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As survivors of childhood sexual abuse, we are hurt, disappointed, shocked and insulted at some of the sentences judges hand down every day for crimes of sexual abuse. It is staggering that any judge could ever completely suspend a sentence in the case of a sexual predator.
On the 25th April 2018, Judge Sean O’Donnabhain at Cork Circuit Criminal Court stated when referring to the Priest, John Calanan (aged 79) who had plead guilty to sexually abusing three girls, that his breach of trust had been ‘phenomenal’. He went on to say ‘it was clear that Calanan was a serial offender. However, his decision when passing a sentence was that there was no point in sending Calanan to prison. He stated that his sentence was based on Calanan’s age, health and the fact that he was attending Gracewell Clinic (a treatment centre for sexual abusers).
Calanan a repeat offender had previously been sentenced to eight years (three suspended) in July 2012 for attempted rape and indecent assault. In April 2015 Calanan received a three-year sentence (one year suspended) for indecently assaulting a girl. In March of 2018 Calanan again received a two-year sentence for indecently assaulting girl.
If Judge O’Donnabhain had any real understanding of sexual crimes and the people who commit them he would know that paedophiles do not retire. This continued unfair sentencing serves no one. If the perpetrator avoids paying the price of destroying not only the life of the child but their family, friends, relatives and our communities, how can this be justice.
Perpetrator Focused Systems
To the victims of these crimes, it is apparent that all consideration is directed solely toward the perpetrator and in cases of a sexual nature, this does not result in a just or fair outcome. Victims should always come first. The system is simply not equipped to handle sexual crimes and it is time for a complete overhaul. The public perception is that Judges appear to hand out random sentences with no apparent rhyme or reason to them. Transparency and accountability is called for. It is unhealthy for any individual to hold the amount of power judges appear to have.
Who can victims turn to when it appears that Judges believe that they know and understand all crimes that come before the courts. To victims, the daily media reports around sentencing of sexual crimes would indicate that is not the case. Judges seem to apply the same rational in sentencing across all crimes. This does not work in crimes of a sexual nature and the continuing issues around judges and all those within the legal profession not receiving mandatory specialised training in this field is no longer acceptable.
Our judicial system appears to allow men to rape with impunity and knowingly or not the system has now become part of the problem. It appears to be yet another insurmountable hurdle for victims of these crimes to overcome.
Shocking lack of Understanding
The Irish times reported on a case on May 3rd, 2018, where we believe a complete miscarriage of justice occurred. Justice Patrick McCarthy at the Dublin Central Criminal Court acquitted a man of 21 counts of anally raping his wheelchair-bound stepdaughter. The victim had been abused between 2003 and 2013 when she was aged between eight and 18.
The jury deliberated for only six hours before returning a verdict of not guilty of all 69 counts. The complete lack of understanding around victim psychology and behaviour led to doubt around the perpetrators guilt. The victim’s inconsistencies in recalling details of her abuse was referred to as an issue. If the jury had the benefit of hearing from an expert in the field of abuse who could explain the impacts of trauma on victim’s behaviour and recalling memories, they would at least have been armed with an understanding of why there appeared to be inconsistencies in her account.
The stepfather’s barrister also questioned why the young girl did not disclose to the social workers that visited her home on several occasions over a period of five years. Again, the complete lack of understanding by the jury around how victims of abuse carry the responsibility, shame and guilt for what was done to them and how disclosure of this crime often feels more like a confession that a reporting of a crime they would again at least been in possession of accurate information before deciding on this life changing verdict.
Again, this man was released because of poor education about how trauma impacts the lives of victims.
We do not recommend mandatory sentencing for all sex offenders as we believe that all crimes of a sexual nature require an individual approach. However, consistency in sentencing is important. The sentence should be linked to mandatory treatment for the offender with all privileges including any time off their sentence for ‘good behaviour’ tied in with their level of participation in treatment programmes.
For sentencing to be consistent the judges need to be mandated to adhere to agreed upon guidelines. We feel there is a real need to consider the following:
- Non-custodial Sentences: It is unacceptable that judges even consider the complete suspension of a sentence of someone who has committed a crime that will leave its victim with a personal life sentence.
- Concurrent Sentences: This is not a deterrent. A concurrent sentence sends the message that the perpetrator is only paying for one incident or one crime.
- Poor/Lenient Sentences: For victims of childhood sexual abuse the crime is tantamount to murder. The grooming process which can take weeks months or even years represents premeditation of a crime. Not to sound too dramatic, but the years that the child experiences sexual abuse on a regular basis is no different psychologically to being held captive and tortured. The experience of rape itself causes lifelong problems with sexuality creating untold damage to marriages or any intimate relations for the life of the victim. How can a judge when sentencing someone who has inflicted all this damage on their victims automatically give them a reduction for so called good behaviour or because they plead guilty?
- Age of Offender: We hear time and time again that the judge thinks that the plaintive is too old and unlikely to reoffend. This clearly demonstrates the complete lake of understanding of these crimes. It sends a clear message to offenders that if their victims don’t speak up before they reach a certain age they will escape having to pay for their crimes. It is widely accepted and understood that the crime of childhood sexual abuse can take its victims many years to speak out and a lifetime to heal from. This decision once again lays blame on the shoulders of the victim for not speaking out sooner
- Position Held by Offender: the perpetrators good standing in the community is of no bearing when it comes to this crime. If those within the legal profession understood the most common profile of perpetrators they would understand that they are likely to be middle class males, hold positions of trust within their communities and family orientated. So, taking an offenders position or standing within their community makes no sense whatsoever.
The Need for Strategic Thinking
We have a history of poor investment in Ireland in not only how we treat victims of sexual crimes, but inappropriate funding of vital specialised services for those victims and their families. This along with failing to track and build detailed statistics that would feed into future service planning and investments makes it easier for the government to bury their heads and continue to underfund the current service providers.
The complete lack of strategic thinking and understanding around the magnitude of these crimes will only continue to ensure that we all pay for this crime as it impacts and shapes all our communities.
This crime is not going away and it’s time to wake up and do the right thing.
23rd May 2018 – June