Alleged child abusers could interview complainants under new protection guidelines

Alleged child abusers could interview complainants under new protection guidelines

NEW GUIDELINES set by the Ireland's Child and Family Agency, Tusla, could see people alleged to have abused a child allowed to interview the children who have accused them.

The new guidelines, due to come into effect in June, will introduce a "stress test", something which would allow the questioning of children by the people they have accused, either face-to-face or in writing.

The new policy guidelines, which were seen and first reported by The Irish Times, also mandates that social workers must ask children if there may be an "alternative explanation" or "misinterpretation on their part" relating to the allegations of abuse.

While the guidelines acknowledge that a child or vulnerable person being interviewed by their alleged abuser would "generally" be inappropriate, the outlet reports that in some cases the suspect will be allowed in the room while the child is questioned.

In these cases, the guidelines suggest that the social worker should "consider using a screen to separate the complainant or witness who is being questioned".

It goes on to state that the identity of the child should be revealed to the suspect at an early stage, even where "the complainant is at serious risk" from the alleged abuser.

In cases not involving "immediate serious risk", the new policy will protect those accused by elevating the rights of the suspect over the need to inform third parties-- such as their employer or family-- according to The Irish Times.

A spokesperson for Tusla has defended the guidelines, saying they were drafted to comply with emerging laws in a "complex" legal area and that alleged abusers are entitled to "fair procedure and due process" under constitutional law.

As the news broke of the incoming guidelines and what it may mean for both victims and suspects, a member of abuse survivor's support group Four In One spoke on RTÉ's Sean O'Rourke of her concerns.

Speaking on the show, Maeve Lewis said it was worrying that the rights of the alleged abuser were "very prominent" but "due consideration hasn't been given to the rights of the person making the complaint".

She also pointed out that deciding which alleged victims could be classed as "vulnerable" would be difficult, and would put people at risk of being cross-examined by their abuser.

“All our clients are people who’ve been sexually abused in childhood," she said.

"Some of them are, indeed, very vulnerable.

"I’d be very concerned if a decision was made that they’d be cross-questioned by the person who had allegedly abused them.”

“It is so hard to for survivors to come forward in the first place and I am very concerned that this will deter people from coming forward,” Ms Lewis said.