Clerical sex abuse survivor 'interrogated' by benefits system

A Crucifix
A Crucifix

A survivor of clerical child sex abuse in Northern Ireland has said she felt "interrogated" during her benefits application.

Kate Walmsley has been left with a series of health complaints and lingering trauma caused by her childhood experience.

She met officials from the Social Security Agency in Belfast on Thursday to express concern over her treatment by staff during the transition to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefit.

She said: "When I did go (for a benefits interview) I was ashamed, I felt interrogated, I just felt ashamed and looked down on."

A priest assaulted her while she was a child. By the time she was 12, he was having sex with her, she told a public inquiry.

She has waived her right to anonymity.

Ms Walmsley said she had post-traumatic stress disorder, bulimia and a series of other health problems.

She has tunnel vision, and when she worked in a shop she knocked the models down behind her.

Her PIP case is still being processed by the authorities.

On Thursday she explained to officials how upset the process made her.

She said it triggered feelings associated with when she was 15 and living in a derelict house in Londonderry and could not get benefits because she was too young.

She said: "I used to have to wait until the evening until the people came out of the pubs and ask them for a shilling to get a bag of chips.

"I was shoplifting because I had no money to clothe myself.

"I felt as if I was begging to live, for somebody who had her life taken from her, her childhood taken from her, her whole life in fact because I am still suffering because of it all."

She was accompanied to the meeting by other abuse survivors and SDLP Assembly member Nichola Mallon, who said the PIP process had re-traumatised many victims.

"This is a group in our society that is very vulnerable, who have been spectacularly failed by the state and suffered horrific abuse.

"They need to be treated with greater compassion, decency and fairness and for many of them when it comes to the welfare system they are not, and that needs to change."

She added: "We felt it was a positive meeting, we felt that the department (for Communities) listened, but the proof will be in what the department actually does and the measures it puts in place to better support this group of people."

A public inquiry led by retired judge Sir Anthony Hart recommended a care package be established for survivors.

His recommendations have not been acted upon because of the collapse of power-sharing.