Tuesday File: RTE 1 – 24th November 1992
More and more RTE are moving into the difficult area of confronting things that have previously been Taboo. The subject of child abuse brings strong feelings to the surface in most people. Outrage that it happens at all is a common reaction. The abusers themselves are seen as the worst of criminals and shunned by all, including the other inmates of prisons where they serve their sentences.
This programme did not provide much clinical insight into the means by which child abusers could be helped to “reform”. It did sell one important message - The abuser is unlikely to be a stranger – he (statistically most abusers are men) is likely to be a close friend of the family or a relative who has the trust of the family and so can set up the circumstances to create the opportunity to abuse. This was the thesis of the programme and it was backed up by the testimony of a convicted child abuser.
The programme likened the desire to abuse to addiction. Places like the Gracewell Institute in England use confrontative group therapy in their efforts to rehabilitate offenders. The programme did not focus on the therapy. Its focus was more on the story of the convicted abuser and was interspersed with comments from the Director of the Gracewell Inst, and an Irish social worker, more or less underpinning the story of the convicted abuser.
The programme makers were at pains to show how the potential abuser will first set up an emotional bond with the child and then use this bond to double bind the child. “Do this with me and don’t tell anyone or I won’t be your friend”.
I hoped for more from the programme but in fairness RTE have broached the subject and their handling of the issue was from the perspective of how the convicted abuser sees the crime and what motivates him to commit it. The man who was the subject of the programme claimed that therapy had helped him to realize the damage he had done to so many lives and he claimed that as a result of his awareness and new insight he would never commit the crime again. He did say he avoids parks and babysitting etc., he said “I do not believe in testing myself.
On a purely personal note, both my partner and I had a similar reaction at the end of the programme – simultaneously, we asked each other “Did you believe him…”