‘I’d love to say to an abuser: You’re going to get caught’

Sisters fearing questions about sexual history waited decades to make abuse complaints

Geraldine Hughes Byrne and Joan Taite, who were sexually abused as children by Andrew Reilly, who in January was jailed for eight years for his abuse of them. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Geraldine Hughes Byrne and Joan Taite, who were sexually abused as children by Andrew Reilly, who in January was jailed for eight years for his abuse of them. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

When Joan Taite first went to a therapist, in 1988, to talk about the sexual abuse she suffered at the age of 14, she was asked what she wanted to get out of the session.

“To have him charged,” was the reply. She wanted to build up the confidence to go into a Garda station and tell her story. What the therapist told her caused her to wait another 27 years before seeking justice.

“She said to me: ‘I wouldn’t recommend that for you at all, because your sexual history will be brought out in court.’

“I was 29 at this stage. That terrified me. I was a 14-year-old virgin when he abused me, I didn’t have a boyfriend, I’d never kissed a guy. I kind of got angry with it, why did she say that to me?”

She said she couldn’t face that prospect at the time.

It’s bad enough having to talk about how you were abused - but to go into your private life which has nothing to do with being abused, that’s awful

“It was absolutely terrifying. It just threw me. Even though I didn’t have a sexual history. That just threw me. That was exactly why I was going to therapy: to get the confidence to come forward. I always wanted to do it.”

Angry

Sitting in her family home in Dublin, the 57-year-old is still angry about the possibility of being questioned in such a way.

“It’s bad enough having to talk about how you were abused but to go into your private life which has nothing to do with being abused, that’s awful.

“They’re trying to make it look like it’s your fault,” her sister Geraldine Hughes Byrne said. She was abused by the same man and said she was also told her private life could become an open book.

“I’ve always heard that in a rape case they go into everything, they scrutinise everything,” Ms Hughes Byrne said.

In January, the women’s abuser, Andrew Reilly (67), who sometimes goes by the name Eamon, was jailed for eight years. He was convicted following a gruelling trial during which Reilly’s defence told Ms Taite the abuse was consensual and Reilly was having an affair with her.

“I had to wonder: who has an affair with a 14-year-old child?,” she said.

Reilly has rejected the jury’s verdict and has lodged an appeal. He is refusing to engage in sexual-offender treatment in prison.

Ms Taite was raped and sexually abused by Reilly, who has a former address at Nutgrove Avenue, Rathfarnham, in Dublin, from 1973 to 1975. The abuse began when she started baby-sitting Reilly’s children. He came home early one night and raped her.

Ms Hughes Byrne, now 54, was sexually abused three times by Reilly at about the same time period, from when she was 11.

Max Clifford

Ms Taite decided to go to gardaí a few years ago after seeing a news story about the famous UK publicist Max Clifford being jailed for sexual abuse.

I never wanted my mam and dad lying in bed at night thinking of what happened to me... Me as a mother, I know how I would feel

“Just seeing other women do it made me do it. That’s why I want to encourage people to come forward.”

The decision was made easier because the women’s parents had died.

“I never wanted my mam and dad lying in bed at night thinking of what happened to me,” Ms Taite said. “Me as a mother, I know how I would feel. My mam’s four years dead this year so I went the year after she died.”

Ms Hughes Byrne was happy to support her sister but believed, because the abuse against her was less severe, that her role would be confined to backing up Ms Taite’s account of Reilly being a sexual predator.

“I always said I would support Joan and come forward and say what happened to me. It was kind of like more as a character witness. But when I made my statement, the DPP decided to proceed with both cases.”

The women have three reasons for waiving their legal right to anonymity. Number one to is to find out if Reilly has any more victims out there who are waiting to come forward. They have heard rumours but have no concrete evidence. But both point to Reilly’s first words to gardaí when he was arrested: “Only two in 40 years, not bad, I’ve had a great life.”

Secondly, they want to urge victims of abuse in general to come forward no matter how long ago it happened.

“Don’t be afraid,” Ms Taite said. “No matter what was done to you as a child it was never your fault. I was mortified anyone would find out the details when I was younger but you get older then and see all these other women coming forward and it’s easier.

“It’s totally different nowadays,” Ms Hughes Byrne said. “The support is there, it is amazing. People are ready to believe you.”

‘Never too late’

Lastly, they want to send a message to abusers like Reilly that “it’s never too late to be caught,” Ms Taite said. “I’d love to say to an abuser: ‘You’re going to get caught.’ We’re living in the 21st century. People will talk.”

Ms Hughes Byrne believes many potential sexual abusers would think twice about their actions if they knew the lifelong consequences the victims face.

“I think if they realised what they were really doing to people they abuse it’d stop them in their tracks. Not all of them would stop but a good chunk of them.”

When Reilly was jailed, it was one of the happiest moments of the sisters’ lives, and it was made all the sweeter that the judge, Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, was a woman.

“I think he hated that, He has a real thing with women,” Ms Taite said.

“The judge was a woman, the detective was a woman, the junior barrister was a woman,” Ms Hughes Byrne added. “That sense of having a judge and jury believe you. To look back and realise how much your story was heard. And that the judge took it so seriously. That’s what I loved.”

Before the interview concludes, the sisters agree to have their photograph taken, on one condition.

“It should be a happy picture,” Ms Hughes Byrne said. “This is a good-news story. Look at us: we’re okay. It’s a happy story if you think about it.”