Monday 11 December 2017

Neglect and sexual abuse was part of five-year-old’s ‘everyday life’

Treated like an animal and abused by her mother, this child’s scars will last forever, writes Caroline Crawford

The Roscommon women convicted of the abuse of her children is pictured entering Roscommon Circut Court on Thursday morning. Photo: Andrew Fox
The Roscommon women convicted of the abuse of her children is pictured entering Roscommon Circut Court on Thursday morning. Photo: Andrew Fox

THE abuse started when she was just five years old and covered every aspect of her little life.

Left starving, unable to clean herself, treated like an animal, led around on a leash and sexually abused by a neighbour, the child told officers how she tried not to think about what was happening.

But the years of shocking abuse suffered by a little girl at the hands of her mother and others have finally been laid bare.

When she was five, she was taught to masturbate by her mother, who also admitted to touching her daughter in a sexual manner. The mother would later say anything inappropriate only happened when she had taken drink. The girl's father has also pleaded guilty to charges of sexual abuse.

Food was scarce in the family home, so much so that the little girl never knew what it was like to feel full and told how there was often no food available. When she was eventually placed in a safe home environment she was unable to use utensils, struggled with eating and would try desperately to satisfy her hunger.

The neglect was so grave that the child was never taught to clean herself and had difficulty showering. She was unable to brush her hair and when taken into care she had no adequate clothing.

But the true nightmare was the sexual abuse -­­ at the hands of her parents and a neighbour who used to babysit the children two to three times a week.

He began abusing the child, involving her in oral sex. He later brought her to a shed where he lead her around on a dog leash before raping her.

When he told the child's mother, with whom he was having an on-off relationship, what he had done she gave him permission to do what he wished for and for as long as he liked. Some of the abuse occurred while the mother was in the home.

The wide-ranging abuse only came to light four years later in 2008 when the then nine-year-old and her two siblings were taken into care. Her foster family became concerned when they noticed her sexualised behaviour, which saw her openly masturbate in the house and attempt to kiss her sister on the mouth. In one instance, the child performed a sexual act in front of boys and on another occasion on a train.

She reportedly later told a therapist that she had done so because "I thought it would make them happy".

Her foster family felt unable to cope and she was moved to another family. There, further signs of abuse quickly became apparent. She was found to be self-harming by biting herself and had a number of bruises. Court reports last week revealed an insight into the child's life. When asked by therapists why she was in foster care, she replied that it was "because Mammy and Daddy are sick. They don't know how to look after us properly".

In a letter to her therapist while in care, the child asked for help, revealing her mother had told her to tell lies all the time.

She also reportedly told social workers: "I try not to think of the crime. I thought it was everyday life and I was too afraid to tell anyone."

Even when she did speak up, she continued to be subjected to threats and fear. In May, while out on bail, her mother threatened to harm the girl if she did not clear her name. This led to the imprisonment of the 47-year-old woman and caused gardai to monitor the foster home of the child. This week, her mother was sentenced to 14 years after admitting 12 charges, including sexual assault, wilful neglect or ill treatment, and using her daughter for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The final four-and-a-half years were suspended on condition she keep the peace and refrain from any contact from her children without consent.

The court heard that she had herself been the victim of assault when she was younger. She has a mild intellectual disability and had a significant history of psychiatric admission.

While her mother is now behind bars, the young teen's ordeal is far from over. The sentencing of the girl's father, who has also pleaded guilty to charges involving the sexual abuse of his daughter, must still take place. And the neighbour, who was sentenced to eight years after pleading guilty to raping the child, is appealing the sentence.

Sunday Independent

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