A High Court judge has commented that too many sexual offence cases “seems to be a lack of understanding of the simplest of words ‘no’”.
Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring made those comments in the sentencing of a Longford man, Patrick McLoughlin (35), who sexually assaulted a woman after he disturbed his friend having sex with the woman in the back of a dark van.
The judge said the law could not be any clearer that the consequences of continuing to have sex with someone or touch them, once they have withdrawn consent, will lead to a prosecution.
“Young men must understand that ‘no means no’. It doesn’t mean ‘maybe’ or ‘I have started so I will finish’”, the judge said before she added that it is mainly men that find themselves in these situations and mainly women whose lives will be shattered by these actions “sometimes beyond repair”.
“Too many cases seem to be a lack of understanding of the simplest of words ‘no’,” the judge said.
McLoughlin of Torboy, Moydow, Co Longford, still maintains his innocence after a Central Criminal Court jury convicted him last March following a trial in Castlebar, Co Mayo.
He had pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting the woman in Galway city centre on a date in August 2017. He has one previous convictions for a minor assault dating back to 2017.
Ms Justice Ring sentenced McLoughlin to five years in prison with the final 18 months suspended on strict conditions, including that he engage with the Probation Service for those 18 months.
His friend, Karl Reilly (39), who continued having sex with the woman after she asked him to stop when McLoughlin disturbed them, was convicted of raping the woman.
Last month, Justice Ring sentenced Reilly of Inny View, Aghara, Carrickboy, Co Longford, to a seven-year sentence with the final 18 months suspended.
The woman testified how McLoughlin sexually assaulted her. Her DNA was later found on McLoughlin’s hand.
McLoughlin claimed he went back into the van to go to sleep, having initially been told to leave by Reilly. He said he woke up by the woman touching his penis and asking him to call a taxi. He said she called his phone to try and find it, but it was out of charge.
He told gardaí that he went back to sleep and then woke up “with an army of guards around me”.
McLoughlin said he thought it was “ridiculous” and suggested the woman had been intoxicated and was angry that she had to walk in the rain.
The court heard the young woman was “petrified” by the situation and the men mocked and laughed at her before she left the van and was aided by a passer-by who found her in a distressed state.
Fiona Murphy SC, defending McLoughlin, said her client had written a letter for the court which expressed genuine sympathy to the victim. “He appreciates that he should have assisted her when she was looking for a taxi,” counsel told the court.
She said McLoughlin maintains his innocence and doesn’t accept the verdict of the jury.
Sentencing McLoughlin on Monday the judge noted from the victim impact statement that the woman continues to ask herself why she got into the van in the first place.
“She should not blame herself for making that decision,” Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring said adding that “in hindsight” it may not have been wise “but that is life”.
“There were only two people in the wrong,” she said, referring to Reilly and McLoughlin.
Ms Justice Ring said it was an aggravating feature of the case that McLoughlin had never met the woman before coming into the van that night. “He was a total stranger to her”.
She accepted evidence that the behaviour may have been out of character for McLoughlin but added “whether in or out of character, it is a reality for her and will mar her life in the future”.