Tusla draft guidance lets sex abusers cross-examine victims

Justice minister Frances Fitzgerald TD
Justice minister Frances Fitzgerald TD

A controversial proposal to allow some alleged child abusers to cross-examine their victims will require “careful consideration”, according to Irish justice minister Frances Fitzgerald.

A draft document for Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, outlines new policies and procedures for victims of abuse and suggests alleged abusers should be allowed to put questions to their accuser.

The document, Policy and Procedures for Responding to Allegations of Child Abuse and Neglect, states: “An alleged abuser may request an opportunity to put questions to a person (for example, a complainant or a Witness) about the allegations.

“A balance should be drawn between the right of the complainant, the legal obligations on the Child and Family Agency under Section 3 of the Child Care Act 1991 and the need to afford fair procedures to the alleged abuser.

“If such a request is made, the social worker should discuss it with their line manager, and the particular circumstances of each individual case should be taken into account.”

The draft guidance was published yesterday and has already come under fire from social workers and sex abuse survivors, who say allowing abusers to cross-examine their victims will stop people coming forward with allegations.

Sex abuse survivor Fiona Doyle told the Irish Examiner: “When a victim stands up and makes their complaint against their abuser, they are reclaiming their power because they never had the choice as a child when it was being done to them.

“Now, with this report that was brought out today, it gives the abuser the chance to have power over a victim, which is something that they have had for years.”

When asked about the new guidance, justice minister Frances Fitzgerald said: “Clearly that will need careful consideration.”

She added: “Tusla’s job, which is the agency to look after children and family and to do child protection work, their primary goal is obviously child protection and supporting families and I’ve no doubt that will remain at the centre.”

The Child and Family Agency was established on 1 January 2014 and is responsible for “improving wellbeing and outcomes for children”.

Tusla chief executive Gordon Jeyes told RTÉ he was “sympathetic” to the criticism but stated that the draft guidance was based on legislation as well as court judgements and investigations from the Ombudsman.

He said: “I’m very sympathetic to the point social workers and the Irish Association of Social Workers (IASW) are raising, but the flaw here is not in our guidance, the flaw is in the legislation.”

He suggested that Tusla could face a successful legal challenge if it tried to place a blanket ban on meetings between alleged abusers and their accuser.

Even if Tusla were to “withdraw the part of our guidance which said consideration should be given to an interview with the perpetrator and victim”, it would “still be a matter for the courts and there would be a challenge”.

It is not clear whether Tusla have received legal advice on the matter.

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