'I'm afraid this is not a landmark case'
The Kavanagh sisters have written a book about their experience, Click, Click . . . Was His Signal. Their website is healingthroughhopeandhumour.com
The mothers: 'They are usually victims too'
One the most striking images, as Patrick O’Brien emerged slowly out of the Courts of Criminal Justice on Monday, having been released on bail after his conviction for the sustained rape and assault of his daughter when she was a child, was of the 72-year-old being assisted along the road by his wife, Bridget.
Reporters ran towards them, and one asked if he had any remorse for the abuse of their daughter, Fiona. Bridget O’Brien, one of her hands resting on her husband’s walking frame, urged him, “Don’t answer. Don’t answer.” The victim’s mother seemed to protect the man who had violated her child.
Fiona Doyle, giving evidence in the trial at the Central Criminal Court, had told how her father’s attacks were as “common as having dinner” and of her belief that her mother knew it was happening. “My mother went off to bingo, leaving me at the mercy of my father, almost certainly knowing what he would do to me.” The court heard from Det Garda Darragh Phelan that Doyle’s mother would call Fiona a whore while beating her.
The sexual-abuse support organisation One in Four sees cases of mothers supporting abusers “very regularly”, according to its director, Meave Lewis. In fact, abuse victims can be “almost more damaged” by the impact of their mothers’ apparent failings than by the abuse itself, says Lewis.
But she adds that it would be “very wrong” to blame the mother. One in Four runs a treatment programme for sex offenders, and wives and partners take part. “Initially they are often very supportive of the abuser, placing the blame on the child. Often the mother will have met the man when she was very young. Then, because of her own experiences – she may have been abused herself – when she meets this man who showers her with attention she feels special for the first time, and a deep dependency develops.
“She may see herself as in competition with her children for his affections. It can be as if psychologically she hasn’t grown into an adult role and she can’t see her role as a parent.”
June, Paula and Joyce Kavanagh, the abused sisters whom Rosita Boland interviews on this page, describe in their book, ‘Click, Click . . . Was His Signal’, his control over everyone in the home, including their mother, Joyce. She said in 1991 that she had no idea the abuse was going on. The sisters believe that she did but that she didn’t want to confront it.
In another case, Lorraine Mulvey, a 42-year-old from Cork whose father, Ray, was imprisoned last year for raping her over a period of 12 years, described how he drove a wedge between her and her mother. “If my mother said no to something, my dad would say yes. [He] coached me to detach from my mother, to grow apart from her, and to eventually hate her.”
According to Lewis, in case after case of paternal abuse, people ask where the mother was or, worse, how she could have protected him. “Abuse couldn’t happen in the home without some degree of collusion. It would be a tragedy to blame these women, though, who are usually victims themselves on some level.” - KITTY HOLLAND
The 24-hour national rape-crisis helpline number is 1800-778888