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Dearbhail McDonald: Record damages send a message to potential sex abusers

IT took less than an hour for a High Court jury to award Jacqueline O'Toole a record €4m in a civil action she took against her abuser.

Weeks earlier, the DPP told Joseph Carrick (76) she would not be pursuing him in the criminal courts after four attempts to prosecute him for sexual offences in less than a year had failed.

Ireland has an appalling success rate when it comes to solving rape and sexual assault cases. Fewer than one in 10 cases reported to gardai results in a criminal conviction, a devastating figure considering we have very good rates of conviction when cases do go to trial and tough sentences when people are convicted.

In the past, rape and sexual assault victims left their slow pursuit for justice at the doors of our criminal courts. Then they started to sue as well.

The trend to sue perpetrators of abuse for damages has been inspired, in part, by the scandalous abuse of children by priests and others in state-run religious institutions.

These scandals led to widespread legal actions against dioceses and the setting up of a redress board which could cost taxpayers up to €1bn.

Victims such as Ms O'Toole and her cousin Geraldine Nolan, who was awarded €700,000 by a separate jury who found she too had been raped and assaulted by Carrick, face an uphill battle to recover their judgments.

Ms O'Toole's €4m award, the highest ever of its kind, is vulnerable to a Supreme Court appeal.

Carrick, a married father of five, has also dropped his lawyers because of his "deteriorating financial situation".

The difficulties of securing damages in civil actions by victims of abuse cannot be underestimated.

But in addition to criminal prosecutions, such awards send a message to potential abusers that their crimes will not be tolerated.

Irish Independent