Rape victim: ‘The judgement you issued is in my opinion deeply flawed’
‘I also fear the message it sends to women experiencing sexual violence in an abusive relationship’
“The reduction in sentence makes a very significant difference in the maturity of a young child and their ability to deal with the challenges of the release of their father from prison.” File photograph: Getty Images
Dear Justice Edwards, Justice Birmingham and Justice Mahon
Your judgment in February to reduce the sentence by 2 years for marital rape was devastating and demoralising for me and I had no opportunity to have my voice physically heard in the court.
I was shocked at both the reduction of the sentence and your reasons for reducing it. The judgement you issued is in my opinion deeply flawed. Most fundamentally it completely ignored the context in which the rape occurred, given the existence of domestic violence and abuse.
You said that the rape was not accompanied by unusual violence and therefore the original sentence of 12 years with 2 years suspended was too high. To me this shows a complete lack of understanding of the context of rape in a domestic violence situation.
Violence is not all about cuts and bruises. Violence is also about instilling a fear and terror of being killed as was the situation in my case. I endured hours of being terrified the night of the rape.
I was threatened with a knife, I was threatened with being raped a second time until I promised I would stay in the relationship. For the remainder of the night I was threatened with being killed unless I promised that I would stay.
Being raped by a person, in a marital relationship, who has cumulatively instilled an indescribable fear, is violent and has impact well beyond cuts and bruises. While you recognised the appropriateness of 7.5 years for the vicious physical assault on me yet you failed to see the much longer term violation and deeply traumatic impact of being raped by a person with whom I had a close intimate relationship. Your dismissal of this in your judgment feels so wrong to me and shows a level of misunderstanding that is not acceptable to me from our judiciary. In your judgment you also refer to the rape as “during the sex”, a reference I find deeply offensive.
You refer in the judgment to the perpetrator building a relationship with his son. You do not acknowledge anywhere that this is also the child of the woman who was raped, seriously assaulted and threatened with death by this man. Nor do you acknowledge that this child was present when the physical assault and rape occurred, albeit that he was unaware of what was happening at the time. By making this assertion you shockingly feed into the perpetrator’s narrative, of his sense of entitlement. To me, your judgment is about his rights, to his relationship, with his son. One of the core features of my experience of physical and sexual violence was about me and my son being his property, “you will only leave me when I say you can”; and after the barring order was granted, “you will never live with my son, you are dead”.
You fail to recognise the task for me as a mother trying to navigate such an immensely complex and challenging set of circumstances in supporting and empowering my son to grow and thrive. The primary focus of the court should be the protection of me and of my son. The reduction in sentence makes a very significant difference in the maturity of a young child and their ability to deal with the challenges of the release of their father from prison.
I know that you and the public will think that no sentence would have been long enough for me, the victim, and to an extent that is true. However when the sentence was delivered by Justice Isobel Kennedy, that the perpetrator would spend 10 years in prison, the people around me – state prosecutors, guards, and friends with a knowledge of previous cases – all said it was a fair sentence. And I accepted that and I rebuilt my life based on that release date.
The implication of your decision to reduce the sentence means that he receives 7.5 years for the assault and 8.5 years for the rape, to be served concurrently. I and my family went through that very long trial, lasting 10 weeks, from start of trial to sentencing, a further traumatic experience, with every aspect of my life dissected. From my perspective, the practical impact of your Appeal judgment and because the two sentences are to be served concurrently means that the perpetrator’s conviction and sentence for marital rape translates into only 1 additional year on top of the sentence for assault. It is very difficult today, after your judgment, to look back and say that it was worth it? I also fear the message it sends to women experiencing sexual violence in an abusive relationship.
A further upsetting aspect for me was that while you included my victim impact statement in your judgment, I wondered had you read it. I then wondered did I not explain clearly enough the deep impact that the rape had on me, for how could you not understand and see the extreme violence that occurred and not take this into account in your judgment?
I know that the life of my family will change when this perpetrator is released and our safety and our freedom will be significantly altered and compromised as a consequence. Every day of those 10 years counted for us, and your judgement has taken 547 days from our peace of mind and freedom. You have exposed my child to potential manipulation at such a young age, and you have taken away my hope that the judicial system can understand the extent, impact and added violence of rape in an intimate partner relationship.
Throughout this experience my family and friends have been a consistent and constant strength and support to my son and I, for which I am forever grateful. I want to sincerely thank the two investigating guards for their support to me throughout this long harrowing process since August 2014 and who were also present for the appeal. Their genuine understanding of how to apply a victim-centred approach gives me some hope for how we address sexual violence of women in a domestic-violence context. Also my thanks to Women’s Aid and the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre who have supported me and thousands of women with similar experiences and have expressed their outrage at this decision.