Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 13 — Cabra

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Sexual abuse


1.There was a lack of follow-up by staff to whom complaints were made. There were no clear reporting systems or guidelines once an allegation of abuse was made. 2.Brothers who were the subject of complaints in the course of the Moore investigation were not investigated by the State agencies or the Congregation. 3.There was delay by management in informing the parents of children who had allegedly been sexually abused. 4.Sexual abuse was not reported to the Gardaí until the 1990s. 5.As late as 1986, when Br Boucher was under suspicion, no proper inquiry took place. 6.Management at the School paid no heed to the early indicators of abuse, particularly with regard to boys who were highly sexualised with each other. 7.Br Baron was clearly unsuitable for work with young boys. He was granted a dispensation and given a reference to facilitate future employment. This showed disregard for the safety of children and prioritising of the interests of the Congregation. 8.There was a failure on the part of management to recognise that children with special needs demanded a high standard of care, and that all staff needed to be informed and trained appropriately. Peer sexual abuse

Peer sexual abuse


One of the Eastern Health Board reports made a very serious finding against the management in Cabra. It stated that: There is a history of staff ambivalence regarding what might be considered normal or abnormal sexual interaction between the boys. For example, some boys who abused other boys were suspended or expelled. Others remained in the same unit as their victim. A lack of clear policy in this area can only have contributed to the likelihood of sexual abuse occurring in the units.


The report concluded that the information about sexual abuse in the form of direct allegations, stories and rumours ‘all add up to produce a sexualised culture within the School in general. Such a culture can only be shifted by radical and ongoing management and training’.


The report faulted the school management for a number of failures. They were slow about informing parents when children were involved in sexual activity, and the information they gave was inadequate. They misinterpreted incidents between boys and singled out individuals in cases where they should have identified patterns of group behaviour. They were insensitive: ‘there have been examples of quite a judgmental approach to boys who were acting out sexually due to having been abused themselves in the centre’.


The report also found that there ‘is a tendency to discredit complainants by, for example, alluding to their personal characteristics or family history. Even at the highest level there does not seem to be the skills, or the inclination, to suspend judgement, or even to think it possible that the complainants might be telling the truth. A protocol is required whereby guidelines can be followed in a standard way, regardless of the opinions of the staff, or their line management’.


The documented cases of sexual activity between boys afford confirmation of some of these points. The information in the records is often vague as to the conduct of the boys and fails to distinguish between different categories of prohibited behaviour. In particular, the records do not distinguish between consensual activity engaged in by boys of equivalent status, and peer abuse consisting of predatory behaviour perpetrated by stronger and usually older boys on vulnerable and usually younger boys.


Despite the fact that these cases came repeatedly to the attention of the school management, they were dealt with individually and there was no appreciation that they were part of a pattern of behaviour or of an issue that should be approached on a more general level. It was necessary for the School to deal with individual offenders, but they did not address the issue as a problem for the management of the school, despite the large number of cases that they had to deal with. The records document cases going back to the 1970s and, for the reasons identified in the Eastern Health Board Report, there may have been many other cases of that kind. Nevertheless, the management never devised a policy for dealing with the issue, by way of education of the boys or of the teachers or of the care staff. Mid-1980s


In the mid-1980s, a 16-year-old pupil was a cause of concern to the school authorities and he was referred to Dr Byrne because of his ‘anti-social behaviour, which has included outbursts of temper and violence, and more important, because of attacks of a homo-sexual nature on peers’. Dr Byrne advised that his behaviour should be monitored daily. Some months later, the boy was involved in a ‘homosexual/assault episode’ and he was again referred to Dr Byrne, who advised Br Ames not to let the boy return to School until he ‘had satisfied himself that he posed no homosexual risk to the school population’. But it is not clear how the Brother was to achieve this state of knowledge.


In a separate incident, a staff member, Mr Williams,35 saw an older boy holding the hand of a younger boy and bringing him into a dark room. He followed them and found the two boys in a corner of the room with the lights off. When questioned by school management, it transpired that the older boy had attempted to sexually assault the other boy. He had asked him to pull down his trousers and, when the boy refused, he then ‘rubbed his penis up and down his backside’ while both were fully clothed.


The parents of the older boy were notified immediately by telephone of the incident by the Superior, Br Porteur.36 The following day, Br Porteur wrote to the boy’s parents telling them that their son needed help and, until he was willing to accept such help, he was suspended. The boy was allowed to return to school once he agreed he had a problem and required help. His mother was of the view that he needed to see a priest. The school management agreed to offer him assistance with his problem, but from the file it does not appear that this boy was referred to Dr Byrne for assessment. Management was aware of this boy’s ‘deviant behaviour’ in the mid-1980s.


The parents of the younger boy were not informed of the incident. The victim in this case also features in other recorded episodes, in one as the alleged victim in the early 1990s, and in another case as the perpetrator of abuse.


The mother of a boy, who had been resident in St Joseph’s from the early 1970s to the early 1980s, contacted a Bishop in the late 1980s to complain about sexual abuse that her son had suffered in the School. She subsequently met the Provincial, Br Sandler, and informed him that the sexual abuse by older boys had begun shortly after her son’s arrival in St Joseph’s. She said that he had reported the abuse and that the offenders were expelled. But some of them were re-admitted and they again sexually abused him, until he left the School. The boy attempted suicide in the late 1980s, which resulted in him attending a psychiatrist, and that is how details of the abuse came to light. Br Sandler assured the woman that the matter would be investigated and he would report back to her. From the file furnished, no action appears to have been taken by Br Sandler, nor are there any documents concerning the abuse that led to the boys’ being expelled in the early 1970s.


In the late 1980s, an Assistant House Parent, Mr Smith,37 found that a boy was upset and ‘had problems’, and had written down details of many instances of sexual abuse perpetrated on him by boys in his class over a period of seven years, including fondling, masturbation, anal penetration and oral sex. Mr Smith informed the Principal, Br Grissel, of the allegations, and the Principal with another teacher spoke to the boy and decided to allow him home early due to his agitated state.


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.

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