Pensioner gets two year sentence for sexually abusing sister-in-law
A 74-year-old Kerry man has received a two year sentence for sexually abusing his sister-in-law in the seventies after the judge noted this is the maximum sentence permissible under the law at the time.
The woman said that she did not complain about what happened at the time because she “was taught not to question my elders”.
Ms Justice Margaret Heneghan imposed a two-year sentence with the final six months suspended and six months post release supervision. She also ordered the man have no unsupervised access to children.
The judge noted that under the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1935, which was in place at the time of the abuse, the maximum term she could impose is two years for a first offence.
The maximum term for the equivalent offence if it occurred today is 14 years.
The judge said that it was open to her to impose consecutive sentences on each of the eight counts but that case law states that consecutive sentences should be used sparingly and are not appropriate for offending against a single victim.
She took into account the age and health problems of the abuser as well as defence evidence that the offences were “not necessarily the most serious.”
Ms Justice Heneghan rejected a defence application to impose a fully suspended sentence on the basis that a loss of reputation in the accused’s small community is sufficient punishment.
Reading her own victim impact statement to the court, the woman said that her reporting of the abuse at the hands of a respected family member had a “devastating impact” on her family. “Some are supportive, but the majority find it hard to deal with”, she said, adding that she consequently “felt isolated and blamed”.
The man, who cannot be named to protect the identity of the now 53-year-old woman, pleaded not guilty at the Central Criminal Court to 11 counts of indecent assault on various dates between January 1, 1971 and December 31, 1974.
The man was found guilty by a jury of eight men and four women after a four-day trial. The jury were in disagreement on the final three counts.
Prosecuting Counsel Paul Burns SC told the court that the abuse began when the woman was 10 years of age and mainly occurred at the man’s house in Kerry, where the victim would often stay the night when visiting her older sister.
The court heard that there was also one incident of abuse at another relative’s house, when the woman was alone and the man turned up at the front door uninvited.
The woman told her family of the abuse in 1986, but did not report it to gardaí until 2007. When the man was taken into custody and questioned in January 2008, he told gardaí that the allegations were ‘all lies’ and he ‘never touched a child in his life’.
The woman told the court that her sister, who was married to the accused, was like a ‘surrogate mother’ to her due to a 14 year age gap. She visited her sister at least once a month and often slept over.
The woman told the court how the man used to come into the room when the other children were asleep and start pulling her bed sheets off her. When she tried to push him off and protested, he would tell her ‘Shush you’ll wake the children’.
She told the court that man abused her between 30 and 40 times, but that it became less frequent in 1974 after which it eventually stopped.
She told the court how he would put his fingers inside her and use his tongue to penetrate her. ‘I knew it was wrong. He hurt me, he always hurt me,’ she said.
She said the abuse always followed a pattern, lasted about ten minutes and would stop when the man heard a noise in the house and thought someone else was awake.
She said that on one occasion the man’s baby son was sleeping in a cot in the same room, while he abused her.
In her victim impact statement the woman said that she “suffered feelings of depression and contemplated taking my own life. I have been plagued with flashbacks, leading to anxiety and feelings of vulnerability.”
Defence Counsel Dominic McGinn SC asked for leniency in sentencing due to the man’s mature years.
He also pointed out that the man has no previous convictions and that his loss of standing in his community would be a serious punishment.
By Conor Gallagher