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Category: Blog – May 2018

Germaine, Germaine, Germaine!

Like most women and men who have experienced rape, we read Germain Greer’s call for punishment for rape to be reduced with anger and disbelief.

Sadly, this is not the first time reduced sentences in rape cases has been an issue, as every day within out court rooms, judges, juries and those that are either defending the accused or prosecuting them fail to understand the complexities of the damage that rape does to its victims.

What makes it even more upsetting is the fact that Germaine herself is a victim of rape which could lend weight to the argument that victims should just ‘get over it’ as though it is a common cold. As this is the type of thinking we are trying to change through education and understanding this crime, she is doing a great disservice to women throughout the world with these words.

Germaine adds insult to injury by saying that rape should be viewed as ‘non-consensual, lazy, careless and insensitive’. This is clearly a woman that has chosen to never explore her own rape and how it has influenced her thoughts and behaviours. Rather than deal with her own ‘stuff’, she is suggesting other rape victims move on and forget it ever happened, with no consideration to what the experience has done to them physically, psychologically and emotionally.

Greer goes on to say “You might want to believe that the penis is a lethal weapon and that all women live in fear of that lethal weapon, well that’s bullshit. It’s not true. We don’t live in terror of the penis … A man can’t kill you with his penis.”

I’m sorry to say that a penis is and has all through history been used against women as a very powerful weapon. We believe that what Greer is saying is very dangerous at a time when we are finally putting women’s issues at the top of the agenda.

We simply don’t understand how a woman who experienced a violent rape can speak about it in this way.

For victims, the effects of rape can be devastating. They feel substantial distress and display a wide range of psychological symptoms, both short- and long-term.  They feel powerless, ashamed, and distrust others. The abuse, if it happens in childhood, disrupts their development and increases the likelihood that they will experience other sexual assaults in the future.

In the short term they can exhibit regressive behaviours such as, sleep disturbances, eating problems, behaviour and/or performance problems at school/work and unwillingness to participate in social activities.

Long term they can suffer with anxiety, self-destructive behaviours such as alcoholism or drug abuse, anxiety attacks, and insomnia.

Victims feel fear and anxiety in response to triggers which pop up without warning. These triggers can be simply things like smells, expressions that remind them of the rapist or something that is said innocently.  They can experience difficulties in forming relationships and can either indulge in inappropriate sex or avoid sex altogether.

They can feel anger at the rapist and those around them who failed to protect them. But even worse still they can direct anger at themselves for not stopping the rape as it took place.  They feel betrayed and powerless and often feel stigmatised by the shame, guilt and take on the responsibility for what happened to them.

They are now likely to have a higher rate of being revictimized as their self-worth is either low or non-existent. Due to the rape they feel worthless and abnormal and hold a distorted view of sex, and without intervention they can become suicidal.

We believe if this was known and understood by the masses we would have a better chance of making appropriate changes to how sexual abuse is viewed and dealt with.

Thank you, Germaine, for making the argument for the importance of dealing with your ‘STUFF’.

The Kavanagh Sisters -31st May 2018

How Do Judges Get It So Wrong?

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.

Repeat Offender

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.

Recommendations

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

Consistent Sentencing for Sexual Perpetrators

The call for mandatory life sentencing for anyone that is found guilty of a sexual crime was put to the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charles Flanagan, TD, on the Claire Byrne Live show on RTE on the 31st April,2018. He responded by saying “I’m not a fan of mandatory sentencing, it’s been proven in the past that it hasn’t achieved what it’s been designed to do as a deterrent. He then stated that he was looking into setting up yet another committee that we fear will again 1. Take too long to set up and 2. Nothing will get done as a result. This is a disappointing and unfortunately typical response from our government representatives.

When you read the horrifying statistics around the reporting of these crimes and how few cases make it to court we must ask what we can do differently. Back in September 2017 the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre stated in their submission to the Policing Authority that less than 10% of those who are victims of sexual offences will report it.  And of those who do report, the attrition rate between report and prosecution is one of the highest of those studied in Europe.

The submission went on to say that in three out of four cases, victim and perpetrator are known to each other including those who have suffered abuse as children.  The relationship that victims have to their abuser is a major factor in why victims struggle to come forward and report the abuse. Add to that, the horrendous treatment victims experience in court, the ridiculous sentences perpetrators receive, and it is surprising we even have 10% coming forward.

In a report published by the Irish Times research, which analysed every rape offence conviction in the Central Criminal Court between 2013 and 2015, they showed that the vast majority, 70 per cent, of offenders received a partially suspended sentence. This is so offensive to victims and unacceptable to those that have shown the courage to come forward.

Examples of this injustice are that on the 18th April, 2018 in the Dublin District Criminal Court Judge Nolan handed down a 5 year sentence with 3 years suspended to Karl Walsh who plead guilty to sexually abusing his five year old cousin over a course of six years

Again, on the 24th of April, 2018 is was reported that a priest that had a previous conviction for sexual abuse received an 18 month fully suspended sentence after pleading guilty to all charges, by Judge Óonnabháin in Cork Circuit Court stating “Given his age and the level of his rehabilitation, I see no point or purpose in imprisoning him at this stage”.

What is a victim of rape or sexual abuse, or indeed any member of the general public to conclude from these sentences?  What message do they receive?  It is this pathetic sentencing and the constant reduction in those already poor sentences, that causes so many victims to lose all faith in the legal system and rethink if they should even bother coming forward and putting themselves through the ordeal of reporting their abuse/rape.

We also ask why a perpetrator gets an automatic reduction in their sentence if they plead guilty. If we have to look at each case individually then this assumption that victims in all situations do not want their day in court is misleading and unfair. If you put your hand up and say ‘yes I raped that child’ how does that automatically mean you should get a lesser punishment for the lifetime damage you have done to your victim.

We must also look at the bigger picture when it comes to mandatory sentencing as it will not be appropriate in all cases.  Sexual crimes occur on a spectrum of abuse, anything from a person exposing themselves to a child to the serial rapist. It will never be a one solution suits all situation.

Also, a mandatory life sentence of 15 years for sexual predators on its own is not the answer and will not change the epidemic of sexual abuse in Ireland. We believe that if the mandatory life sentence was linked to compulsory treatment programmes it would go some way to making a difference and move us towards a justice system that is actively trying to rehabilitate not merely punish. Without treatment programmes, we may be simply kicking the problem further down the road which does nothing to address the issue. However, if the abuser simply attends treatment and does not engage or fully participate then they should risk the possibility of losing privileges and any chance of early release.

We also need to have a much wider discussion around the entire justice/legal system and how it appears completely ill equipped to deal with crimes of a sexual nature. In a recent article published in the Irish Independent on 28th April, 2018, Ms Justice Ní Raifeartaigh said the Supreme Court has said that rape offending should be punished with an immediate and substantial custodial sentence but that there was no information about sentencing in past cases. She went on to say “One judge’s substantial could be four years, and another’s could be 14 years. It’s somewhat bizarre that an area that is so sensitive has so little in the way of guidance for a trial judge.

Lack of justice for victims of abuse has been demonstrated on an almost daily basis calling for a complete overhaul of a system that still looks at defending and prosecuting sexual crimes in the same manner as other crimes.

Each year the DPP get to decide which cases they will bring to court, and those decisions are understandably based on what they believe are winnable cases.  It is utterly bazaar that barristers and lawyers do not have to undergo specialised training around sexual crimes. If you do not fully understand for example that the effects of childhood sexual abuse and just how the damage can last a lifetime, how could you possibly argue a case in front of a judge and jury (who also has no training in this field).

Those arguing on behalf of the victim have a responsibility to become fully informed of the psychological damage that sexual abuse causes its victims. It is abhorrent that they do not insist on this training as a matter of course. Unfortunately, we live in a country where accountability for poor or disastrous decision that impact people’s lives is never addressed.

We challenge anyone who works with, supports or comes in contact with victims of sexual abuse on a professional basis to read our books ‘Click, Click’ and ‘Why go back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse if you really wish to be informed about the lifelong damage that sexual abuse causes to its victims.

We must ensure that the victims at the centre of all these cases are provided with the best possible support/treatment. People are waking up and demanding long overdue change to way sexual crimes are managed and responded to.  It’s time we spoke up and said no more.

The Kavanagh Sisters

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