A survivor of sexual abuse says she hopes her abuser gets a longer prison sentence on appeal to encourage other victims to report their attacks.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is set to appeal the leniency of the sentence handed down in March to Anthony Smith in the Criminal Court of Justice, Dublin on Monday.
The married father of nine from Rathgillen, Nobber, Co Meath was 44 when he was jailed for two years last March, after pleading guilty to the sexual exploitation of Aoife Lynch at Rathgillen, Nobber on diverse dates in 2014 and sexually assaulting her on a date unknown that year.
Smith received a five-year sentence, with the last three suspended and could be released after 18 months on good behaviour.
Aoife is currently abroad so will not be able to attend the court in person but is hoping to attend via video link.
The 22-year-old says the lengthy process in reporting the crime took longer than the sentence he received and believes this needs to change in order for more victims to come forward.
Aoife was just 14 when she began confiding in Smith who often frequented the same house she visited with family in Nobber and who she thought of as like an uncle.
“I was being bullied at school, and it made me feel very self-conscious. I was afraid to walk to the shops in case I met them and I didn't want to tell my parents in case I worried them.
“I eventually told the school who dealt with it straight away, but he was there to tell me not to be afraid, that if anything happened to text him, and he would fix it all. He hugged me and told me everything would be OK.
“It started that he'd throw his arm around me in a casual way to say hello, but then he started intimately physically contacting me when there was no-one in the room.
“He sent me explicit sexual images of himself and told me he loved me by text on my 15th birthday.
“I didn't know how to react or respond. I decided not to do anything because of the knock-on effects that it would have on my family and his family, so I zoned out and distracted myself with other things.”
Aoife ended contact in 2014 and when she was 18, she found the courage to tell her family and go to the gardaí.
However, it took four years from when she plucked up the courage to go to gardaí until Smith went to jail, and it has taken another six months for the appeal to be heard.
“I only found out last Tuesday that the appeal is to be heard on Monday and I hope to be there via video call,” she said.
“I wasn't happy with the sentence. My sentence is forever but he got two years. It took me four years from reporting the crime to gardaí to his sentence. That's four years of worry.
“In hindsight, if I knew it would take four years, I don't think I would have gone through with it.
“I felt I couldn't go through with it all the time — even up to 20 seconds before I entered that courtroom, I almost backed out.
“I waived my anonymity, so other victims could see I was just like them. If I gave even one other person strength to report their abuse, then it was all worth it.
“I've had a lot of messages of support from some members of his family which eased any doubts I had about going public with my story.
“My abuser is, at present, due to serve 18 months. People get longer than that driving without insurance. Is that how the courts view this crime?
“Eighteen months is not enough reason for survivors to come forward, when they have to go through a process of up to four years.
“This isn't about me any more — it's about showing others a reason why they should come forward, why they should be believed and why their abuser will get justice. I hope I will see that justice carried out on Monday.”
Sexual assault is wrong. Any contact which makes someone feel uncomfortable is wrong, and we have to learn that.
Since she waived her anonymity, Aoife says she has been shocked at how many women have contacted her, too afraid to report their attacks.
“I was surprised at how many people opened up to me. Even if they never report their abuse, they know there is someone who understands how they are feeling — but that's not enough. The system needs to change for them.
“Some women won't report their abuse because they think it's not as bad as it could have been compared to if they were raped or physically attacked — which is incredulous.
“Sexual assault is wrong. Any contact which makes someone feel uncomfortable is wrong, and we have to learn that.
“Don't be afraid to tell someone. The abuser's problems are not yours, and they are not an excuse to assault you.
“When I left the court last March, there were so many emotions that I was on a false high. Then reality kicked in. He has taken my life since I was 14 years old. He has been a constant shadow over me.
“There are days when I still struggle and that will never go away, but I am getting stronger and stronger each day.”
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can call the national 24-hour Rape Crisis Helpline at 1800 77 8888, access text service and webchat options at drcc.ie/services/helpline/, or visit Rape Crisis Help.
In the case of an emergency, always dial 999/112.