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great distress Lockdown had devastating impact on child sex abuse survivors, new report says

'We’ve certainly had clients who had to go back to the home in which they were abused and you could imagine the distress that caused'

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The first year of the pandemic was particularly hard for survivors of child sex abuse who faced long waiting lists for therapy and in some cases were forced to return to the very homes where they were abused, according to One in Four.

Noting that just over half (51pc) of child sex abuse survivors who are clients of the organisation were molested by their own family members, its CEO Maeve Lewis said some of their adult clients who lost their jobs during the pandemic had no choice but to return to the homes where they were abused as children.

“We’ve certainly had clients who had to go back to the home in which they were abused and you could imagine the distress that caused,” she said.

The series of pandemic lockdowns also caused great distress for clients who found themselves reliving the abuse during the ongoing periods of isolation, she said.

“Lockdown had a devastating impact on survivors of child sexual abuse. Once the busyness of everyday life was removed, people had too much time to think about the past. New clients reached out for the first time, telling us of increased distress, nightmares, flashbacks and suicide ideation,” she said.

“People were sitting at home and ruminating about what happened to them.”

Being forced to close their offices in March 2020 also threw up many challenges for the charity which had to move “all our services online overnight,” she said ahead of the launch of One in Four’s 2020 annual report today by Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon.

“Providing remote psychotherapy and prevention services was a totally new experience for staff and clients alike. We worried that the trusting relationships that are at the core of good psychotherapy could not be replicated online.

A survey of clients at the end of 2020 told us that online therapy was a life line and even a life saver but the majority missed the more in-depth work of face to face therapy,” Ms Lewis said.

In some cases clients who had not disclosed the abuse to others in their households “had to sit in cars in car parks on their phones to access online services.”

By December 2020, there were 98 people on waiting lists for psychotherapy with wait times of up to 18 months, forcing One in Four to suspend its waiting list in February, 2021 despite the fact that around a third of newly assessed clients had attempted suicide at some point.

And while the waiting list has since been reduced after the State child protection agency Tusla was drafted in to employ a Waiting List Case Manager to provide crisis intervention, there are still around 70 clients still on the waiting list.

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“We are incredibly concerned for the safety of these people before we ever meet them,” she added.

The pandemic also had a detrimental impact on survivors whose alleged perpetrators are still going through the court system, she said.

“Our clients were devastated when their court dates were cancelled due to the closure of the courts. Our advocacy case managers provided essential support online and by phone. Many of these clients do not have a new court date until 2022, putting their lives on hold. Even in 2021 as the courts reopened, many people experienced further delays as cases were backed up. This is just not acceptable.”

And almost two years after the initial outbreak of the coronavirus, challenges still exist, Ms Lewis said.

“We could not have imagined at the beginning of 2020 the huge challenges we would face to ensure that survivors of child sexual abuse could still access the services they so desperately need.”

"Being creative and flexible in meeting those challenges ensured that we continued to provide that vital support and there has been a huge learning for the organisation,” she said.

“However, we are still grappling with huge levels of demand that we do not have the resources to meet. We need to face the truth that one in four Irish children are sexually abused and to properly resource child protection and psychotherapy services to ensure that every Irish child is safe and that every survivor has timely access to expert support.”

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