Fiona Ferguson and Isabel Hayes
A judge has criticised the family of two sisters sexually abused by their older brother who tried to prevent the women from coming forward about the abuse in order to protect the family name.
Jailing Christopher Rafter (48) for 4½ years on Tuesday, Mr Justice Paul McDermott said it was “outrageous” that family members criticised the sisters and ostracised them for their courage in disclosing the abuse, which he said destroyed their childhood.
“They were little children in their own home,” the judge said, adding that their brother bears the guilt and the responsibility for his abusive behaviour. “It should not even have to be stated,” the judge said.
In their victim impact statements read out in court, Dolores Prendergast and Linda Rafter said they hoped their actions in coming out about the abuse would help others “carrying a similar cross”.
Christopher Rafter, of The Hermitage, Portlaoise, Co Laois, pleaded guilty at the Central Criminal Court to rape and sexual assault of two of his sisters at the family home on dates between 1989 and 1993. He has no previous convictions.
Ms Rafter and Ms Prendergast were both younger sisters of Rafter, and were aged between six and 10 years and nine and 11 years old at the time of the abuse. Rafter was aged 14 at the start of his offending and about 19 when it ended.
Both women waived their anonymity in order for their brother to be named.
'Get over it'
The two women outlined in their statements how, after they made their disclosures, family relationships had broken down and their names were “blackened and smeared” by family members who claimed they were “out for money” and should “get over it” as it was 30 years ago.
The sisters described how they were not allowed attend their father’s funeral and had to watch via the parish webcam. They watched as their brother was being “minded and fussed over.”
One of the women said her brother had taken no responsibility for his actions and had been the core cause of the family breakdown. She said he had taken every avenue to avoid justice and pleaded at the eleventh hour like “a rat caught in a trap.”
Passing sentence on Tuesday, Mr Justice Paul McDermott paid tribute to the women for their courage in coming forward, saying they deserve nothing but praise from their community.
“It is a difficult thing to do and a difficult path to take,” the judge said. “The personal price is a high one. It must not be hidden. People must have confidence to come forward and know when they do that they will be listened to.”
Mr Justice McDermott said the women were subjected to further abuse by family members' “desperate attempts to prevent reporting of their abuse for the sake of the family name”.
The judge said Rafter engaged in a serious breach of trust when he abused his sisters, abusing one sister before moving on to the younger girl. “He inflicted awful damage on their growth and development as children,” he said. “That effect is long-lasting and continuous.”
The judge noted that the man was a child during much of the period of abuse and that he must sentence him accordingly. He handed down a sentence of six years and suspended the final 18 months on a number of conditions.
No happy memories
Ms Prendergast outlined in her victim impact statement that she no longer wanted to call the accused man her brother and referred to him as “X.”
She described herself as a “survivor” with no happy memories of her childhood. She said she would dread going home: “Inside those four walls I had no protection.”
She told of the devastation, heartache and disbelief after she disclosed to her mother what was happening and “she rejected my truth”. She realised her eight-year-old self had to protect herself.
“I was utterly alone in the face of the abuse,” she said, and went on to detail how the lack of protection had impacted her in terms of self-love, confidence and her ability to trust, carrying these effects into adult life.
She said she had been shocked to the core to discover she was not the only victim and that she felt so guilty.
Ms Prendergast said her mother had again rejected her truth when she made the disclosures for a second time in 2018 as an adult. She said her mother had tried to manipulate them with the shame of public knowledge for the family and her character was assassinated with “vicious lies.”
She said the exclusion of herself and her sister from the normal grieving process for deceased family members had a huge effect, adding another level of trauma.
Ms Prendergast said she hoped her statement would encourage others to come forward, highlighting that no one should have to conceal sexual abuse.
'Cold and dismissive' parents
Ms Rafter told the court that they deserved this justice. She said her brother began abusing her when she was just six years old and even her first holy communion was tarnished with the memory of rape. “I would love to save six-year-old me from his clutches,” she said.
She said sexual abuse was a life sentence for her and she sometimes felt God would have been kinder to take her at six years old, but hopes maybe her disclosure of abuse will help others.
Ms Rafter said she could not comprehend her mother's reaction and felt she failed in her duty of care, considering herself the victim. She said her name was blackened and smeared to family members.
She said her family had stood by, knowing the truth, thinking only about their own needs and how it affected them in society. She said her parents were cold and dismissive, only feeling sorry for her brother.
Ms Rafter said her brother took no responsibility for his actions and was content to sit back and watch the family fall apart.
She said sexual abuse should not be tolerated or accepted and that she hoped her story would make a difference to someone carrying a similar cross.
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.