Maeve Lewis, director of One in Four: 'People from places, including Tipperary, are coming up every week to attend'
The Tipperary-born director of one of the country’s main charities dealing with childhood sexual abuse has called for its sex offender programme to be rolled out across the county.
One in Four, led by Maeve Lewis, is the only organisation dealing with abuse cases that also runs an offender programme, the Phoenix project.
In 2017, the charity dealt with 54 sex offenders, up from 46 the previous year.
“People from places, including Tipperary, are coming up every week to attend that programme because there are no services available locally,” said Ms Lewis.
These are people who have not been convicted, but abuse has been disclosed and they are at least acknowledging sexual harm and going into treatment.
“I feel there should be a service like that in every county,” she said.
Ms Lewis said that the levels of childhood sexual abuse in the Premier County were on the same scale as other counties.
“Despite all the changes and improvements, most children still don’t tell. They wait they are grown up and they are safe,” said Ms Lewis. “It’s rural. It’s urban. It’s across all classes and genders.”
One in Four reports all cases of abuse to Tusla, the child protection agency, but Ms Lewis acknowledged that the State agency is under-resourced.
“Tusla are improving but we have still big problems. We notify every allegation that comes to Tusla, but they are restrospective obviously. Tusla has a lot of difficulty investigating and dealing properly with those situations and they are also very under-resourced, and have problems retaining social workers because the work is so demanding,” she said.
Ms Lewis also felt that there may be too many charities dealing with abuse issues, but pointed out that they were the only one dealing with over 18s who have been sexually abused.
“We work very closely with Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Cork Sexual Violence Centre, Limerick Rape Crisis Centre. We are different. We very rarely meet people who have recently been raped. Our advocacy service is also quite different. I do think it is very important that there is a lot of collaboration across the area and we do a lot of policy work together, lobbying,” she said.
With questions being raised in the past few years about salary levels and spending in the charity sector, Ms Lewis said that One in Four had not seen a drop in fundraising.
“I welcome the charities regulator, and funders like Tusla, the HSE, Dept of Justice demand incredible levels of transparency in terms of reporting, auditing,” she said.