Two local women are among those who have spoken out about sexual abuse that took place at a Waterford psychiatric hospital from the 1970s to the 1990s.
As detailed in the RTÉ documentary series Behind the Walls, the women told of numerous incidents that happened to them in Belmont Park hospital at the hands of one psychiatrist, Dr Denis Lane O’Kelly, which led to multiple charges of indecent assault being brought against him in 2002. He died a few months before the trial was due to take place, however.
The women who came to treatment were all experiencing a period of vulnerability – whether from depression, miscarriage or relationship breakdown. And so even though many knew that what they experienced was not standard practice, they say, many were not in a healthy enough state to do something about it.
Those who did complain to staff or to the Brothers of Charity who ran the hospital say they were told that such things “couldn’t happen” at Belmont Park, they told Behind the Walls.
Ferrybank native Margaret Martin spoke of an encounter with Dr Lane O’Kelly in 1985 at the age of 27, as she struggled with alcoholism. “I went in there an alcoholic and I came out addicted to pills. I was messed up totally,” she says in the documentary.
Janet Dalton of Ferrybank spoke of being referred to Dr Lane O’Kelly in 1980, suffering from depression after having a miscarriage. “I can still remember as if it was only happening today. I thought, you know, this couldn’t be right,” she said in reference to an internal examination carried out by the psychiatrist. “I’d had four children at this stage, and it wasn’t the kind of examination that I would have got from a gynaecologist,” she said in the documentary.
Ms Dalton said she did tell her husband what had happened to her, and immediately received his support. He told the documentary, however, that when he attempted to confront “the head man” at the hospital, “‘Oh,’ he said, ‘That couldn’t happen here’.”
Behind the Walls also heard from Dr Conor O’Neill, who is now GP to several of the women. Under no circumstances, Dr O’Neill said, would a psychiatrist need to carry out an internal examination on a woman.
“If he felt an internal examination needed to be done, he should refer that person to a gynaecologist or a GP,” Dr O’Neill said.
The episode of ‘Behind the Walls’ can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWVNa6WhDo4.