Tuesday 25 July 2017

'I resigned myself to bearing silence believing I could live with the anger within me' - Victim abused by uncle as a girl (6) speaks out over 30 years after assaults

Victim delivers a ‘powerful’ impact statement on affects of the abuse

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Stock picture

Greg Harkin

A Catholic priest advised the parents of an abused six-year-old girl to forget about the attacks in the interests of the family, a court has heard, with the victim delivering a ‘powerful’ impact statement on the affects of the abuse.

The allegation was made during a sentencing hearing of a 67-year-old man who pleaded guilty to five sickening sex assaults on the girl, his niece, in Co Donegal in 1984.

The abuser cannot be named to protect the identity of his victim.

Judge John O’Hagan, sitting at Letterkenny Circuit Criminal Court, was told by Det Sgt Mick Galvin that the allegations had first been made shortly after the incidents by the victim.

The detective said the girl had made comments whilst playing with other children and her parents had discovered she was being abused by her uncle.

She had drawn pictures of what had happened to her.

The girl and her parents moved home and her parents later separated, the court heard.

Gda DS Galvin said the family had gone to a local Catholic priest who had advised them that they should put the matter behind them and move on.

He said the incident was at a time before legal guidelines on handling child sex abuse cases.

The matter was finally brought to gardaí in October 2013 by the father of the victim and the girl made a statement six months later.

The victim later told gardaí that her uncle, a member of a prayer group, would ask her to commit sex acts on him in a toilet and a living room at his home when he was baby-sitting her.

The detective said the man had told his niece it was their ‘little secret’ and he had given the girl lemon curd sandwiches and Smarties after the incidents.

After the incident was reported, the judge was told, the uncle had continued to deny the allegations saying his niece had been lying.

This continued for half an hour after his arrest, said DS Galvin, before the uncle had made a number of admissions.

It took DS Galvin more than ten minutes to read out a victim impact report on behalf of the woman which Judge O’Hagan described as one of the most powerful he had heard in the courts.

In it she detailed how she had suffered all her life as a result of the sex assaults and had been in psychiatric care in 2009 where she told of being abused but did not name her abuser.

She said during the 30 years after the attacks she had thought about speaking out but thoughts of doing so were always faded.

She went on: “I spoke out because of a profound feeling of peace and a sense of responsibility had come over me. Up until that time the thought of speaking out would occasionally cross my mind but my fear and guilt would drown out the thought.

“I resigned myself to bearing silence believing I could live with the anger within me and that was just my lot. What I wanted was a sense of peace and it was that sense of peace which came over me three years ago.”

She said she had “played a game of survival”.

“My mind had been constructed to believe that I was a hopeless victim; that I was powerless, worthless, doomed, disconnected, alone, disillusioned, shameful and guilty; that the world and others were a threat not to be trusted,” said the victim.

“I have come to deeply understand the term that the truth will set you free, but first it will kick you in the ass. The healing within me has been a process of finding a way to listen to that inner voice which speaks the truth no matter how ugly and facing the truth it ignites, allowing me a healthier way of living, engaging and responding to my life.”

She said she continued to suffer from depression as a result of the crimes.

“I have to keep fighting the war within and keep letting go of the disempowering part of myself again and again and again. For me the best outcome would be for my uncle to realise the impact of his choices and he feels the truth of those choices and how they have affected his life, his relationships and the hierarchy of victims he created,” said the woman who said she didn’t wish to be in court to witness “this dark and ugly day”.

DS Gavlin told the judge: “The abuse had far reaching consequences. The family had spoken with a member of the clergy and other people and they thought it was best to leave it at the time. She did not receive any counselling.”

Judge John O’Hagan said one of the aggravating factors in the case was the uncle’s continued denial of the attacks over three decades.

“She has had to endure this whole experience alone and throughout the course of the allegations she was continually made out to be a liar,” said the judge.

He said that even in his probation report the man said his niece had followed him to the toilet where the abuse took place.

“The clear suggestion is that he was blaming the girl,” said the judge.

He said the advice given at the time by “members of the clergy and others” was “dramatically different from what goes on now”.

The victim, he said, was “a very brave girl who has been through an absolute torture”.

The judge said mitigating factors included the man’s guilty plea and the fact he was suffering from prostrate cancer but “he knew very well that what he was doing was wrong”.

He sentenced the man to five years in prison, with the last two years suspended on each of the five sexual assault charges, the sentences to run concurrently.

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