- "I Just Want Justice":The Impact of Historical Institutional Child-Abuse Inquiries from the Survivor's Perspective*
What do survivors of institutional abuse need in order to feel that justice has been realized? How can a sense of redress—of justice achieved—be measured? This essay explores such questions by describing the results of an empirical research study investigating Northern Ireland's Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIAI), which focused on physical, sexual, and emotional neglect in children's residential institutions between 1922 and 1995. The research study, carried out primarily in Northern Ireland, provided detailed analysis of survivors' interaction with the inquiry and sought to gauge victims' needs and expectations revealed by their participation in the HIAI. Building on the limited research already done in the field, the study's conclusions suggest that a survivor's sense of justice and redress is affected not just by the original crime but also by her or his involvement in the criminal-justice systems set up to investigate such offenses. This study explored survivors' justice needs constituting redress—including, for example, acknowledgment of abuse, attitudes toward apology, accountability, opportunities to tell their stories, and symbolic and financial reparation—as well as their assessment of the inquiry's legal processes.
In November 2009 the Northern Ireland Assembly voted to establish an inquiry to investigate the scale of child abuse in institutions run by the Catholic church and the state.1The agreed terms of reference for the inquiry were announced on 31 May 2012. Unlike current [End Page 252] UK investigations that focus on sexual abuse, the HIAI covered physical and emotional abuse, neglect, and unacceptable practices between 1922 and 1995 in children's residential institutions.2 The HIAI had two components: a confidential acknowledgment forum offering survivors an opportunity to tell their stories, and a statutory inquiry in which evidence was given in public.3 In 223 days of hearings conducted between January 2014 and July 2016, almost all of which were held in public, the inquiry investigated twenty-two institutions. The inquiry published its report in January 2017 documenting evidence of systemic failings in residential institutions run by the state, local authorities, churches, and charities. Its conclusion noted "sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, neglect, and unacceptable practices across the institutions and homes examined."4
Methods and Analytical Tools of the Research Study
The research study of Northern Ireland's HIAI informing this article was carried out between October 2014 and July 2017.5 Five focus groups met in Belfast and Derry, with over seventy-five participants invited to explore their views on redressing historical abuse, express what survivors wanted to see happen, and explain why their goals were important.6 The focus-group discussions informed interview [End Page 253] themes, and the author subsequently carried out forty-three face-to-face interviews with survivors who had attended the HIAI.7 These interviews reflect the views of a broad cross-section of survivors who were residents in the range of institutions within the inquiry's remit: 25 men and 18 women ranging in age from their late 30s to their 70s, with a mean age of 55 to 65. For the most part interviewees lived in Northern Ireland, but two resided in the Republic of Ireland and four in England. The study's primary aim was to give survivors an opportunity to express what was important to them—to say what they wanted to say in their own ways. Survivors were asked in interviews to assess their experiences of the HIAI and to indicate what was needed in order to feel that justice has been realized.8 The interviews were recorded, transcribed, and thematically analyzed. The justice needs expressed by survivors provided the benchmarks to assess the inquiry. Anonymized transcripts of survivors' evidence available on the HIAI website were also analysed. In the statutory inquiry in which evidence was given in public, survivors were asked to explore and comment on the question of redress, apology, and memorialization in anticipation of its own recommendations to the Northern Ireland Executive in those areas. Of the 246 survivors who gave evidence, 177 had responded to HIAI counsel...