A woman found guilty of the sexual exploitation of her child has received a fully-suspended prison sentence, after a court heard she herself was traumatised and in high need of interventions.
The Cork native, who cannot be named to protect the identity of the child, was convicted by a jury last June of wilful neglect of the child between September 2010 to June 2015. She was also found guilty of sexual assault of the child and sexual exploitation of the child on a date unknown between September 2013 and June 2015.
The court has heard that the 45-year-old woman, who has very limited cognitive functioning, does not accept the verdicts of the jury.
Detective Sergeant Clare Corcoran told Lorcan Staines SC, prosecuting, that in 2004 the defendant married a man and they had seven children together. All seven were ultimately taken into care.
One of these children was aged just under five when he went into care and was found to be unable to dress himself or to sit in a chair. He behaved more like a child of two or three years old, was unable to use a knife and fork and ate by stuffing food into his mouth, the court heard.
He was found to have no understanding of personal boundaries and was not toilet-trained. In late 2017, the child made disclosures to his foster mother of sexual assault against his mother and father.
He described both his parents being present when his mother molested him. During the trial, the woman did not accept the child was sexually abused and in evidence she named her husband as her own father and claimed that she was conceived in the back of a garda patrol car.
The child's father, who was the designated primary carer of the child, was charged and prosecuted for more serious sexual offending, but died in custody before he could be brought to trial. Justice Karen O'Connor noted that he continued to “enjoy the presumption of innocence” in law.
In his victim impact report, the child, who is now in State care, said he continues to have nightmares of his parents coming to get him. “When asked about good memories, I end up running to the bathroom crying. When someone calls my name, I get frightened and worried,” he said.
Ronan Munro SC, defending, said that his client was addicted to heroin but she has now stabilised her drug use with methadone. She said the woman suffered has post-natal depression as well as a number of bereavements.
“My client is traumatised. She has never had a loving, intimate relationship from childhood onwards,” Mr Munro told the court. The court heard that as a child in 1989, the woman reported being sexually abused by her own father and was assessed by social services but that there had been no follow up.
Justice Karen O'Connor noted the contents of an assessment carried out by forensic psychologist Dr Patrick Randall, who said the woman had experienced significant childhood trauma. In his report, Dr Randall assessed the woman's risk of sexual reoffending as low.
Justice O'Connor said this was a difficult case involving a young child victim of neglect and serious sexual offending. She said the offences have had a devastating impact on the child and will continue to haunt him for his life.
“One would need a heart of stone not to be moved by the contents of the victim impact statement,” she said. She said the victim was a bright, bubbly, intelligent young boy and she wished him the very best for his future.
She said that given the expert evidence of Dr Randall, she was not of the view that society would benefit from the further incarceration of the woman, who has been in custody since June 8, 2022.
Justice O’Connor said there was no dispute that the woman has an extremely low intellectual ability and has a “high density of intervention needs”. She backdated a three-year sentence and suspended the remainder on conditions including that the woman engage with Tusla regarding child safeguarding measures and engage with drug and alcohol use interventions as advised.