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life-changing 'Faith-based abuse' expert tells child cruelty trial 'possessions' result in beatings and burning

Court hears nine-year-old had burns and bruising when examined


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An expert in “faith-based abuse” has told a child cruelty trial that cases of belief in spirit possession in children have resulted in beating, burning, strangulation and starving.

A Dublin based couple are on trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court for alleged child cruelty and assault of their then nine-year-old daughter. The child was hospitalised with life changing injuries on July 2, 2019.

On day nine of the trial Dr Shirley Potter, a consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon in Temple St children's hospital, told the jury that she examined the child on July 3, 2019. She concluded that the burn marks and bruising identified on the child's body took place outside the previous 24 hours but within seven days.

The child's parents told gardaí that they had not seen the bruising and suggested they came from the child falling in the shower the day she was hospitalised or falling off her bike some days earlier.

Dr Potter said that she examined the child again last July and identified 28 scars which she linked to the injuries sustained in 2019. She identified scars on the child's hands, arms, thighs and lower legs, ankles, feet and back.

The 39-year-old man and his 36-year-old wife have pleaded not guilty to two charges of assault causing serious harm and three charges of child cruelty at the family home in Dublin on dates between June 28 and July 2, 2019. The parents, who are originally from north Africa, cannot be named to protect the identity of the child.

The jury also heard evidence from Dr Lisa Oakley, a UK based professor and expert in “faith-based abuse”, who has researched child abuse linked to faith and belief and spiritual abuse. She told Ann Rowland SC, prosecuting, that in this context, the terms witch craft and spirit possession are interchangeable.

She said that such beliefs can result in a belief that an evil spirit has entered a child and is controlling him or her. She said that people can have belief in spirit possession and it not lead to harm.

But in some cases these beliefs do lead to abuse and violence towards children. She said that exorcisms or “deliverance ceremonies” to expel evil spirits occur globally and within the UK across lots of different faiths, including Islam.

She said that faith-based child abuse can occur where children are accused of witchcraft or spirit possession and that such cases have resulted in physical, sexual, emotional abuse and neglect.

The physical abuse documented includes beating, burning, cutting, semi-strangulation and starving and are linked to “a desire to exorcise the evil spirit”.

She said that sometimes abusers believe that the violence is being exacted against the spirit and the child won't be harmed while in other documented cases, abusers “believe it’s better to rid the child of the spirit no matter what”.

The trial continues before Judge Martin Nolan and a jury.

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