Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 13 — Cabra

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Peer sexual abuse


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.


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.

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