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Sinéad Ring
Is Redemption Possible Here? Developing an Ethics of Memory for Historical Childhood Sexual Abuse in ireland.
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This paper engaged with questions of representation and memory in the Irish courts’ engagement with adults who report childhood sexual abuse. In the last twenty years, the Irish criminal justice system has been confronted with an explosion in the number of people seeking criminal prosecutions for abuse they suffered as children. The courts have had to consider whether the delay in reporting prevented a fair trial. They have framed the reasons for the delay in terms of an innocent child paralysed by a dominating abuser. This interpretive move has ensured that criminal responsibility is not constrained by temporal limits, so that these trials may proceed. However, in the process problematic narratives about victims are produced. These tend to emphasise individual victims’ traumatised experience, rather than State complicity in their suffering. This is marked contrast to victims’ testimony to courts and public inquires of providing contemporaneous reports of abuse to teachers and police. According to these testimonies, these figures of State authority did not act on reports of abuse. Furthermore, public inquiries have found evidence of deference by the police to the authority of the Catholic Church. The courts’ insistence on the idea of the traumatised victim erases the agency of individuals from the historical record, and nourishes the fiction of the ‘innocent Irish State’, apparently passive and ignorant of the harms and extent of child sexual abuse. This paper explored the redemptive possibilities of drawing attention to the unheard stories of adult victims of childhood sexual abuse.
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