In an extremely harrowing RTÉ investigates documentary, victims of sexual abuse at the hands of the leaders of scouting organisations have spoken of the life-altering effect the experience had on their childhoods and later adult lives. Anyone affected by the programme, know there is support: CARI, The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, The Samaritans are always available to help, understand and listen
In recent times, Scouting’s image has been tarnished by child sex abuse allegations and a failure over many years to implement a robust child protection policy. Scouting Ireland, the modern organisation, was founded when the two scouting traditions Scouting Association of Ireland and the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland joined together in 2003.
Last December, Scouting Ireland wrote to the Minister for Children Katherine Zappone stating that its ongoing review of historic complaints found evidence of “extensive prolonged and organised child sex abuse” and “Abuse at all levels” in both Scouting organisations.
'Scouts Dishonour' looked at how Scouting Ireland’s predecessor organisations handled child sexual abuse allegations and how the organisation failed to alert the statutory authorities about suspected predators.
What was revealed was immensely disturbing; research found that in the 1970s and 1980s, former scout leader David O’Brien moved between the Scouting Association of Ireland and the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland. He was involved with at least five scout troops. By doing this, he was enabled to continue his abuse and evade justice while continuing to have access to children for years.
Paul O’Toole from Artane in Dublin was one of many young scouts sexually assaulted by David O’Brien. He joined the scouts in the early 1970s and O’Brien was his scout leader. Dave Smyth was aged 10 when he joined the Scouts where O’Brien was a leader, and also explained was forever traumatised by the abuse he suffered.
"You never put it behind you. When something like that happens to you, it changes your life forever."
And despite O'Brien allegedly abusing around 30 to 40 children over decades, last week he was sentenced to just six-and-a-half years in prison after confessing to abusing a number of boys while he was a leader in the Scouting Association of Ireland, and later at the Catholic Boys Scouts.
A number of other men were also revealed to have abused children in the documentary – some for decades without ever getting charged.
Colm Bracken also spoke out, and said he made plans to take his own life after living with the memories of abuse and began questioning why he was chosen as a victim during camping trips. His 10-year-old son saved him, he said.
“You blame yourself and then you say to yourself ‘why are you blaming yourself, it’s not your fault, you didn’t do anything’. It’s his fault. You look for reasons why it was you. Why were you picked?"
Those who suffered the abuse were understandably emotionally distraught, furious, and spoke of how this had robbed them of their innocence and childhood.
The effects of abuse have been ever-lasting for the now-adult survivors, one who said he only got the ccourage to tell someone in the last year. They were not only abused, but they were also shamed and scared into silence.
Each said they decided to come forward to encourage other victims to do the same.
The ISPCC has supported calls for a full independent and public inquiry into the handling of sex abuse allegations in the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland and the Scouting Association of Ireland #RTEInvestigates https://t.co/J1IzcjQag7
— RTÉ News (@rtenews) November 13, 2019
"Disturbing, powerful and necessary programming"
All abuse survivors on the programme were praised for their powerful words and bravery in speaking out in their continued fight for justice. Viewers also agreed that while it was extremely tough and distressing to watch, it was necessary and important that such programmes continue to be made.
As someone active in Scouting for 20 years, the Primetime investigation is devastating. I know the level of vetting & rigorous child safeguarding training we have to go through now. It is just heart breaking to hear these victims stories. #rteinvestigates
— Louise Enright (@loleeze) November 13, 2019
As someone who has been in scouting for the last 11 or so years it was truly heart breaking to watch what was on #RTEinvestigates tonight. My heart reaches out to all the victims. The way things were dealt with were not right but scouting Ireland is making progress and taking...
— Seána (@ismiseseana) November 14, 2019
#RTEInvestigates each time this programme is on it just shows us more and more that this country doesn’t care for or respect its people,especially children, people with disabilities or women. We have such a dark history of abuse that has been covered up by massive organisations.
— Liza Pops (@liza_pops) November 14, 2019
Angry & heartbroken watching #RTEInvestigates on scouting tonight. Children abused in the worst possible way by people they thought they could trust.
Important journalism. Important stories. Important that abusers and those who facilitated and covered it up are held to account.
— Conor Wilson (@ConorWilson) November 14, 2019
Sat huddled in a tight ball watching tonight’s #RTEInvestigates. My childhood to early adulthood was Cubs, then Scouts, finally Ventures. I adored it. I’ve only learned however, I was in very close quarters with a number of those responsible for ruining children’s lives
— Marty Miller? (@MartyMtweets) November 13, 2019
Visible pain on faces of survivors as they relive their horrors. Will they every get justice in this corrupt country?#RTEinvestigates
— Réada Cronin #UnitedIrelander (@ReadaCronin) November 13, 2019
Tough viewing of #RTEInvestigates. My overwhelming thoughts are with of all the victims and survivors of abuse. I am also mindful of all the great volunteers who have nurtured and empowered Scouts. It is important to have an independent inquiry. https://t.co/5FHS88WJD1
— Jillian van Turnhout (@JillianvT) November 13, 2019
Genuine question, why are sexual abuse of children sentences so lenient? Can only assume that our laws and courts don't consider the most heinous of crimes all that serious. #rteinvestigates
— Michael McCarthy (@McCarthyMick) November 13, 2019
Serious question re Irish judiciary as to why they hand down lenient sentences for child sex abuse or most sexual crimes for that matter. Something seriously wrong.
Public service broadcasting at its best from Oonagh Smyth.#RTEinvestigates
— Réada Cronin #UnitedIrelander (@ReadaCronin) November 13, 2019
Harrowing programme on abuse in Scouting by #RTEinvestigates. Powerful testimony from victims. Shocking lapses by some of those in charge. Like many others, Scouting was an important part of my life, it’s horrific to see how it failed others.
— David McCullagh (@mcculld) November 13, 2019
— Fiona Reid Murphy ? (@FiReidMurphy) November 13, 2019
A scout leader who had complaints against him since 1987 was at the jamboree in 2018. This has shocked me. #RTEinvestigates
— Seána (@ismiseseana) November 13, 2019
In November 2018, I asked the Minister @KZapponeTD about whether any alleged abusers were currently in the network or were when Ian Elliott was carrying out his review. I was told that based on ‘verbal information’ the Minister received, none were. #RTEInvestigates pic.twitter.com/qReIvd335S
— Anne Rabbitte TD (@AnneRabbitte) November 13, 2019
Watching #rteinvestigates with two other scout leaders. We are all disgusted at what has happened, shocked that other leaders knew and said nothing, even more shocked that those in power facilitated perpetrators to move to other troops to abuse again! This must never happen again
— 5 out of 6 ain't bad (@allanmathews125) November 13, 2019
#rteinvestigates just proving yet again that we have such a despicable and shameful record of protecting children in this country.
— Daniel (@Driscollodaniel) November 13, 2019
Main photograph: @rte