is vital that Ireland continues to shed light on the decades of distress and suffering against vulnerable Irish children, so that they can receive the justice they deserve.

The Effects of Abuse – Psychiatric Harm/Disorder

Sexual abuse claims most commonly relate to the psychological harm the victim experienced as opposed to the physical injuries.

Many victims of sexual abuse may have been subject to this abuse during their childhood and may not have been able to disclose these events to anyone for various reasons. These traumatic events can be difficult for the victim to process and can often be carried into their adulthood, leading to psychological harm such as mental health issues and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Victims that have experienced psychological or psychiatric harm can bring forward a child abuse compensation claim. The courts acknowledge and understand that childhood sexual abuse can cause long term injury which can immensely affect numerous aspects of the survivor’s life, including their mental health, education, employment, and family life.

Common psychiatric diagnoses in sexual abuse cases can include:

  • Clinical Depression: Some common symptoms of depression include feeling very low, hopeless, irritable, having a lack of motivation, uncontrollable emotions, having suicidal thoughts and changes in appetite and weight.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: This is a disorder that can develop after a very distressing event. The victim with PTSD will often relive the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks.
  • Anxiety: Survivor’s may fear that they may be abused again and may experience panic attacks due to this. In some cases, the victim may develop a chronic fear of the type of person who previously abused them.
  • Personality Disorder: This can affect how a person copes with life, manages relationships and control their emotions. The person can tend to have a ‘disturbed way of thinking’.
  • Adjustment Disorder: This is an emotional or behavioural reaction to a traumatic event or change in a person’s life.
  • Addiction: Many survivors may become dependent on alcohol and/or drug use: This dependence may have stemmed from the onset of the traumatic event which the individual experienced.

These types of injuries are sometimes not immediately obvious and can become evident after the traumatic experience. Child abuse victims may experience other psychiatric illnesses and symptoms, the above list is not an exhaustive list by any means.

Medical Expert

If you are looking to pursue a child abuse claim, it is normal in the preparation of a case to obtain detailed medical reports from the victims’ doctors and psychiatrists. Therefore, they can provide professional opinions on the effects of injuries the victim has suffered, and it will be used as evidence for your claim. The psychiatrist will state their opinion on whether the survivor can be diagnosed with a particular psychiatric illness.

The Effect of Trauma

Child abuse is a highly traumatic life experience that can have a significant repercussion on a person’s life and future. This traumatic experience can undoubtedly impact a person’s physical and mental wellbeing.

Child abuse is commonly linked with psychological abuse, neglect and breach of trust. This can have a knock-on effect for survivors having the inability to develop and maintain a trustworthy relationship with another person. In child abuse cases, it is frequently found that the child is not able to comprehend the abuse that is been exerted on them, which can lead to confusion and self-blame due to the manipulation by the offender.

Many of these factors can lead to the victim feeling unable to disclose the abuse to anyone and therefore have to carry the traumatic experience(s) with them into their adulthood. Research showed that an estimated 3 in 4 victims that suffered child sexual abuse had not actually informed anyone about the event at the time of it happening. Many victims did not disclose their traumatic event with anyone due to fear of embarrassment or humiliation or sometimes thought that they may not be believed.

Seeking Help

It is imperative for the victim to seek help with a qualified professional, such as a counsellor or a therapist, and it is more often than not very beneficial for the victim to speak to one of these professionals about their traumatic event.

Here are some common forms of therapy that a psychiatrist may suggest to help to manage a victim’s illness:

  • Counselling: A counsellor offers professional assistance and guidance and helps to find ways for the victim to manage their issues.
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: The therapist will try to manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave.
  • Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: This involves the therapist trying to target the specific issue or emotion that the victim is struggling to overcome and the destructive effects of early trauma.

What to do if you are a victim of abuse?

Report the incident to An Garda Siochana

It can be important that the abuse event has been reported to An Garda Siochana as this is a critical piece of evidence in any case, and any records or reports made by you will help to build the case. It will be important to gather as much evidence as possible to help build your case. Your solicitor will then be in a position to issue the defendant a ‘letter of claim’ which states the reasons for your claim and why they are responsible.

Confide in family or friends

Speaking with a close friend or family member who you can trust can be a good step to take in the recovery process. This person can often help and encourage you to seek the required help, especially if the victim feels they are not ready to disclose their traumatic event to a stranger.

Speak to your GP

If you are struggling with your mental health after this traumatic event, speaking with your GP can often help. Also, your GP will be in a position to refer you to other suitable help provided by the HSE.

At Tracey Solicitors, we are aware and understand the difficulties you may have in discussing the abuse you have suffered, but it is critical that those who have suffered in this manner are able to come forward and report what has happened to them.

Compensation

Moving forward with legal action can seem like a daunting process, so it is advisable that you speak with a solicitor when you feel the time is right. Your solicitor will guide you through every step of the journey and help you to move forward with your claim.

It is important to remember to keep copies of any expenses that you have incurred as a result of the event. It is also imperative to retain copies of medical reports or incident report forms where possible as you will need them when making a claim.

Our experienced solicitors will not press you for any of these details until you feel comfortable and ready to tell us about your case.

A compensation claim for psychiatric illness will vary depending on the severity of the symptoms and prognosis.

Victims have the right to pursue legal action through the courts. Many factors are taken into consideration before a compensation amount can be settled on.

Compensation is awarded by the Irish Courts under the following headings:

  • Injuries you have received,
  • Pain/suffering and loss of quality of life/enjoyment of life
  • Past loss of earnings
  • Medical costs incurred
  • Cost of future medical care
  • Other costs

General Damages

General damages are non-financial damages you have experienced following your childhood abuse. If your abuse claim is successful, you will be awarded compensation which represents your pain, suffering and your ‘loss of amenity’, which considers the extent to which the abuse has affected your life, had you not been abused.

Special Damages

Special damages are out of pocket expenses incurred as a result of the childhood abuse. This includes loss of earnings (if you can prove that your abuse has resulted in you not been able to work), medical bills, and added travel costs as a result of the incident (for example, travel to and from the counsellor). Learn more about special damages.

Court Proceedings

Few realise that whilst a large number of cases are listed on a daily basis, only a small percentage of cases will ever go to court for a full hearing. If both parties cannot agree on an appropriate level of compensation, then it will be necessary for your cases to be brought to court. If your case proceeds to court, your solicitor will do their utmost to reduce any anxiety you may have. You will be guided through the process to a conclusion.

Once in court, a timetable of the necessary steps to be taken will be outlined, including the court hearing date. Both parties will be given the opportunity to disclose all relevant documentation such as witness statements and expert medical reports. At trial, a barrister will represent you and the Judge will conclude the case outcome. Your solicitor will be on hand to assist if you have any further questions.

Support Organisations

In Ireland, there are a number of specialist support organisations and charities dedicated to providing a listening ear and support to anyone who may have experienced abuse at some stage of their lives.

The following helplines are available if you have been affected by any of these issues and may be helpful:

Civil Abuse Claims

Legal action can be brought against the person who abused you, or their employer, or the organisation of which they are a member of. Many employers and organisational owners have insurance, in which case, any compensation you may receive will be paid out by their respective insurance company.

Examples of organisations that may be pursued in a civil abuse claim include:

  • Schools
  • Community groups
  • Religious organisations
  • Local authorities
  • Charitable organisations
  • Care homes

Legal Time Limits

A person has two years less a day from the date that the event occurred to bring a claim forward. For child abuse claims (a child under the age of 18), the person can make a claim before their 20th birthday.

However, whilst events of this nature may have occurred many years ago this does not prevent the commencement of court proceedings. The courts acknowledge that some survivors may not have been in a position to disclose their abuse within this timeframe. Extension to the normal timeframes can be allowed for several reasons. Therefore, you may be entitled to pursue a childhood abuse claim even if it occurred many years ago.