Thursday 18 October 2018

'I'm not a scared kid any more' - Rape victim waives anonymity after attacker seeks removal from sex offenders' register

'This isn't about me now, it's about the safety of others'

Amy Gilligan says
Amy Gilligan says "Our right to contest should be legislated" Picture: Arthur Carron
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

A young woman who was raped at the age of 11 has bravely waived her right to anonymity in a bid to ensure victims are notified if their attacker seeks to be removed from the sex offenders register.

Amy Gilligan (28), originally from Athlone, Co Westmeath, was raped by a teenage boy whose mother was babysitting her at the time.

Andrew Cox, also from Athlone, was only a few weeks past his 16th birthday when he assaulted the young girl in his bedroom on May 9, 2001.

He pleaded guilty at the Central Criminal Court in 2003 and was sentenced to five years in prison, with the last two suspended.

Amy Gilligan, who was raped when she was 11, has bravely waived her right to anonymity Picture: Arthur Carron
Amy Gilligan, who was raped when she was 11, has bravely waived her right to anonymity Picture: Arthur Carron

Through word of mouth in her hometown, Amy Gilligan learned that Cox applied to the courts to be removed from the sex offenders register last year.

She contacted Athlone Garda Station to ask about the process and decided to attend his hearing on May 30, 2017.

More than a year after the court ruled that Andrew Cox's name was to remain on the register, Amy has decided to come forward and have her voice heard.

"I, and a lot of people I have spoken to, didn't actually know you could apply to come off the register," she said.

"The weird thing is the guards don’t notify a victim when that happens, it seems to be a secret thing, and for me that was a bit of a shock."

Amy assumed when someone committed such an offence they would remain on the register for life.

However, under the Sex Offenders Act 2001, a convicted sex offender may apply to the courts  ten years after their release from prison to no longer be required to report a change of address to gardai or notify them when they're leaving the country for more than seven days.

Amy wrote a personal letter to the judge outlining her objections to this.

Cox's legal team spent the first half an hour of the hearing trying to get Amy removed from the court room as it was an in camera hearing, referring to her as a "member of the public".

However, the judge overruled this saying Amy wasn't just any member of the public - she was the injured party.

"I would have been around 13/14 during the original court case and I didn't have to go. He was quite shocked when he seen me in court that day," she told Independent.ie.

"I would have seen him a couple of times walking around at home, but there was never any engagement. He would usually go red and walk away.

"He's moved on with his life now and seems to be doing well. However, I don’t think it’s fair they can do that [apply to be removed from the register] so privately and the opinion of the injured party is not taken into consideration.

"I’m a grown woman now, I’m not a scared kid any more... this is about other people. I’m not bitter, I don’t want to ruin his life in any shape or form, he has done his time, it's more about the law and the rights of victims and others."

Amy moved to Dublin when she was 17 and has lived in the capital ever since.

Last month, she set up a Facebook page called 'Our Voices Will Always Matter' in support of victims' rights, and first used this as her medium to speak up.

"Our right to contest should be legislated, and as survivors of sexual or violent crimes our voices will always matter," she said.

"Personally, for me, justice was served as he got his prison sentence.

"But for the rest of my life I’ll have crosses to bear, I’ll always have it in the back of my mind. I suffer from anxiety, I don’t let it get in my way of life but it always comes back, whether it’s trust issues when meeting someone new or something else.

"I will always have scars to bear and this [being on the register] should always be his cross to bear."

Amy said facing her attacker in court last year finally helped her get the closure she needed.

"Afterwards I realised that was my closure, being able to stand face to face as an adult and express myself and have my say and not be the scared kid any more, that empowered me.

"For other people, I know for some who go through this sort of thing, it is a hard thing to do, especially when all the old feelings are being dragged up but having it there as an option, it should be up to the person if they want to object.

"I feel like a weight has been lifted, I feel as though I got a piece of myself back that I didn’t even know was lost."

Amy spoke highly of the investigating garda on the case, Inspector Aidan Minnock, who she described as "compassionate and caring".

"I can't say a bad word about him, he genuinely cares and encouraged me to contest his [Cox's] removal from the register."

Amy is now campaigning to introduce legislation that allows victims to have a say under the Sex Offenders Act, 2001.

While the term sex offenders register is used in Ireland, the register does not exist here as in other countries, and is not explicitly referenced in the 2001 act.

A ‘live’ database of sex offenders to whom the Sex Offenders Act, 2001 applies is maintained by An Garda Síochána only and is not available to the public.

Registered sex offenders are required to notify gardai if they are changing address or leaving the country for more than seven days.

However, this month, it was revealed how personal information of sex offenders, such as their name and address, could be disclosed to “necessary people” under a proposed new law which got Cabinet approval.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan and Communications Minister Denis Naughten confirmed the draft plan as part of a series of new measures aiming to ensure the public's safety.

Amy has since written to Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan and is working with the National Sex Offenders Management Unit in a bid to have victims notified if their attacker wishes to be removed from the database.

"This isn't just about me any more, it's about the safety of others, and people have a right to know if someone has previously attacked someone like I was attacked."

If you have been affected by the above issues you can contact the Rape Crisis Centre on 1800 77 8888

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