The director of a Sexual Violence Centre has criticised a decision by a Judge to give a teenager a five-year suspended sentence after he pleaded guilty to raping his niece over a three-year period starting when she was just eight years old.
The High Court sitting in Cork heard that the youth, who cannot be named in order not to identify the victim, acted out pornographic scenes he had been viewing from the age of nine or 10.
The 19-year-old from Munster pleaded guilty to seven Section 4 rapes and 10 sexual assault offences and the sending of lewd texts to his niece.
He was aged between 14 and 17 and the girl was between eight and 11 during the period from May 2016 to April 2019 when the offences occurred.
The injured party said that the youth threatened to do what he was doing his niece to her younger sister as well. She said that she felt proud that she had protected her younger sibling from his abuse.
Mary Crilly, director of the Cork Sexual Violence Centre, said that there needs to be more guidelines in place in relation to sexual assault and rape cases before the courts.
“I’ve always believed if someone is found guilty of child sexual abuse that they have to get mandatory sentences, then after that the Judge can use whatever discretion they want. The idea of a suspended sentence for abusing a child is just beyond belief.
“I do hope the Director of Public Prosecutions does appeal the leniency of the sentence in this case, that he calls this one out and seeks a review of this five-years suspended sentence.”
Ms Crilly said she admired the courage of the victim in the case and was sorry that she did not get the justice she deserved.
“This victim and her family are more than welcome to contact us. The Centre can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on freephone 1800 496 496 or text to 087-1533393. Victims are also welcome to call to the office from Monday to Friday — 9am to 5pm.”
Conditions of suspended sentence
Meanwhile, the youth whose sentence was finalised on Friday morning was ordered not to be in the company of children unsupervised or to go anywhere near the victim.
Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy thanked the probation service for the comprehensive report she had received in the case, saying that it helped her in determining the appropriate sentence.
Conditions were attached to the suspended sentence, namely that the youth not reoffend and co-operates with the probation service, attends appropriate appointments, notifies gardaí of any change of address, engages with programmes and therapies that would reduce his risk of reoffending, and liaises with the education and employment services.
The youth will be supervised for by the probation service for the full five years of his suspended sentence.
Ms Justice Murphy also ordered that the teenager undergo a psychiatric assessment and explore queries in relation to an autism diagnosis.
Access to internet
At an earlier hearing of the case, Ms Justice Murphy said that child access to internet pornography should be addressed at primary school level.
She told the court that there was not much point talking to young people about consent when they got to university if access to pornography was taking place when they were in primary school.
She acknowledged that her suggestion might seem shocking, but she said that given the evidence presented in the case it could be necessary.
“This is clearly a troubling case for the court. The defendant was accessing child pornography from the age of nine or 10. He learned of it from school friends. He developed an addiction to it by the age of 11.
“By the age of 14 he was acting out (what he saw) by sexually abusing his niece by oral rape. This is an alarm call to society in general as to the dangers of a child accessing pornography.
“Sexual education at primary level should (deal with) pornography. Maybe that might seem to be a shocking thing to say. But this young man and his friends were accessing pornography,” the judge said.
“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 case 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.”
She noted from the victim impact court the isolation felt by the injured party when the offending was occurring.
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 couldn’t tell anyone. I thought they wouldn’t believe me and they would be mad at me. I thought if my friends found out they would not want to be friends with me any more.”
The victim said she was glad that the teenager entered a guilty plea because it meant everyone would know that what she said was true.
Ms Justice Murphy said the sexual abuse of a child aged eight to 11 is “potentially devastating.”
She stated the defendant had an emotional maturity that was less than his age. She added that the fact that the accused might be on the autistic spectrum might reduce culpability but make rehabilitation more challenging.
“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.
Ms Justice Murphy determined that rehabilitation was better achieved in the community, and she imposed a five-year suspended sentence.
“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.”