Man sexually exploited 15-year-old he met on mental health website

‘Vulnerable’ man (36) watched girl’s favourite film with her before trying to have sex

A man who sexually exploited a 15-year-old girl he met on a youth mental health website will be sentenced next month.

The court heard the accused watched the victim's favourite film, Frozen, with her before trying to have sex with her.

The 36-year-old man, described by the defence as a “vulnerable” person with few social skills, viewed the teenager as his girlfriend, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard on Tuesday.

The man pleaded guilty to one count of sexually exploiting a child in a Dublin apartment between January 3rd and 4th, 2015. Another count of meeting a child for the purpose of child exploitation was taken into account. This is a child-grooming offence, the court heard. He will be sentenced on February 17th.

Garda Maria Cox told Eilis Brennan, prosecuting, that the then 34-year-old man was living in Dublin in late 2014 when he got chatting to the teenager on Talklife, a messaging app for young people struggling with mental health issues.

The Talklife website describes it as a peer-to-peer support network. It states that it is: “A safe environment for you to talk about life’s ups and downs plus all those little bits in-between”.

The pair told each other their real ages and continued messaging, before meeting in a park in Kildare. They met a few more times in the park and once in the cinema, occasionally "kissing and cuddling", the court heard. The man also sent a photograph of his erect penis to the girl.

In January 2015, he invited the girl to come to his friend's apartment in Dublin, as his friend was away. The pair met at 9am on January 3rd, went to the apartment, drank tea and watched the film, Frozen. "It was her favourite film at that stage," Ms Brennan said.

‘Tense and afraid’

They then went into the bedroom, where the man helped the girl get undressed. They engaged in some sexual acts and he tried to have sex with her but she was “too tense and afraid”, the court heard. “He told her he didn’t want to cause her pain,” Ms Brennan said. The pair then got up and got dressed. “He asked her if she wanted tea,” Ms Brennan said.

The pair later fell asleep in the apartment and when the girl woke up the next morning and turned on her phone, she discovered her family and friends were looking for her. Gardaí­ had also been informed.

The girl’s parents picked her up at a bus stop close to the apartment and she told them what had happened. All contact between the pair ceased and the man was later arrested and charged.

In a victim impact statement read out in court by Ms Brennan, the girl said she found it hard to cope after the incident.

“In some way, I feel I lost part of my childhood,” she said. “I never had any dealings with the gardaí­ before and I was overwhelmed and anxious . . . I don’t trust people as easily as I used to.”

The man, who has no previous convictions, told gardaí­ that he had bonded with the girl as they both suffered from depression.

Defence barrister Tara Burns SC said the man wished to apologise to the victim, whom he viewed as his girlfriend. She submitted that he felt it was a "serious relationship".

“He never even considered that this would have an effect on her,” Ms Burns said. “He saw it as a relationship where each person benefited, where clearly this was not the case. It has had a significant effect on her life and how she sees the world.”

Ms Burns said the man was a “vulnerable person with few social skills”, who was isolated at the time of the incident. He suffered from a depressive illness and anxiety. A psychological report was handed into court along with a number of testimonials. Several family members were in court to support him.

She urged Judge Melanie Greally to impose as lenient a sentence as possible.