Man jailed after having sex with girl (15) he groomed using fake social media profile
Published 12/01/2016 | 12:04
A man has been jailed for three years for having sex with a 15-year-old girl he met after grooming her using a fake social media profile.
Conor O'Keefe (26) set up a profile as a teenage girl called “Julie” on the website Tagged.com and started chatting with the victim. He later claimed he was Julie's older brother “Adam” and persuaded the girl to get a taxi to his house in the early hours of the morning where they had sex.
Judge Sarah Berkeley called it a “sinister” offence which highlights the dangers of social media “and the opportunity it creates.”
She noted that there was no threat, force or coercion used against the girl and that she was a “willing participant”. However she said O'Keefe put pressure on her by expressing disappointment when she was reluctant to perform sexual acts.
“I do not attribute any blame to her in any way,” Judge Berkeley said. “She was a child at the time and is entitled to the protection of the courts.”
The judge noted that O'Keefe knew she was a virgin and that he told her she had to select one of three options: sexual intercourse, oral sex or masturbation.
The court heard he set up the profile out of “loneliness and isolation” and that he had a “somewhat difficult childhood.
O'Keefe of Oakdale Close, Ballycullen pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to sex with a child in July 2011. He was found guilty of a further count of sexual exploitation of a child by a jury last month following a three day trial.
He was to be sentenced last November but the case was adjourned as O'Keefe's partner had given birth to their first child the day before.
O'Keefe, an apprentice plumber, has no previous convictions and is now on the sex offenders register. He was 22-year-old at the time of the offences.
The court heard he is taking part in therapy and the “Safer Lives” programme which is run by the Probation Service.
Defence counsel, Damien Colgan SC, handed in a probation report and a psychological report and asked the court to consider non-custodial options.
O'Keefe faced a maximum possible sentence of 14 years imprisonment.
Calling it a grave and serious offence, Judge Berkeley imposed a five year sentence with the final two years suspended for two years.
During the trial the court heard Tagged.com was a social media site where users created personal profiles and chatted to each other. The site allowed children to set up profiles but featured a security feature which made them invisible to adult users.
O'Keefe admitted to gardaí that he set up a profile called “Julie” so he could view the under 18s version of that site.
Garda Lisa Duffy told Fiona Murphy BL, prosecuting, that “Julie” added the girl as a friend in July 2011 and later Julie's 22 year old brother called “Adam” messaged the girl using her account.
The victim's profile said she was 15-years-old and she had told “Julie” she was 15.
Early on the morning of July 30 2011 “Adam” asked her if they could meet up. She initially said she had no way to get to his house but later took a taxi with “Adam” giving directions on the phone and paying the taxi driver €45 when she arrived.
They went to O'Keefe's bedroom and talked. She said he was “bugging” her about performing a sex act on him but she refused. She later agreed to have sex.
O'Keefe stopped having sex with her after asking if it was hurting her. Afterwards he fell asleep and drove her home the next morning.
Gda Duffy said the girl later spoke to a relative and gardaí were alerted. The girl gave a description of where O'Keefe lived and he was arrested.
O'Keefe accepted he was the person involved and was fully co-operative, answering all questions.
Ms Murphy handed in a victim impact statement prepared by the girl into court. The girl did not wish to give evidence and the report was not read in open court.
Mr Colgan submitted this was a “once off” event. He said O'Keefe had found he could not interact with his peers and found himself depressed and isolated leading to him creating the false profile.
He said it was of significance that nothing of a sexual or exploitative nature was spoken between the parties prior to them meeting. He said O'Keefe was continuing to engage with a psychologist.
Mr Colgan noted that the trial had been unusual in that the details had been given by Gda Duffy and the injured party had not been required to give evidence. O'Keefe did not give evidence during the trial either.
During the trial all of the factual evidence was agreed between the prosecution and defence and the sole issue for the jury was if O'Keefe intended having sex with the girl when he communicated with her.
The Sexual Offences Amendment Act 2007 states that a person is guilty of an offence if they communicate with a child on two or more occasions with the intention of meeting them for sexual exploitation.
Cliodhna Sadlier from the Rape Crisis Network said the case highlights the issue of grooming and the vulnerability of teenagers.
She said groomers “essentially work to set up the victim to being blameworthy and culpable” and the vulnerability of teenagers “has been exacerbated by the whole online area”.
She said there is a raft of legislation in the pipeline which will be “critical in keeping up to date with new methods of predators online”.