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Child Protection must remain a priority because the most unimaginable abuse is what we witness every day, says Head of Therapy at Children at Risk Ireland (CARI). Emer O’Neill was commenting on what she described as the horrifying details of the rape and abuse of a 5-year-old girl and her 3-year-old brother.

The children’s mother was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment and her partner to 19 years for the abuse, in the Central Criminal Court today.

Emer says that other children in Ireland are being abused right now, in ways which are just as disturbing as the facts in this court case.

Reality of Child Sexual Abuse in Ireland Today

“Boys and girls are being hurt in ways that people in communities find very hard to understand.  Children need to be cared for, nurtured and allowed to grow in an environment that is trusting and safe. However, as we see from this case, not all children receive this care. Some live in constant fear in a world of hurt, betrayal, confusion and feelings of worthlessness.”

“In this case, thankfully the children’s foster carers alerted Gardaí to the abuse when the two children revealed the truth. We meet quite a lot of Foster Carers in CARI, and we admire them for the care, love, trust, and safety they try to provide for children who have been abused. We salute their loyalty and commitment to stay on the journey with these children.”

“According to one foster parent in this case, the girl – now aged 15 – says that dancing helps her take away the pain from the top of her head. Children find so many different ways to regulate their feelings, but at times they need help from adults to do this.”

“We know how important this is so when children come to CARI we use different ways to work with them. We use techniques like messy play – particularly with younger children – to help them express themselves. We also use dancing, movement and music, and we talk to the children. These are all part of the specialist therapy services CARI offers to child victims of sexual abuse.

“We take it at their pace and help them understand their experiences in their own way.  Their voice is paramount. We see the child’s fear and their resilience. With our help, they can move into a world where they experience trust and safety. In this world, they can finally build hopes and dreams for their future.”

Ms O’Neill says it can be disturbing and upsetting when abuse cases come to court and the details of abuse become public.  “But In some cases, this can prompt parents and caregivers to act on concerns they may have for their child, but were afraid to express or explore.”

How You Can Help with Child Protection

“If you fear a child has been sexually abused, there are signs for parents and carers to look out for. For example, has there been a change in your child’s behaviour? Have they become aggressive, withdrawn, developed sleep issues or bed wetting or been clingy? Have there been issues in school, such as lack of concentration or dropping?”

“Have they developed any health issues, including soreness in their private areas, displayed sexually inappropriate behaviour and been using sexually explicit language? Has your child been afraid of a particular person, trying to avoid being alone with them? Your child may give clues by dropping hints and clues without saying what is happening.”

Emer says CARI is there to offer support and advice for any parent or caregiver who has concerns on 0818 924567, from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. “Anyone can call CARI with any concern about child sexual abuse and we will assist and guide them through the process of child protection.”