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Man avoids jail for historical sex attacks on cousin

A 52-year-old Belclare man has been given a 16-month suspended sentence and ordered to pay €16,000 in compensation to his cousin who he sexually assaulted when she was ten and he was fourteen.

A jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict against Martin O’Brien, with an address at Gurrane, Belclare, Tuam, for six counts of indecent assault on Susan Goodwin (nee Murphy) following a trial at Galway Circuit Criminal Court in June.

At a sitting of the court in Loughrea on Friday last, O’Brien was handed a 16-month suspended sentence by Judge Brian O’Callaghan for the assaults which took place between June 1, 1985, and August 31, 1985, at Ms Goodwin’s parents’ home in Moneymore, Oranmore.

In a victim impact statement, which she read in court, Ms Goodwin said she had been left a prisoner of sexual abuse, physically and mentally, since the summer of 1985 when “a simple game of mammys and daddys changed my life forever”.

Detective Garda Claire Harney told the court that Ms Goodwin was indecently assaulted by O’Brien in a bedroom of the Murphy family home and had been convicted of five separate incidents, between the dates in question, for acts which included touching his victim all over her body and touching her vaginal area with his mouth.

Ms Goodwin’s abuser had on another occasion between June 1, 1985, and August 31, 1985, in a tent in her parents’ garden at Moneymore, Oranmore, indecently assaulted her by using his finger to penetrate her vagina.

Ms Goodwin, who waived her right to anonymity so that her abuser could be named, told the court of the devastating impact of the abuse.

“I do not live a life. I am putting in the hours waiting for this life to be over. I do not remember an existence before the abuse.

“I am envious when I hear somebody has died. My eyes water. I think how fortunate they are that they no longer have to live in this world,” she said in her victim impact statement.

Ms Goodwin said she has lived in constant fear, afraid to attend family weddings and funerals, and said the months leading up to the court proceedings had been extremely difficult due to “the thought of having to be in the same room as that monster”.

“As a result of the sexual abuse during that summer, at the age of ten, I became very body aware. That winter, I became obsessed with feeling my tummy every single night in bed. I did not know the facts of life and feared that I might be pregnant.

“In a subconscious way, this was the beginning of my eating disorders, an illness that is very much present 38 years later. I couldn’t control what happened to me so I started controlling my food,” she said.

In addition to her eating disorders, Ms Goodwin said she had taken to extreme levels of cleaning and exercising as a coping mechanism.

“Sexual abuse has destroyed my whole existence. All I wanted to do is escape from my body and mind. The reality is I can’t. I have to bring this body around with me 24/7. It’s a constant reminder of the abuse. I feel like a prisoner of it.”

Ms Goodwin said she has carried shame for her whole life and she was constantly reminded of her abuser’s words.

“My brain always reminds me of the words my abuser said to me: ‘Don’t tell anyone because they would think I was weird.’ I was frequently told to just get over it. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t.

“It’s only in the last few years and years of psychology, I have realised that maybe I don’t have to just get over it – that this isn’t my shame to carry; that it is something that should never have happened,” she said.

Seeing the vulnerability of her own children at ten years old had spurred her to speak out and ensure that her abuse was no longer a family secret.

“I had disclosed [what happened] in 1991 and it was known but it was swept under the carpet like most family abuse. To stay silent only allows sexual abuse to thrive.

“I have a lot of work to do to heal my mind and my body. I owe it to my husband, my children and most importantly to myself,” she said.

Prosecuting counsel Geri Silke BL told the court that the maximum sentence available to the court, based on the laws that were in place at the time of the abuse, was two years in prison on each of the six counts.

Defence barrister Barry White SC sought to have reporting restrictions maintained, to protect O’Brien’s identity, arguing that he was a child at the time of the offences.

He said his client had lost his job with a medical devices company in Galway due to his conviction and would be placed on the Sex Offenders Register. O’Brien was a married father-of-three with no previous convictions, said Mr White.

Judge O’Callaghan said there was nothing in law preventing him from lifting reporting restrictions and he was granting an application from the prosecution to do so.

In sentencing, he said cases such as this were often referred to as historic, but there was nothing historic about the impact on O’Brien’s victim whom he paid tribute to for her “highly and completely impressive” victim impact statement.

He said the court rightly had to consider the offender’s age at the time of the offence.

The Children Act 2001 stated that a child under the age of twelve was incapable of committing an offence; a child aged between twelve and 14 did not have the capacity to know an act was wrong; but O’Brien was over 14 years when his offending took place, said Judge O’Callaghan.

He said O’Brien had pleaded not guilty but offered no denial of his offences and claimed he did not recall what happened.

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He had expressed no remorse on the basis that “I can’t remember so I can’t be remorseful”, said Judge O’Callaghan, and that was “regretful”.

As a result, “the victim had to go through the trauma of preparing for and going through a trial and that was, to put it mildly, not pleasant”, said the Judge.

Taking counts one to five together, all of which occurred in the bedroom of the Murphy’s home, he imposed a ten-month sentence which he reduced to eight months post mitigation.

For the sixth count, which took place in a tent in the garden, Judge O’Callaghan imposed a further ten-month sentence which he again reduced to eight months.

16 months in total was “fair and proportionate”, he said and he would not be reducing it any further.

Suspending the sentence in its totality for three years, Judge O’Callaghan said he would do so on the basis that O’Brien must pay €16,000 in compensation to his victim within six months.

Declining to hear details of the convicted abuser’s financial circumstances, he said this amount was supposed to be “painful” and if it required him to sell his car to pay it, he would have to do that.

He said he hoped this would mean Ms Goodwin could take a “seriously good holiday”, as if he were to incarcerate O’Brien, he would likely only spend three months behind bars.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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