A High Court judge has awarded €170,000 in damages to a woman for the suffering she experienced as a result of being indecently assaulted “hundreds” of times as a child by her uncle.
In a ruling, Ms Justice Mary Rose Gearty said the effects of the abuse have been “very serious” for the woman, who felt she lost her childhood and continues to suffer significant psychological effects.
The judge found the woman to be a “clear, compelling and credible witness” who did not overstate her evidence and did not purport to remember events she could not recall.
The woman claimed her uncle carried out frequent acts of indecent assault at her grandfather’s home when she was between the ages of five and 15 in the 1970s and 80s.
The judge said the man, representing himself, denied the allegations and claimed the action was statute barred.
He was convicted in 2015 by a jury in separate criminal proceedings of several counts of indecent assault in respect of his niece. This conviction, which related to events in a one-year period when the plaintiff was aged five, was upheld by the Court of Appeal in 2017, she added.
The man maintained his innocence in respect of the alleged offences.
Among the woman’s claims was that she recalled, when she was about four years old, going to a shed at her grandfather’s home where the defendant exposed himself to her and masturbated. She said she knew nothing of sexual matters at that time and, at his instruction, she stood with her skirt up and pants down.
She said her uncle told her this was their secret and she was not to tell anybody.
It was claimed the man’s conduct progressed to breast touching and digital penetration, the judge said. The woman’s evidence was that acts of sexual assault happened probably hundreds of times, estimated at twice per week, such that it became a part of her life that she thought was normal, the judge said.
On one occasion she recalled being in her secondary school uniform when the man allegedly pushed her against a wall and put his mouth to her crotch.
At about the age of 12, the girl heard boys in school discussing sex and she began to understand what was happening. At 14 she asked her uncle to stop, but it continued on a regular basis for another year.
Ms Justice Gearty accepted the woman’s account of events and “this alone was sufficient basis” to find in her favour.
She noted there is a lower standard of proof applicable in a civil case than in a criminal trial.
There was no defence evidence called to counter her version of events, the judge said.
The defendant drew attention to the fact the woman had in one version of events said the abuse began when she was aged four and in another said it was when she was five. This issue, said the judge, arises in many cases of child sexual abuse and modern courts are more familiar with the psychology of victims and children.
The inability of a person recalling childhood abuse to remember their age during a specific event makes “little difference” to his or her credibility, she went on.
Adding to the woman’s feelings of trauma and stress, the judge said, was pressure from her family, including from her brother who asked how she would feel if the defendant had a heart attack over what she said.
The woman said she was a sad child, suffering stress and anxiety from an early age. She continues to take prescribed medication on most days and, following sentencing of the man in 2015, she took an overdose that led to her spending three nights in hospital. The judge said the sentencing likely didn’t bring closure to her.
The facts of this case revealed repeated “very serious” sexual assaults said the judge.
Awarding a sum of €170,000 as against the defendant, Ms Justice Gearty also granted the woman costs.