Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 13 — Cabra

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Peer sexual abuse


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.

General conclusions


General conclusions 1. St Joseph’s School for Deaf Boys in Cabra was a well-equipped school that promised the best possible care and education to boys who were deaf or who had hearing difficulties. 2. Cabra did not deliver on its promises. It failed to provide a safe or secure environment for the children it purported to protect. It operated a system of corporal punishment that was excessive and capricious and reliant on the discretion of individual teachers. Some of these teachers were harsh and cruel towards the boys, and there was no mechanism for addressing complaints. Children were fearful and helpless in the face of management failure to put controls in place. 3. The management in Cabra failed to protect children from sexual abuse by staff. When complaints were made, they were not believed or ignored or dealt with inadequately. The level and extent of abuse perpetrated by one lay worker, as late as the 1990s, was an indication of the lack of any proper safeguards. 4. Cabra offered little protection to younger boys from sexual abuse by older boys. The level of peer abuse uncovered by the Health Board investigation in the mid-1990s was disturbing. The investigation also revealed a pattern of physical and emotional bullying that made Cabra a very frightening place for children who were learning to overcome hearing difficulties. 5. In caring for children, the provision of good facilities is no substitute for an environment that protects and cherishes the individual child. Swimming pools and recreation halls are of little value if children are frightened, bullied and abused. Many of the problems in Cabra could have been alleviated by a change in attitude towards the children. Although professional training would have undoubtedly helped, a truly self-critical approach by management that was not defensive in the face of criticism would have brought about many of the necessary changes.

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