Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 13 — Cabra

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Peer sexual abuse


The Principal, Br Grissel, and the Superior, Br Sumner, visited the boy’s mother at her home. They had been advised by Dr Byrne to inform her of the sexual abuse of her son and the urgent need for counselling and therapy. The mother’s response was that the family doctor was a lady and she would seek her advice. She also informed them that she was taking her son out of the School because she did not feel he had the ability to pass the Leaving Certificate. There is no record of any follow-up in the School by way of internal investigation, and the matter appears to have been considered closed once the boy was gone.


During an investigation in the early 1990s, it was discovered that two boys were forcing another boy to engage in sexual acts with them. The victim, at the request of his mother, was transferred to another residential unit. When the mother spoke to her son, the full details emerged that there were five boys sexually bullying him over the course of the year. The two boys who perpetrated the sexual abuse were suspended from the School, but one was allowed to return to school to complete his studies.


A letter dated one year later reveals the dissatisfaction felt by the father of the boy who was the victim of Fergal’s predatory behaviour. He complained that he was given inconsistent information whether such incidents had happened. In relation to the particular episode involving his son, the father stated that he and his wife: would in the ordinary way be upset and sad that such a thing should happen, but if it were an isolated incident which was then handled appropriately, we would accept that it is impossible to guard completely against such a thing. In this case, however, it appears on the information available at present to have been part of a series of events which should have put you on guard to take appropriate precautions ...


He expressed surprise that there was not an immediate investigation of the incident, and was unable to understand why he and his wife had not been immediately informed. He went on to protest that ‘no apparent effort was made to assess and monitor in a professional way the impact of the incident on [his son]’. He said that failure to take action to prevent a re-occurrence ‘appears totally irresponsible’.


The father questioned the adequacy of arrangements to protect other boys in St Joseph’s, and wondered if there was a sex education programme in existence. Although he had been impressed by the calibre of the staff that he had met, he nevertheless could not ‘understand why there is not a specific course of instruction in sign language for them’. Neither was there any professional counselling service available which would be accessible to boys using sign language.


The boy’s father protested that the Principal of the School had neglected the matter totally and for so long, and that his concern at that stage one year on ‘appeared to be to minimise the significance of what happened and the shortcomings’ which he had described. He found Br Grissel’s suggestion that what the boy was doing with his son might be described as ‘horseplay’ to be offensive and ridiculous, and thought that attempted rape would be more appropriate. The writer went on to claim that the way this and other similar events had been handled was unfair to the boys engaged in predatory behaviour as well as to their victims.


The letter as a whole constituted a major list of serious failings on the part of the Institution and its management, and it called for a considered and comprehensive response. There is a dearth of documented material relating to the case in question.


The discovery of two nine-year-old boys in bed together, engaged in sexual activity in the early 1990s, gave rise to concern about the ringleader because his interest in and knowledge of sex was beyond that of a nine-year-old boy. However, although the sexualised behaviour was suspicious, no investigation into practices in the house where the boy was living was carried out.


A note on the file about this incident makes the following observation: Mr Moore the Senior Houseparent submitted a document to Mr Gallagher which in hindsight we now realise that he was covering up some kind of inappropriate activity.


The only action by the school management was to decide that staff would monitor the situation closely. The parents of the boys were notified six weeks after the incident had taken place. Both boys, during the screening process which came about as a result of the mid-1990s investigation were referred for assessment to the St Clare’s unit. The boy who was the instigator in this incident was himself the victim of abuse in another case, which may alone or with other episodes have accounted for his sexualised behaviour at such a young age. The case is another illustration of the cycle of abuse that sometimes occurred, whereby a victim copied what had happened to him by doing it to another child.


During the investigation of the mid-1990s by the Eastern Health Board into allegations against the care worker, Mr Moore, many allegations of peer sexual abuse came to the attention of the assessment team in St Clare’s. The extent of the abuse uncovered by this investigation was alarming. Although some of the cases could have been regarded as sexual activity between boys of a similar age, much of what was disclosed involved predatory sexual abuse of older boys on younger boys. In one case, a child as young as nine was involved with a much older boy, who had himself been abused by the care worker, Mr Moore.


Over 20 boys were interviewed, and many had either direct or indirect experience of sexual abuse by other boys. In some cases, the boy interviewed named multiple offenders, up to five boys in one case.


The allegations ranged from lewd conversations to masturbation and anal rape.


The Health Board’s conclusions on peer abuse in Cabra have been outlined above, and it was uncompromising in its criticism of management in Cabra for its failure to address this issue.


1.The fact that such a serious problem of sexual abuse among boys was only uncovered when the Health Board became involved in the Moore investigation, and boys were encouraged to speak in a confidential and safe environment, has serious implications. It is probable that sexual activity was ignored or tolerated for some considerable time before the Health Board intervened. Complaints were dismissed or ignored and no attempt was made to protect children from predatory behaviour. 2.The extent of the problem as revealed by the Health Board investigation should have triggered a full-scale inquiry on the part of the management as to how children could have been subjected to such abuse whilst in their care. In fact, it appears that staff were not even properly informed of the ongoing investigations, and there is no evidence that there was any urgency about putting safeguards in place to prevent future occurrences. 3.Despite numerous reported incidents of peer abuse in the early 1990s involving the same boys, the school management did not undertake an investigation into the residential units. 4.The attitude of management displayed ignorance on how children should be protected whilst in their care. Incidents of peer abuse were treated as one-off events and did not lead to any systemic changes that would make abuse more difficult for the perpetrators and easier for victims to report. 5.The amount of sexual activity amongst the pupils suggests that they were not given adequate education or training about the social rules that control normal sexual behaviour.

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