A man has been sentenced to two and a half years in prison for sexually assaulting a three-year-old boy at a homeless hub in Dublin.
Gheorghe Rafaila (32) pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting the toddler while both were resident at a Dublin hotel on July 22nd, 2019.
At a hearing at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court on Wednesday, Judge Martin Nolan handed down a two-and-a-half year sentence but suspended the final year on the basis that the sexual assault at the lower range of offending.
Judge Nolan ordered Rafaila to leave the country immediately on his release from custody and return to his native Romania.
Sergeant Eoin Treacy told counsel for the State that the assault lasted about four minutes and took place in a courtyard where Rafaila was sitting on a bench beside his wife.
CCTV footage of the entire incident was played to the court showing a small boy approaching the bench and interacting with Rafaila and his wife until he is called back by his mother, who had witnessed the incident from inside her room.
In a statement to gardaí, the mother of the child said she looked out her window and saw the accused putting his hand over her son’s leg over his shorts and on his groin.
The woman said she could see the man joking and laughing with his wife and that she went out to the courtyard and called her son back.
When the woman asked her son what had happened, the boy demonstrated that the man had pulled out his penis and played with his testicles.
The boy said: “Mam, are you going to kill him?” and the mother replied she was not. She brought the child back to the accused and the boy said “Do not touch my willy again,” to which Rafaila burst out laughing, the court heard.
The woman filed a complaint to gardaí and the child told specialist interviewers what had happened.
Rafaila was arrested on the day of the incident and cooperated with gardaí. The court heard he was apologetic but that when gardaí asked him whether he thought it was appropriate to touch a child’s genitals, he replied: “In the Roma community, this is something playful; maybe here it is not.”
Maurice Coffey SC, defending, said that while the assault was “indecent”, “distasteful” and “reprehensible” in our society, Rafaila had denied that there was any sexual motive behind his actions.
“While it is outside our ken and belief and understanding of what is normal, there seems to be some credence to Rafaila’s account that there was no sexual motive, given the close proximity of his wife,” said Mr Coffey.
Sergeant Treacy responded by saying that he was not aware of any society where such behaviour was acceptable.
The sergeant accepted that Rafaila had apologised for his actions in that they had caused upset to the child and his family.
‘Highly reckless’ behaviour
Judge Nolan said that without a doubt, Rafaila had sexually assaulted the child.
The judge said he was not sure that there was any practice among a certain segment of Romanian nationals to “act in a certain way towards children’s genitalia”.
“The accused was highly reckless in coming to the conclusion that the same customs were present in this country. He knew where he was. It’s hard to believe that this defendant would have thought that the same customs would operate within this country,” added Judge Nolan.
The judge added that the young age of the child was an aggravating factor in the assault.
Rafaila has a number of previous convictions from another jurisdiction, including theft, assault and robbery, but nothing of a sexual nature, the court heard.
The child’s mother was present in court and her victim impact statement was handed to the court, but not read aloud.
The court heard that Rafaila was arrested in the UK, taken into custody and later extradited to Ireland.
Mr Coffey said Rafaila has five children and had been working with Panda Waste as a sorter at the time of the offence.
Rafaila’s wife wrote a letter to the judge explaining that she was in a very difficult situation without her husband providing for the family, as he had been the primary earner.
The sentence was backdated to last October 14th, when Rafaila went into custody in the UK.
Rafaila was also ordered to be of good behaviour for one year on his release from prison.