New partnership to prevent child sexual abuse in Ireland

9 June 2021

“Today is a great day for children’s rights” – Dr Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children

We’re delighted to have launched a new Stop It Now! project in Ireland to reach more parents, carers and professionals and help them prevent child sexual abuse.

It’s been several years in the making, but the launch means that people across Ireland will now be able to access support to keep children safe.

Our experienced operators are now available through an international number (+44 1372 847 161). And we have new web pages with specific support, advice and information that can help people in Ireland protect children.

What is Stop It Now! Ireland?

Stop It Now! Ireland aims to support adults to prevent child sexual abuse by providing information coupled with immediately accessible support and advice. Whether it’s about something that has already happened or something the adult is simply concerned might happen they can get help, advice and support. This includes when people are worried about their own or someone else’s sexual thoughts, feelings or behaviour towards children.

We give confidential advice and support through our anonymous helpline, live chat and secure messaging service. These are spaces where people can openly discuss their worries, get the appropriate help and advice, and then decide what actions to take to prevent harm to children.

The first Stop It Now! project was founded in the USA by Fran Henry, a survivor of child sexual abuse. Dr Marie Keenan first met her in the early 1990s and, inspired by her vision, first proposed the idea of a Stop It Now! in Ireland on The Late Show. Others did not share her enthusiasm. Now around 25 years later, Dr Keenan said she was “delighted with the launch of Stop It Now! Ireland to help further protect children and give adults the confidence to keep children safe”.

Working together to protect children

Stop It Now! Ireland is supported by an advisory council of professionals and agencies in Ireland. They and others came together for an online event on 26 May to launch the new project.

The event was hosted by Eileen Finnegan, consultant psychotherapist, chair of NOTA Ireland, and chair of the Stop It Now! Ireland advisory council. Finnegan began, “’Our dream is of an Ireland where children are free to live happy, healthy lives. Prevention from sexual abuse begins with the courage to speak up. If we are to truly break the cycle of abuse then the cycle breaks when we reach out to another person. Stop It Now! Ireland is there to be that person.”

Dr Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children, congratulated Eileen Finnegan and colleagues on the advisory council for their hard work and determination in bringing this project to realisation. He described the launch as a “great day for children’s rights” and said that through this launch and related services, “we have pulled off the layers of suppression” around child sexual abuse.

Donald Findlater, director of the Stop It Now! UK and Ireland helpline spoke about the helpline’s impact. Since 2002, the helpline has supported over 50,000 people, including many callers seeking help to curtail their own worrying sexual thoughts or behaviour, both online and offline.

And last year was the busiest year for the helpline, supporting over 7,000 people who made over 14,000 contacts by call, email and live chat.

Working with the Garda to keep children safe

“Stop It Now! is at the forefront of preventing child sexual abuse, helping those who recognise their dangerous behaviour and saving children from future abuse,” said Detective Chief Superintendent Declan Daly. “I welcome this initiative which at its core is about preventing abuse and working who those who might abuse to manage their feelings and behaviours. Doing something is always better than doing nothing.”

Dr Keenan, Associate Professor at the School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice at University College Dublin, spoke of her early days as a social worker supporting the victims of child sexual abuse. Over time she came to recognise the importance of also working with perpetrators or with those at risk of offending, to prevent future harm to children.

But Dr Keenan also sounded a note of caution. There will be many challenges ahead for the project, including the securing of funding to ensure its longevity, as well as ensuring it complements and does not conflict with the provisions of the criminal justice system in Ireland. These and other matters will fall under the agenda for the Stop It Now! Ireland advisory council over the months and years ahead.

A great day for children’s rights in Ireland

As Dr Keenan commented, we have been waiting for a rather long time. Years have been wasted when prevention could have been the focus of efforts and at the forefront of child protection. In 2002, the SAVI study told us that one in five girls and one in six boys, here in Ireland, had experienced contact sexual abuse before they reached the age of 17, with most abuse happening before they were 12.

Now, 19 years after the study was published, where John O’Donoghue, Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform stated, “prevention is always better than cure”, Stop It Now! Ireland was launched. And it is down to all of us to learn what we need to know about abuse and its warning signs, in order to play our part in keeping children safe.

How can I contact Stop It Now! Ireland?

Our helpline, live chat and secure messaging services are here for:

Callers from Ireland can contact the helpline through an international telephone number (+44 1372 847 161). The live chat, secure messaging service, and online self-help can be accessed from outside the UK.

Our new web pages have advice relevant to people in Ireland and include information and support for parents and carers as well as professionals. This includes material about Irish support organisations and self-help resources. We are working with the Gardaí and other professionals to include information on Irish law.

Over the coming months, we will be sharing important information on keeping children safe, the potential warning signs of abuse and conversations to have with children and other protective adults to prevent abuse. Whilst our principal target audiences are parents, carers and adult family members, we hope this information will also be of interest to professionals, local and national government and also the media.

Talk to us if you’re worried about child sexual abuse

Our confidential child sexual abuse prevention helpline (0808 1000 900 UK or +44 1372 847 161 Ireland) is available for anyone with concerns about child sexual abuse. Callers do not need to give identifying information, so can remain anonymous. We speak to thousands of people every year and help them take action to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation.

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