Friday 20 July 2018

Massage therapy sex assault allegation was 'incredible' and 'unbelievable,' jury told

The case was brought before the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court
The case was brought before the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court

Isabel Hayes

An allegation that a woman was sexually assaulted during a massage therapy session was “incredible” and “unbelievable”, the jury in a Dublin trial has been told.

A 48-year-old man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has pleaded not guilty to one count of sexually assaulting the woman at his practice in Dublin on January 24, 2015.

The Dublin Circuit Criminal Court trial has heard that the accused man allegedly removed the woman's underwear and touched her vagina during a massage session, before kissing her bare bottom and saying he “just couldn't help himself”.

In her closing speech to the jury of nine men and three women today, defence counsel, Tara Burns SC, said her client was a qualified sports massage therapist. She said he was recommended to the alleged victim through her partner, who had also visited him for treatment.

“He is not some back alley person who, on the sly, is providing massages to individuals and individual women,” Ms Burns said. “He is a qualified professional person.”

Ms Burns said that when interviewed by gardaí, the defendant “misrepresented himself as a physiotherapist,” but she said this did not prove a sexual assault had occurred.

Ms Burns told the court the woman's evidence “fell apart” upon cross-examination. “The process of how she alleges this occurred is simply unbelievable,” she said.

Referring to the woman's evidence that the man pulled down her underpants while she was on the massage table, Ms Burns said: “This is an incredible thing to have happened.”

She put it to the jury that the woman was unable to say how long the man allegedly inappropriately touched her for and was unable to explain the movement of his hand during the alleged sexual assault.

“These are the details of the sexual assault and these details are absent,” Ms Burns said.

Ms Burns also questioned whether it was believable that the woman, having been sexually assaulted, would then allow the man to put back on her underpants, or that she would practice physio exercises in front of him, as the trial heard.

This was the “strangest thing” about the case, Ms Burns said.

Ms Burns also referred to evidence the man allegedly took off his shirt during a previous session. The woman agreed in cross-examination that this happened but she did not tell gardaí about it.

“Had a bare-chested massage session taken place, (the woman) would never have gone back to that place,” Ms Burns said.

She said the woman's allegation “does not hold water” and could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt. She urged the jury to return a verdict of not guilty.

In his closing speech, prosecution barrister, Maurice Coffey BL, told the jury there could be “no doubt” that the accused man sexually assaulted the woman.

He said the woman was a “pleasant person” who was emotional at times and who was “very sure” about the most important parts of the evidence, especially considering the alleged events took place nearly three years ago.

He questioned why the accused man would “make himself out to be a physiotherapist” to gardaí when he was not.

Mr Coffey also said the issue of “victim blaming” had arisen in the case and that there had been questions as to why the woman did not react immediately when the man allegedly touched her.

She was “petrified”, Mr Coffey said.

“This is a situation where (the accused man) is in a dominant position,” Mr Coffey said. “There's a power inequality here. A substantial power inequality.”

He said the woman was in a medical surgery for treatment that she thought the man was qualified to carry out. “There's a sense of trust that this person knows what they are doing,” he said. “We've all experienced that with doctors, dentists, therapists, even lawyers.”

Mr Coffey said that the woman was alone in the practice, with no receptionist present, and that she “just wanted to get out of there”.

Mr Coffey also referred to a text message sent by the accused man to the woman six days after the alleged offence, in which he said he hoped she wasn't “upset” and said he would understand if she decided to stop seeing him.

Mr Coffey said the man's explanation for that message – that he was concerned the massage had been painful for the woman – did not add up. Instead, he said it was “an acknowledgement that something happened that shouldn't have happened”.

He urged the jury to convict the man of sexual assault. The trial continues, with Judge Karen O'Connor giving her charge to the jury.

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