Sonya McLean and Eimear Dodd
A woman and her partner have both been handed lengthy prison sentences for the rape and abuse of her five-year-old daughter and three-and-half-year-old son.
The 40-year-old woman and 52-year-old man stood trial last year having denied a number of offences including rape, oral rape, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, reckless endangerment and false imprisonment of the children at two locations in Connacht on dates between October 2012 and September 2014.
Imposing sentence at the Central Criminal Court on Monday, Mr Justice David Keane said the abuse took place at home, which should have been a place of safety for the children, but was instead a place of pain, fear and mistreatment.
Mr Justice Keane said these were “deplorable crimes against very young children” by those charged with their protection in the place where they should have been most secure.
He handed the man a 19-year sentence and imposed a 14-year sentence on the woman.
Following a six-week trial, the man was convicted last November of one count of raping the girl, six counts of oral rape and one count of falsely imprisoning her.
He was found guilty of one charge of oral rape, one charge of anal rape and one charge of sexually assaulting the young boy.
In relation to her daughter, the mother was convicted of four counts of sexually assaulting her, four counts of sexual exploitation, four counts of oral rape on the basis of joint enterprise, one count of false imprisonment and one count of reckless endangerment.
In relation to her son, the woman was convicted of one count of reckless endangerment.
Mr Justice Keane noted the young ages of both victims at the time and said their respective developmental difficulties would have made them “more vulnerable” than their peers.
Both children had suffered “profound trauma” that may follow them into adulthood, despite the “impressive work” of their foster parents and other agencies, he added.
At a sentence hearing last month, the court heard about an incident in which the then five-year-old girl said she was called into the bedroom by her mother to perform oral sex on the woman’s partner. During this incident, the child was also sexually assaulted by her mother.
The girl also recalled being tied to a chair while her mother and the man went to the pub. When asked by gardaí how she was tied to the chair, she said she had been glued to it.
The girl’s younger brother later disclosed that he was awoken by the man during the night and made to perform oral sex on him. He was three-and-a-half at the time.
The abuse came to light after the children separately made disclosures to their foster parents after being taken into care.
Breach of trust
Mr Justice Keane said the man’s offending falls into the most serious band for sentencing and set a headline sentence of 20 years to reflect the “gravity of the offending”. He said the man, who was living with the woman and her children, denied any responsibility for the care of the children but would have effectively been in loco parentis.
Mr Justice Keane noted the breach of trust in this case, particularly by a mother who participates in or gives tacit permission for the abuse of her children.
He said he disagreed with submissions made previously by counsel that a sentence range of 10-15 years was appropriate for the woman due to difficulties in relation to her intellectual functioning.
Mr Justice Keane said he did not accept a suggestion that the woman’s culpability was reduced by a suggestion that she had acted under the influence of the man.
He noted the woman denies any involvement in the offences and initially blamed others before claiming the girl fabricated the abuse.
The judge said no credit is available to either defendant as they do not accept the verdicts of the jury, have not expressed remorse and have not taken any steps towards rehabilitation.
Mr Justice Keane said he took in account as mitigation both defendants’ previous good character, their addiction issues, difficult family backgrounds and the time-lapse between the reporting of the offences and the trial.
He noted that the man has a work history and did not say the children were lying when interviewed by gardaí, but claimed they were mistaken.
Mr Justice Keane said he accepted that the woman’s mild to moderate intellectual disability may make it more difficult for her to cope in prison.
He imposed a sentence of 19 years on the man in relation to the counts of rape, six years for the false imprisonment and eight years for the sexual assaults, with all sentences to run concurrently.
Mr Justice Keane handed the woman a sentence of 14 years in respect of the rape counts, eight years for sexual exploitation, five years for sexual assault, five years for the reckless endangerment of both children and four years for the false imprisonment of the girl, with all sentences to run concurrently.
Mr Justice Keane refused to suspend any portion of the sentences as there is “no realistic prospect” of encouraging rehabilitation.
He noted both defendants would be added to the sexual offenders register and ordered they are supervised by the Probation Service for two years post-release.
Mr Justice Keane expressed his hope that the children would “draw strength” from the jury’s acceptance of their evidence and wished them well for the future. He also expressed his “sincere admiration” for the fortitude shown by both children throughout the process.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can call the national 24-hour Rape Crisis Helpline at 1800-77 8888, access text service and webchat options at drcc.ie/services/helpline/, or visit Rape Crisis Help.
In the case of an emergency, always dial 999/112.