A homeless woman has been praised for her courage in seeking justice after the man who sexually assaulted her was jailed for 18 months.
Mary Crilly, of the Cork Sexual Violence Centre, said great credit was due to the young woman who persevered with her complaint and saw her assailant, Francis Sweeney (50), convicted this week.
“I would like to say ‘thank you’ to that woman for going ahead with her case because today’s sentence does provide a boost for other women who might feel there’s no point in making a complaint if nothing happens their attacker,” Ms Crilly said.
“It takes courage for anyone to make a statement and go ahead, let alone someone who fears their past might be brought up and the impact it might have on their mental health waiting for their case to come to trial.”
Ms Crilly said she believed that many homeless woman, particularly those who have to sleep rough on the streets, are viewed as “fair game” and that sexual violence against homeless woman was particularly high.
“In all my years I have yet to meet a homeless woman who hasn’t been raped. The majority would say to us ‘I can’t remember how many times it’s happened to me because it’s happened so often’,” she said.
Most cases were similar to that of the young woman sexually assaulted by Sweeney, in that they know their attacker and were vulnerable, Ms Crilly added.
In the case, the woman, who is in her mid 20s, was sharing a tent with her boyfriend and Sweeney in Cork city when she woke at around 3am on October 10th, 2018 to find Sweeney digitally sexually assaulting her.
At Cork Circuit Criminal Court earlier this week, Det Sgt Kieran O'Sullivan read the woman's victim impact statement in which she directly addressed Sweeney, who had denied the crime but was found guilty by a jury.
“Francis Sweeney, you did not have my consent but the truth always trumps lies .You have been found guilty, finally, after two years. You won’t be a monster that I was frightened I would see somewhere,” the woman said in her statement.
“I lost endless nights of sleep and when I did finally sleep I would wake with night terrors...I might have been addicted to heroin and homeless living in a tent but that still doesn’t give anyone the right to lay a hand on you without the person’s permission.
“If I stopped you doing this to any other vulnerable woman, then going through this was worth the pain. I am not a victim now. I am a survivor.”
The sexual assault was investigated by Det Garda Michael Nagle and Det Garda Michelle Quinn and Judge Seán Ó Donnabhain commended both officers for their work on the case.
The court heard Det Garda Nagle was highly professional in his response in the early hours of the morning, managing to protect the woman from the dangerous situation she was in even though she was reluctant to make a complaint.
The judge also commended the professionalism of Det Garda Quinn, who followed up on the investigation and gained the trust of the young woman who eventually decided to make a formal complaint about the incident.
The court heard that Sweeney, a native of Galway, was currently serving a three year sentence for assault and he sentenced him to 18 months in jail consecutively to that term.
“This young woman was living on the outer rim of the margins of society. Francis Sweeney sexually assaulted her at a time when she was a recovering heroin addict. She was a very vulnerable person,” the judge said.