'I'm afraid this is not a landmark case'
The sisters urge other women who have been abused to go to court. “Not everyone needs to give up their anonymity,” Paula says.
“Without a doubt, going to court was the pinnacle of our lives at the time,” June says. “It was acknowledgment that there had been a crime against us. It was the first time we ever experienced a power higher than our father’s.”
“In a family where there’s abuse, a tremendous amount of grooming goes into play,” Joyce says. “The only adult in the house is the abuser. He’s the controller. Everyone else gets brainwashed and controlled, and you only realise that when you finally come out the other end.”
“The problem most people have when stories like Fiona’s come out is that everyone wants to know about the mother – why she didn’t intervene – and it takes the focus off the father and the abuser,” says Paula. “But, in most cases, the mothers are as much the victims.”
“We need to make it okay to be able to discuss sexual abuse,” June says. “To normalise those conversations in society, even though it is an uncomfortable topic.”
They all say that if the original outcome of this week’s case had happened and been upheld before they considered reporting their father’s abuse, it would not have put them off going to court.
“We wanted our day in court, and we wanted him in court. But I think some women would have been put off,” Paula says.
“In some ways, the damage is done, even though bail has been rescinded,” says June. “I spoke to someone early in the week about the initial court finding. She has been abused and was considering reporting it. She told me that she wouldn’t bother now.”
When Trish Kelly was living near a small town in Co Mayo some years ago, she was sexually assaulted by a male relative. She felt she had no alternative but to go to court. “It was suicide or report him,” she says. “His actions penetrated my mind, my heart, my body, my soul, every fibre of my being, and I could not forget it.”
Trish kept her anonymity during the case, but she discovered that her identity was known anyway. “Word got out. There is no such thing as anonymity in small-town Ireland. I thought going to court would prove it happened to the community, and that I was right, but instead I got abuse.
“The hardest thing about court is that I felt I was the one on trial: before, during and after court. The waiting for the case to be heard was almost as bad as what had happened.”
The perpetrator, who pleaded guilty, was sentenced to five years, with the last two suspended. He served less than a year. “I had no knowledge that he was coming out,” Trish says.
The personal impact of her case, and the way she perceived it was being discussed in the community, made Trish move abroad.
“I had to leave, because essentially I was only going home there to sleep. People pretended they didn’t know me. I felt like the dirt on my shoes was worth more than me; that’s the way I felt. I was treated like the perpretator and he like the victim. I knew there was no future for me there.
“I got justice in court but not in society. I thought the outcome of the case would make other people believe it was true, but I was ostracised. And I was the one who had done nothing wrong. I was the victim.
“Sexual crime against adult females is today’s cancer. There is so much stigma out there about being a victim. The thinking is: she asked for it. Nobody can blame a child, but when it comes to the female adult, blame by others takes on a totally different perspective.”