Sunday 25 August 2019

'The stage I'm at now is hurting' - Cork woman Amy Barrett on moving forward after her father was jailed for rape and abuse

Amy Barrett speaking outside court. Photo: Courtpix
Amy Barrett speaking outside court. Photo: Courtpix
Amy Barrett and her sister Melissa O’Keeffe pictured leaving the Central Criminal Court in Dublin

Sasha Brady

Amy Barrett, whose father was sentenced to 10 years in prison yesterday for raping her over a five year period and regularly abusing her younger sister, has said both sisters are now moving forward with their lives.

Speaking on Today with Sean O'Rourke, Ms Barret said that they were glad it's all over.

"It's been a long road. There's an enormous amount of relief in both of us now."

Melissa O’Keeffe and Amy Barrett were abused from a young age by Jerry O'Keeffe at their family home at The Arch, Youghal, Co Cork.

The former soldier was sentenced to ten years in prison at the Central Criminal Court on Monday. He pleaded guilty to three charges of rape, five of indecent assault and one of sexual assault covering a period from January 1980 to March 1987.

Ms Barrett said the sisters were now moving forward with their lives.

"I go through different stages. I've gone through the anger and running away, the denial. The stage I'm at now is hurting," she said.

"I've struggled with this for years but I have great faith and trust in God and he gives me the strength and courage to get through each day. The only way I can have peace is just to let it go.

"I have a lot of determination in me. I was determined to get on in life. I wanted to have a good life."

Ms Barrett is married with five children. She said her family have no relationship with her father.

Ms Barrett said that she has explained the situation to some of her children in order to make them aware and protect them from abuse.

"The youngest is six and the eldest is 21. I explained to the younger kids that my dad wasn't a very good dad and he has to go to jail. The eldest I explained in a way that's age-appropriate. I don't want to take away their childhood but I feel they should know, we should talk abuse," she said.

"My dad never saw any of my kids. My eldest son, he was with me when I confronted my dad [about the abuse]. He sat at the table with me. Other than that my dad has no relationship with my kids."

Ms Barrett said her husband was a great support to her and he came into her life "at just the right time".

"He's my best friend, he's my counsellor, he's everything in one."

Recalling the abuse this morning, Ms Barrett said the ordeal left her very withdrawn as a child.

Amy Barrett and her sister Melissa O’Keeffe pictured leaving the Central Criminal Court in Dublin
Amy Barrett and her sister Melissa O’Keeffe pictured leaving the Central Criminal Court in Dublin

"It was difficult because you're trying to live as normal as you can and pretend that you have a normal family. The strain is incredibly different. I've always held back, I've always been quiet and I've always been really nervous.

"I didn't get involved in sports. It was very hard to concentrate. I remember even struggling through my Leaving Cert... but thank God I got through it."

Ms Barrett said she first broke her silence about what was happening to her though a phone call with the Rape Crisis Centre in Cork in 1999.

"To be honest because it was the first time I spoke about the abuse... those were the days that I just wanted to give up. They pulled me out of it and gave me the skills I needed to deal with life after that.

Ms Barrett said the abuse began when she was about seven or eight-years-old and continued until she was 11 or 12.

"The physical pain of it I remember that. I didn't understand what Dad was doing to me. I thought this was what dads do. I didn't question it. I knew the signs, I knew when it was coming. There was a familiar pattern."

"[He] has a split personality. Before the abuse he was really nice to me, almost buttering me up... I knew it was coming then," she exlained.

Ms Barrett said she only discovered that her sister Melissa was also being abused later on into her teens but said it was "very hard" to talk about the abuse then.

Ms Barrett said she found the strength to report her father to the guards in 2014 as she was worried he would abuse another victim.

"I went to the guards in 2014. I was actually getting treatment for my panic attacks. I was talking to the counsellor and I thought 'I need to do this'. My dad was living with another woman and there was a little girl in that house."

Ms Barrett explained that the sisters wanted to waive their right to anonymity because they wanted to break the "shame and silence" around abuse.

"We wanted to get it out there, to help other people out there - there are too many victims out there, there's too much silence around abuse. People don't talk enough about abuse. I think there's a lot more going on than we realise."

When asked if she felt justice was served, Ms Barrett replied: "as much that is possible in this country, yes".

"The system is bad but the people we met along the way in the system were fantastic."

Advising victims of abuse, Ms Barrett said: "I would urge them to come forward and speak to someone. It's not their fault."

If you have been affected by Amy Barrett's story, the Rape Crisis Centre number is 1800 77 88 88.

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