RCNI warn Oireachtas Committee that child abuse in the family remains hidden in our child protection and legal systems

Dr Clíona Saidléar, RCNI Executive Director said, ‘RCNI today are calling for a commitment to a fit for purpose system to deal with child sexual violence in family law matters. A specialist court is needed to ensure the best child protection response.

‘For many child victims the family is not a safe place, it is the location of the harm. Because the criminal justice system largely fails these children, with between a 90% – 96% failure rate, the protection of these children often becomes the subject of the family law courts, both publicly and privately. Protecting children in these circumstances requires specialisation.

‘Today we are particularly drawing attention to familial sexual violence and incest. Our RCNI Rape Crisis data showed that in 62% of child sexual violence against children under 13, it was a family member who committed the crime. Of the 11,600 cases of guardianship, custody and access going through our civil courts every year we can expect that a significant proportion to involve the rape and the sexual abuse of children by family members in the absence of a parallel criminal conviction. We urgently need Courts Services to make public how many of their cases involve child sexual violence as a matter of justice and public interest.

‘The fact is our family courts are currently handling criminal matters of the most sensitive child protection nature in unknown numbers, without criminal authority, without the appropriate tools and with insufficient specialisation.’

RCNI are calling for a special family court, with tailored authority, where all actors would have domestic and sexual violence specialisation. This matter should form a key part of Ireland’s long overdue first National Strategy on Child Sexual Violence.


• There are 3,000 referrals of child sexual violence to Tusla every year,
• only 2% of those cases gain a conviction.
• the false allegation rate is only between 2% and 8%.
Reports in the past 12 months detailing the failures in the current system:
• Garda Inspectorate Report Responding to Child Sexual Abuse a follow up review (Dec 2017) http://www.gsinsp.ie/en/GSINSP/Responding%20to%20Child%20Sexual%20Abuse%20-%20A%20follow%20up%20review%20-%20Full%20Report.pdf/Files/Responding%20to%20Child%20Sexual%20Abuse%20-%20A%20follow%20up%20review%20-%20Full%20Report.pdf
• Geoffrey Shannon, 11th Report of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection
• Child Care Law Reporting Project Final Report CCLRP-Full-final-report_FINAL2 (1).pdf
• HIQA, Report of the investigation into the management of allegations of child sexual abuse against adults of concern by the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) June 2018 https://www.hiqa.ie/sites/default/files/2018-06/HIQA-Investigation-Executive-Summary.pdf
Recommended data that could and should be made regularly public:
• How many cases in front of civil family law courts include allegations of child sexual violence and domestic violence, including coercive control?
• A set of data points around the communications and interactions between the criminal and civil authorities in regard to those cases,
• Data points tracking people’s engagement in the system so that the multiplicity and length of these cases can be better understood,
• Data tracking how many children are bound by (directly, through their guardians or both) ‘non-disclosure’ or ‘confidentiality’ clauses on direction of the civil courts with regards potential future disclosures of criminal matters of sexual violence?