When news emerged of those two unfortunate children in Athlone and what they may have been subjected to, most probably assumed that at least they would be well looked after now. The past week has suggested that is something that cannot be taken for granted. Emma’s story illustrates just how wrong things can go for the abuse victim.
The Ombudsman chose to publish Maggie’s report because she believed that Maggie’s case highlighted bigger problems with the HSE’s treatment of child sex abuse victims. Within hours of it being broadcast a woman who had first been in touch with me a few years ago renewed contact. She told me Emma’s story (all names changed).
Emma is eleven now, her parents are estranged and she would frequently return to her mum from overnight visits to her father with unexplained rashes, and disturbed/withdrawn behaviour.
Emma made a disclosure of abuse to her mother, she made the same disclosure to her GP, her teacher and the gardaí. This little girl never once changed her story.
As you know the DPP seldom pursues prosecutions in this area largely because the evidence and testimony of young children is viewed as unreliable. But in Emma’s case the DPP decided to prosecute.
Just as in Maggie’s case, for whatever reason some officials in the HSE decided that Emma’s mother was a bigger problem than this apparent open and shut case of child abuse. They recommended against Garda advice that the father be allowed to resume access visits. They did not provide the child with any therapeutic or counselling services. And they recommended that the mother be required to undertake psychiatric assessment to determine her fitness to parent.
She subjected herself to the humiliation of psychiatric assesment, and he gave her a clean bill of health. I have read that report … and I should say that everything I am reporting here is backed up with documentary evidence. What those documents, obtained under Freedom of Information, appear to point to is this.
The HSE interviewed mother and father separately but the father got in there first. He made a number of allegations about the mother. He said she was emotionally unstable, mentally ill and in the habit of making unsubstantiated allegations. Those suggestions were what was acted on. The mother was sent to see a shrink and the father was given resumed access to Emma.
Medical evidence would suggest the abuse started again but the mother’s hands were tied in how she could respond as a result of a number of very hard to understand things done by the HSE officials.
A recommendation was made in Emma’s file that no action should be taken on any further disclosures of abuse for a period of year. Emma’s mother was told that if she made any allegations to anybody about her husband abusing their daughter she could end up before the courts.
In addition to which, the original allegations of her mental instability and the recommendation she be assessed by a psychiatrist were left on the file but the clean bill of health from the psychiatrist wasn’t attached … in fact they refused to attach it according to Emma’s mother.
There is a very significant amount of medical and forensic evidence to support the mother’s claim that her daughter was abused again after the dad’s visistation rights had been restored. She was examined by specialists in a children’s hospital and a number of alarming things were noted. But the HSE never took action on a case that you would imagine should have had alarm bells ringing all over the place. The file which I have obtained a copy of says that no action should be taken on foot of further disclosures without the mother first attending a psychiatrist for ongoing treatment.
Emma’s mum was forced to go through the agony of sending her children, she says against their will, to stay overnight with their father … from where she would get text messages that would break the heart of any parent. This is a transcript of my interview with her.
SO the girls had a phone when the first went to stay with him. And they’d text me “I’m crying. I don’t weant to be here”.
They just didn’t want to go down to him and I had to force them to go down because I was told if I didn’t send them I’d be arrested. And that would be exactly what he would want, me being arrested and being found not to be a fit mother.
Was Emma abused again?
Yes she was. On two occasions that I know of…. that I have seen the physical manifestations of the abuse again, yes. One of them she had to have a rape examination in the children’s Hopsital. She had an anal infection, and they found pubic hair.
So there was a wealth of forensic and medical evidence supporting claims of abuse for the hospital to pass on to the HSE? Did they act on it?
No they didn’t. They had a meeting and they decided that they weren’t going to act on it because it had come from me.
It was medical evidence of abuse.
My opinion on it is that they have made a grave grave mistake, and I’ve told them so. I said that I would hold them responsible, and I will until I get an apology for Emma.
In your opinion did they directly expose Emma to the risk of being raped?
Yes … Yes … I am absolutely sure that they did. They had a wealth of people that they could contact. They never did. They spoke to the wrong teacher in her school. I alerted them to that. They still didn’t care. I wrote into them all the times they were making a mistake.
But every time I did the risk was that I would have them taken off me, and I was afraid. I had to way up the fact that if I did they’d be given to him …. or I could just keep my mouth shut … and I’ve had to do that. …. It’s absolutely eating me.
The first criminal case never made it to court. But Gardai have received the second medical file which the HSE did not act upon and they are investigating.
The HSE dismissed Emma’s complaints of pain and soreness arising from the resumed abuse as being because she was suffering from a Urinary Tract Infection. This was an perhaps odd conclusion as the hospital lab results show that she didn’t have a UTI.
Emma has to see her father though his contact is supervised and limited. She has still not received any counselling whatsoever from the HSE.
There is a bigger point to be drawn from Emma’s story.
Each year over 3000 children make disclosures of sexual abuse. Large numbers of those children never access therapeutic services. Now …. are they not going because they don’t need to. Or are they not going because they get therapy privately … or because like Emma and Maggie and others that I am being contacted by because the HSE is not providing treatment.
It is an illustration of a general point the Children’s Ombudsman made last week. Where a parent is articulate and forceful in standing up for their child officials will quite frequently label them as difficult and decide they are the problem.
Judge for yourself what happened here – child is returned by the HSE to a father who appears to have continued abusing, HSE ignores the medical evidence of that abuse … but the mother is the crazy one in the HSE’s view even though she has a clean bill of health from a consultant psychiatrist.
That is a trauma for the parent … but what about the untreated child?
As with Maggie’s Story – the HSE doesn’t have any response. I contacted them four days ago seeking comment and I haven’t received an acknowledgment of that email. You can hear a podcast of my Drivetime report here, but if you’ve got this far you’ve read it all.