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Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse: Irish Deaf Schools

commissionchildabuse.gifThe Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, in Ireland was established in 2000, which includes abuse in deaf schools.

The Commission's Report [PDF], [HTML], along with an Executive Summary [PDF], [HTML], has been released.

The Executive Summary mentions deaf schools. Firstly:

Chapter 13 deals with the final Christian Brothers’ School investigated by the Committee, St Joseph’s School for the Deaf, in Cabra. This was not an Industrial School but was a residential school for boys from the age of eight who were profoundly or partially deaf. This school was also investigated on a document only basis. It was the subject of Eastern Health Board Investigations in the 1980s which revealed disturbing levels of sexual abuse and peer sexual activity amongst boys who were resident there. These documents reveal a persistent failure on the part of school Authorities to protect children from bullying and abuse.

In addition, the documents revealed that physical punishment of these children continued into the mid-1990s and that staff were protected by management when physical abuse was discovered.

It is significant that the Industrial Schools owned and managed by the Christian Brothers did not keep a Punishment Book as was required by the Rules.

You can read the full report on St Joseph's School for Deaf Boys, Cabra ('Cabra'), 1857-1999 [PDF], [HTML]

The Executive Summary also touches on further deaf schools:

Chapters 15 and 16 are brief reviews of documentary evidence in relation to two schools that offered residential care to deaf girls: St Mary’s Girls Cabra which was run by the Dominican Order of Nuns and Beechpark run by the Daughters of Liege. Oral hearings were not conducted into these schools and there was not a significant amount of documentary material discovered to the Committee. Most allegations of abuse referred to the harshness with which the policy of oralism was imposed on children who were deaf and who instinctively used sign language as well. Whilst the wisdom of imposing oralism was a separate matter and one which the Committee could not comment on, the methods of enforcing it were at times too severe.

In general however, the standard of care in these schools was good and particular efforts were made to ensure that the children received the best possible education.

In general, girls’ schools were not as physically harsh as boys’ schools and there was no persistent problem of sexual abuse in girls’ schools although there was at best naivete´ and at worst indifference in the way girls were sent out to foster families. A number of girls did experience sexual abuse at the hands of ‘godfathers’ which they were either unable to report or were disbelieved when they did report it.

There was a high level of emotional abuse in girls’ schools, which was a consistent feature of these institutions.

The full reports on St Mary's School for Deaf Girls, Cabra [PDF], [HTML] and Mary Immaculte School for Deaf Children (Beechpark) [PDF] [HTML]

The BBC's website also lists ten of the main findings.

Comment from Alison:
I've not read these reports yet, but firstly I wanted to say those people who spoke out have my respect. I cannot comment in depth (since I've done no reading, nor do I know anything by way of background). However, one thing that did particularly strike me when pulling together this post, was the comment around oralism and its harshness. Is this a first, for such an inclusion into an official document on abuse (please use the comment box)? It also made me think about the law, and how deaf people are rarely listened to. Exactly how many decades have we heard the same complaints around oralism? One has to ask, where's the protection of vulnerable groups and who decides the standards (and the law)? Who is the law to protecting? Perhaps one day, hearing people will start listening to deaf adults, for guidelines. With all the best intentions in the world, hearing perception of the world distorts. A bit like asking those in charge of the workhouse in the last century, "Are you abusing the children in your care?" Of course the answer is always going to be no.

Comments (1)

Impressive comment on oralism enforcement methods being considered as abuse. That was unusually perceptive for this kind of paper. If this means a turn of events in examining education of the deaf, that is hopeful.

"...how deaf people are rarely listened to. Exactly how many decades have we heard the same complaints around oralism? One has to ask, where's the protection of vulnerable groups and who decides the standards (and the law)? Who is the law to protect, and who decides the standard? Perhaps one day, hearing people will start listening to deaf adults, for guidelines."

Big hand-waves for that! Absolutely the point! Please say it again and again!

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