A man with autism spectrum disorder pleaded not guilty to Facebook messaging with a 14-year-old for the purpose of sexual exploitation of the child but agreed with investigating gardaí that the conversation he was having with her was inappropriate.
The case is being heard by Judge Helen Boyle and a jury of ten men and two women at Cork Circuit Criminal Court and continues tomorrow.
The accused man pleaded not guilty to communicating with the 14-year-old by Facebook messages for the purpose of facilitating sexual exploitation of the child.
He also denied the charge of sending sexually explicit material to the child.
The complainant’s evidence took the form of a statement which was read to the court on her behalf by prosecution barrister Brendan Kelly.
Mr Kelly said he should tell the jury at the outset that the defendant “has autism spectrum disorder.” The teenager stated that she met the defendant through a friend and he seemed to be very nice.
“We began messaging regularly. Sometimes I would initiate conversation, sometimes he would. He asked if I had a boyfriend and did I need help with that sort of stuff – did I need help with relationship stuff including sex. I presumed he was only trying to be friendly.
“He asked if my parents checked my phone… Relationship stuff did not interest me. He knew I was only 14. I knew he was maybe 26 or 28. Also during texting he asked about one or two of my girlfriends and asked was there anyone with me during sexually explicit texts.
“My mother checked my messages (after over two months of messaging) between me and (defendant’s Christian name). My mum said this was not right and was totally inappropriate.
She said he was a lot older and not as simple as him helping me. She said people used people in inappropriate ways (via the internet).
“I texted him saying, I thought he was sick and never to communicate with me again.”
The investigating garda outlined the texts between the two parties, beginning with greetings and pleasantries.
Asked by gardaí if he was aware of the age difference between them, the defendant said, “I didn’t take much notice of it.”
Asked, “Did you find it easier to talk to someone by Messenger than face to face – would you be more relaxed?”
He agreed that he would.
In one text he said, “Sorry I am in a bit of a weird mood today. I ask stupid questions when I’m in a weird mood… If you ever want to ask anything – even if it comes across as weird or personal, just ask.”
The garda asked what he meant by that and what he thought she might ask?
“I suppose sometimes it might be easier to ask a friend a question than your parents.” Asked about another text where he referred to her ‘pleasuring’ herself, and where the teenager replied, “F*** off, perv,” and he replied, “Relax, just trying to be a good friend,” the defendant told gardaí, “It was more just curiosity about what she knew at her age as compared with what I might have known at her age.”
One garda asked, “Why would you ask her if she showed texts to others,” he replied, “I was probably starting to think I probably shouldn’t be having this type of conversation.” One investigating garda said in the recorded interview, “There’d be no problem if she was a consenting adult. It is the fact that she was 14. That is why we’re all here.”
He asked her by text to send a picture to show if she had “much hair down there” and again she called him a ‘perv’. He offered to send her a picture of himself. In a further text he said, “Wasn’t trying to be a perv or anything but have you seen a boy’s private parts?”
The teenager replied to him, “No I haven’t”.
Asked by a guard if he could see that it is inappropriate behaviour between an adult male and a 14-year-old schoolgirl, he replied that he did see that now.
Asked by the guard he felt about it now, he replied, “Kind of ashamed for what I did.” The defendant’s mother said that her son, who is now 30, was a bit like a teenager or “a child in a man’s body”, socially inept, had difficulty reading people’s emotions and found it hard to empathise.
She said she was not saying he did not know the difference between right and wrong but he did not understand how wrong an action might be.
“He is not a horrible person, he has made mistakes,” the defendant’s mother said.
Clinical psychologist Eddie Hogan said the sexual interest of a person with autism spectrum disorder tended to express itself more in anatomical terms than emotionally.