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Welfare concerns Gardaí investigate alleged rape of woman with intellectual disability at care centre

She disclosed the alleged abuse to her family, and it is believed the staff member was suspended pending an investigation.

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Gardaí are investigating an allegation that a young woman with an intellectual disability was raped by a staff member in a residential facility during lockdown.

The criminal investigation has been under way since last year after the young woman was taken out of the facility by family who had concerns for her welfare.

She disclosed the alleged abuse to her family, and it is believed the staff member was suspended pending an investigation.

Specialist detectives are in the process of interviewing the young woman and her family.

An advocacy group helping the family said the young woman, who has difficulty verbalising, had been living in a designated centre for people with disabilities.

She was allegedly abused by a male staff member over a prolonged period during the Covid-19 pandemic, and at a time when her family had limited access to her.

The advocacy group, Care Champions, asked that the facility not be identified to protect the identity of the alleged victim. However, it is understood the service is run by a voluntary provider funded by the HSE.

The alleged rape is the second case to come to public attention involving claims of abuse of vulnerable people during lockdown.

A health care assistant raped an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s disease while on the night shift at a nursing home during lockdown in April 2020.

Emmanuel Adeniji, of Royal Canal Court, Kilcock, initially denied the attack but pleaded guilty after his DNA matched a sample from the victim and CCTV showed him entering and leaving her room on the night of the crime. He was jailed for 11 years in July 2020.

Another case of abuse was disclosed in Donegal last year when it emerged that 18 residents were sexually abused by another resident at a centre. A damning report into the abuse found it was allowed to continue with the knowledge of management.

The latest allegations have emerged against a backdrop of rising concerns about sexual abuse of vulnerable people. The numbers reporting their suspicions of sex abuse has increased.

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The regulator for residential care centres, the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa), received a total of 143 concerns about suspected sex abuse in nursing homes and disability centres in the past seven years.

It received 18 concerns about sex abuse in residential centres in 2020, which rose to 32 last year.

It has received five allegations of sexual abuse concerning residents of nursing homes in the first six weeks of this year alone.

The increase was notably higher in the disability sector, with 11 concerns about sex abuse reported to Hiqa last year, compared with three the previous year.

In six cases, Hiqa reported the allegations to gardaí because the provider of the service had not done so.

The figures were released to Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd, who has been highlighting the issue in the Dáil.

Care Champions has been providing support to the family of the young woman since the allegations of abuse emerged.

Majella Beattie, a spokesperson for the organisation, said there must be greater recognition of the difficulties encountered by vulnerable people who are abused. She added that families are often told the victim is not considered a “reliable witness”, so a criminal prosecution is unlikely.

“This means that those who are least able to protect themselves and are most vulnerable to abuse receive less justice in our system,” she said. “In our experience, it is much harder for people with certain disabilities or cognitive impairments like dementia to get justice when they experience abuse of any kind, including sexual abuse.”

Ms Beattie said the new gender-based violence strategy and any forthcoming safeguarding legislation must recognise the unique needs of people who may not be able to speak up and report their own abuse.

The HSE said it cannot comment on individual cases but is committed to safeguarding all vulnerable adults.

In the event of an allegation or suspicion of abuse occurring in a designated centre the registered provider is required to notify Hiqa and Safeguarding and Protection Teams.

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