weight lifted | 

Woman raped by brother when she was a child can live 'normal life' following conviction

Nora Hegarty’s brother was jailed last week and now she has finally heaped on to his shoulders the hurt, shame and pain of being repeatedly abused
Nora Hegarty, whose brother John Paul was last week jailed in Cork for seven years. Picture by Daragh Mc Sweeney

Nora Hegarty, whose brother John Paul was last week jailed in Cork for seven years. Picture by Daragh Mc Sweeney

Ali Bracken

When Nora Hegarty saw her brother sentenced to seven years in prison for repeatedly raping her when she was child, she felt a weight had been lifted off her and that she could now focus on living a “normal and happy life”.

Her brother, John Paul Hegarty (41), was last week jailed for seven years for the abuse which took place during the formative years of her life at the family home in Glanmire, Co Cork.

His conviction and sentencing has given her new hope for the future.

Ms Hegarty made the difficult decision to waive her right to anonymity in order to identify her abuser for two reasons.

Not only did she want to pass the shame and hurt she felt over the abuse on to her brother, but she also wanted to send a message to other victims of sexual assault and rape that they need not “suffer in silence”.

Abuser John Paul Hegarty. Picture by Cork Courts Limited

Abuser John Paul Hegarty. Picture by Cork Courts Limited

In an interview with the Sunday World, she said it was important for her to send a message to other victims of sexual abuse that they should feel no shame.

“This is one of the reasons why I waived my anonymity: I wanted to show others who have lived through the experiences that I have lived that they can get justice,” she said.

“They have nothing to be ashamed of. They should hold their heads up. They don’t need to suffer in silence. There are people who will support them all the way through. For me, my investigating garda, everyone at the Protective Service Unit in Cork city, were there for me throughout this process.”

John Paul Hegarty, of Castle View, Little Island, Co Cork, was convicted by a jury last October at the Central Criminal Court sitting in Cork of 19 counts of rape as well as other offences. He was aged between 15 and 18 when he perpetrated the abuse.

Ms Hegarty said despite the number of rape charges on the indictment, she was raped by John Paul on an almost daily basis for three years.

But now she said she hoped she can finally look towards having a future that is not consumed by memories of the abuse she suffered.

“I feel that now I can finally look to the future, I never was able to do that before. Where before there was only blackness, I hope now the light will finally filter through,” she said.

“I hope to just live a normal life, find things that make me happy and finally put what happened to me in the past behind me,” Ms Hegarty said.

In relation to her brother’s seven-year sentence, she said: “For me, this was never about putting John Paul in prison, this was always about just being able to let go of what happened to me and handing the hurt and pain to the person that caused it.

“I suffered my whole life with this. I thought Judge Murphy, when she was handing down the sentence, summed up the case very well. There are no winners in this case. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not my fault that families are hurting, I did nothing wrong. It was all John Paul.”

From the moment John Paul was found guilty, she said she felt an immediate sense of relief — that finally the “shame and hurt” she carried around over the abuse since childhood was immediately handed to her brother.

“When I heard the jury return a guilty verdict, my immediate emotion was just relief, relief that this journey to get justice was finally over.

“This journey had been my life. It had consumed me for so long. I finally felt that the shame and hurt I had been carrying was handed over to the person who should be carrying it. It was never my shame to carry. I want to thank the nine men and three women of the jury who delivered that verdict and finally made me feel validated after all these years.”

Ms Hegarty also praised investigating gardaí in Cork and added her appreciation for the outpouring of support she has received since her brother’s sentencing last week. “I’m blown away with the messages of love and support I have received.”

In her victim impact statement, Ms Hegarty detailed her torment. The abuse only ended when she started her periods as John Paul feared she would become pregnant.

She told the court how the abuse had derailed her life.

“There are no winners in all of this. I played happy families so much that I ended up as bridesmaid at his wedding. I knew what John Paul was doing. He was trying to make sure his dirty secret didn’t get out again.

“It breaks my heart that there are families torn apart from all of this, but I couldn’t go on suffocating.”

Ms Hegarty said her childhood had been taken from her by John Paul, her older brother. “John Paul took my childhood from me and I can never get it back. In fact, he destroyed my whole life. Because John Paul began sexually abusing me at such a young age, all I am left with is horrible dark memories, feelings of being scared, of not understanding what was happening to me.”

Nora said she used to “hope and pray” John Paul would leave her alone on any given day.

“Memories of my body and mind being so programmed just to lie there and stay quiet while he abused me on such a frequent basis. I feared sleep. I tried to stay awake but would eventually fall asleep waking up again in sweats.

“To this day, I have to have a light on when I sleep and wake up in sweats.”

Ms Hegarty told the court she has suffered severe depression and anxiety as a result of what happened to her when she was a young girl. On her 30th birthday, she reported the matter to gardaí as she couldn’t live with it any longer.

“I did nothing wrong but all through my life I felt it was me in the wrong. I was not going to be silenced any more. I did this for all the people out there in the same situation as me. I did it for all of them so they might have the courage to speak out.

“Don’t be afraid. You will never know the strength you have until you actually need it.

“I am annoyed and hurt that John Paul did not plead guilty so that I would not have to go through a trial. He was found guilty and the truth is finally out.”

Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy said cases of inter-familial sexual abuse cause “devastation” not only to the victim, but also to the families impacted by it.

The judge said she was struck how the mother of the victim “found herself in the awful position of having to give evidence in a trial where her daughter was the victim and her son the perpetrator”.

Ms Justice Murphy said John Paul repeatedly e nquired of the victim as to whether she had started menstruating and that Nora thought what was occurring was normal as she “knew no other reality”.

Ms Justice Murphy praised Nora for her “cogent, articulate” victim impact statement and said John Paul, who was self-employed in the field of computers, still did not accept the verdict of the court.

The judge said John Paul Hegarty, who has no previous convictions, had in the past admitted sexual activities had occurred with his sister but had “minimised it”.

She said she was in no doubt Hegarty had invited Nora to be a bridesmaid at his wedding in order to “silence” his victim.

She jailed John Paul Hegarty for eight years, suspending the last year of the sentence. “He stole her childhood and he derailed her adulthood. The abuse had a devastating impact on her life,” the judge said.

Ms Justice Murphy also expressed sympathy for “all of the people damaged” by what Hegarty had inflicted on his youngest sibling.

Nora Hegarty thanked her mother for being supportive as well as her uncle Dave and aunt Norma, Det Sgt John O’Connell, gardaí, her legal team, her friends and the Support After Crime Service.

If you have been affected by issues raised in this article please contact the Rape Crisis Centre on freephone 1800 77 88 88

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