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25 May 2022

Midlands sexual assault victims praised for their bravery by judge at Circuit Court

Midlands sexual assault victims praised for their bravery by judge at Tullamore Circuit Court

Midlands sexual assault victims praised for their bravery by judge at Tullamore Circuit Court

TWO young Midlands women were commended by a judge for their bravery after they reported the abuse which led to the conviction of a 27-year-old man who admitted numerous sexual assault, child pornography and sexual exploitation charges.

Tullamore Circuit Court heard one of the man's victims was his niece, nine years younger than him, who was first abused when she was six years old.

Judge Keenan Johnson was told during a sentencing hearing that the abuse of that girl continued for a six-year period at least once a week after beginning in September, 2011 when the accused was 15.

When the perpetrator was arrested on suspicion of those offences in 2020 it came to light that he may also have abused another girl who lived near where the other sexual assaults occurred.

An investigating detective garda told the court that the second victim disclosed a particular incident on her ninth birthday in 2010 which she recalled as the worst incident during a six-month period of abuse.

When laptops belonging to the man were seized it was discovered that he had photographed a victim and the images were deemed to be pornographic.

Prosecution counsel Kevin White, BL, said there were 81 counts in all related to sample charges of sexual assault, two counts of possessing child pornography, two counts of producing child pornography and two counts of sexual exploitation of a child.

The defendant's niece felt unable to attend court for the sentencing hearing and while the other victim did attend, accompanied by her mother, she became upset and left the courtroom for a short period before returning.

Judge Johnson was told a garda investigation began in January 2020 after allegations of sexual abuse were reported to Tusla.

The first victim detailed the abuse to specialist garda interviewers and it was also discovered that her younger brother had witnessed some of the assaults when he was nine.

In a victim impact statement read to the court by the investigating garda, the niece of the accused said she would never forget the Tuesday morning when she first told her parents what was happening to her.

She detailed the impact of flashbacks on her and how those flashbacks could be triggered by certain words which would remind her of what happened to her.

She would “freak out” and have panic attacks when the flashbacks occur and she felt her body was not rightfully hers and she hated it, resulting in her hurting herself.

The woman said disclosing the abuse led to extreme difficulties in her family and she became depressed, missed a lot of time from school, wanted to stay alone, and could not last long in relationships, especially with males, because they scared her.

She said she was even anxious around male family members and feared going to a male doctor.

The young woman, now aged 21, said speaking about what had happened to her and opening up had finally given her a sense of hope and she realised it was ok to let people into her life.

Though the other victim was present in court, she preferred that the garda read her statement into the record.

She remembered being so excited in advance of her ninth birthday because she was looking forward to spending the day with her family.

Instead, it was the worst birthday she ever had and she had never been able to get over what happened that day when she visited a neighbour's house and was assaulted.

She said she used to be a very confident girl before that day but after the abuse she felt completely alone and sad.

She avoided visiting the house where it occurred and felt terrified passing that location. She feared the man would do the same to someone else so one night she told her mother what had happened.

The woman said to this day she freezes and her heart starts racing any time she passes the house.

When she turned 17 she was looking forward to going to college and making friends because that was something she had always found difficult.

She did make a few friends at college and was having a great time until one day she discovered that the “familiar face” of her abuser was a part-time student there and she never felt safe there again.

She was afraid she would be attacked again and though she confided in her best friend, she still felt intimidated when the man was around and left college before the end of first year.

She returned to the same college after taking a year off because she knew he was no longer there.

However, she still felt unsafe on the roads near where the assault on her ninth birthday occurred.

“I just wish none of this ever happened to me and I wish I could forget about it and move on,” she said.

The defendant gave evidence that he accepted everything the girls said and he apologised to them.

Replying to questions from defence counsel Colm Smyth, SC, he accepted what he did was very serious and that what he had done had affected the girls' lives. He said if he could change what he had done he would.

The court was told that a probation report had not yet been prepared so an assessment of the man's reoffending risk had not taken place.

Mr Smyth said it was accepted the offences were very serious and all that could be said for him was that he apologised, was a young man with no previous convictions and had a future ahead of him.

He had attempted to engage in some counselling and that was undertaken by him with a student he knew but Mr Smyth accepted Judge Johnson's description of that counselling as “amateurish”.

Judge Johnson told the victims that their lives had been defined by the abuse and they hadn't been able to move on because of the negative impact. He commended both for their bravery and fortitude in seeing the matter through.

He told the victim who was present in court her childhood had been stolen from her but by reporting the abuse she had helped not just herself but all other victims.

“You deserve huge credit for that,” he said, adding that he hoped she would hold her head high from now one and live her life to the full.

Judge Johnson said he could understand why the other victim was not present but he expressed the same sentiments to her.

He remanded the guilty man in custody for sentencing on July 19 next, explaining to the victims that he needed a probation report, psychological report and risk assessment to determine how he would structure the sentence.

He said the accused was already on the sex offenders' register and that carried onerous obligations because he was being monitored regularly by the gardai.

A custodial sentence will be imposed on the man, said the judge, because of the seriousness of the offences, the fact that the abuse had gone on for a long time, and because of the negative impact it had on two victims.

He noted that the case was quite unusual in that the abuse was relatively recent compared to others which had come before the courts and this abuse had been perpetrated at a time when the damage caused by such offences on young people was common knowledge.

The court ordered that the defendant not be named in order to protect the identity of the victims.

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