Child access to internet pornography should be addressed at primary school level, a High Court judge said as she sentenced a teenager for raping his niece - acting out pornographic scenes he had been viewing from the age of nine or ten.
Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy said there was not much point talking to young people about consent when they got to university if access to pornography was occurring when they were in primary school.
She imposed a five-year suspended sentence on the Cork teenager at the High Court sitting in Cork – the sentence to be finalised on Friday.
The judge said her suggestion in relation to educating primary children on the issue of internet pornography might seem shocking but could be necessary, not least on the basis of the evidence in the present case.
Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy said, “This is a 19-year-old young man charged with serious sexual offences including seven Section 4 rapes and ten sexual assault offences and the sending of lewd texts to his niece over the period.”
The young man was aged between 14 and 17 and the victim was aged between 8 and 11 during the period from May 2016 to April 2019 when the offences occurred. He pleaded guilty to the charges.
The judge said, “It started with inappropriate touching, moving to more intimate and invasive touching, moving to Section 4 rape. It came to light when a graphic, sexually explicit message was seen by one of her parents.”
Ms Justice Murphy referred to the victim impact report read previously to the court by the investigating officer, and the judge noted in particular the isolation felt by the victim while the offending was happening.
The injured party said, “(Defendant’s name) started touching me and getting me to do things I didn’t want to do. It made me feel scared and uncomfortable.
"I thought if my friends found out they would not want to be friends with me anymore,” she said in her victim impact statement.
None of the parties can be named as it would lead to the identification of the victim.
She said that the defendant threatened to do what he was doing to her, to her younger sister if she did not let him do it anymore. The victim said she felt proud that she had protected her younger sister from being subjected to what was done to her.
She is glad he pleaded guilty because it meant she would be believed and now everyone would know it is the truth. “I am glad it is found out,” she said.
The judge said, “Clearly, it does not need to be pointed out that sexual abuse of a child aged 8 to 11 is potentially devastating.
“This is clearly a troubling case for the court.
“This is an alarm call to society in general as to the dangers of a child accessing pornography.
And Ms Justice Murphy added that there was no reason to believe that the defendant’s school was any different from other primary schools in Ireland.
The judge said she heard an interview last week with the ombudsman for children, Niall Muldoon, who cited a report of 80 percent of secondary school children saying they were sexually harassed.
“Unless we get to grips with this as a society there will be further cases (like the one before the High Court in Cork) where people act out on foot on what they have seen. There is not much point teaching people about consent in first year in college if they have been exposed to years of pornography,” Ms Justice Murphy said.
The judge said the fact that the accused may be on the autistic spectrum might reduce culpability but may make rehabilitation more challenging. She said the defendant had an emotional maturity that was less than his age.
She said that if the defendant had been charged at the age of 17 and a half he probably would have pleaded guilty then and gotten the benefit of the Children’s Act which would only result in detention as a very last resort.
“Having observed this young man’s psychological vulnerability a prison term might crush him rather than foster his rehabilitation. He has demonstrated a willingness to address his deviance,” the judge said.
She decided rehabilitation was better achieved in the community and she imposed a five-year sentence, fully suspended.
The judge adjourned finalisation of the sentence until Friday to hear from the probation service on the safeguards that could be put in place for the teenager’s rehabilitation in the community.
“I think that with the best will in the world the supports this young man needs might not be available within the prison system,” the judge said, adding that “obviously the state have a right to appeal my decision.”
Oral rape is one example of what the judge referred to in her judgement as Section 4 rape.