November 2012

Daughter (14) ‘lost her teenage years’ to Facebook predator

Owen O'Donoghue - Limerick

THE MOTHER of a 14-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted and later ‘groomed’ on Facebook by her attacker has said her daughter has lost out on her teenage years.

The woman, who cannot be named as it would identify her daughter, urged other parents to monitor their children’s use of the social networking site, saying “sex beasts” are going online and targeting kids.

Father-of-three and barman Owen O’Donoghue (39) from Fairgreen, Garryowen in Limerick, pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting the 14-year-old girl and was sentenced to 10 months in prison with the final six months suspended.

He was also placed on the sex offenders register for five years.

Judge Eugene O’Kelly, presiding over the case at Limerick District Court, could only impose a maximum sentence of up to 12 months. O’Donoghue is appealing the sentence and is free on bail as he awaits a hearing.

Gardai believe O’Donoghue was grooming his victim when he sent her sexually explicit Facebook messages.

The victim’s mother and children’s charities have hit out at the sentence saying it does not match the crime.

The girl – who suffers nightmares and flashbacks – was a friend of one of Mr O’Donoghue’s children at the time he kissed and fondled her in his home in June last year.

Matters only came to light when the girl’s older sister came across the sexually graphic messages sent by O’Donoghue to the teenager’s Facebook page.

The girl’s mother said: “I think he should have got a longer sentence . . . I don’t feel we got justice.”

“I don’t think he should be allowed to appeal it. I know it’s his right, but I think it’s wrong. I think all sexual assault cases should be heard in the Circuit Court so that they are open to a higher sentence, because these cases are wrecking kids lives.”

She said her daughter had lost her “teenage life” and finds it difficult to trust people.

O’Donoghue’s use of what was described as “classic grooming tactics” by sending sexually suggestive messages to the victim on Facebook and on her mobile phone.

In a statement to gardai, the girl said these messages included Valentine’s Day greetings to her and a number of her friends, while another message sent to the victim read that she “would have to be spanked”.

Subsequent to the assault, on August 13, 2011, the victim had received a Facebook message from O’Donoghue suggesting they should “get bould together”. Another message had read “I need a bit of excitement”.

The girl had also described to gardai how O’Donoghue would touch other girls in the circle of friends “on the bum”, “would give us hugs and call us names like ‘Baby Bops’”. When she later realised what his behaviour had meant, she began to avoid Owen O’Donoghue, describing how on one occasion she had hid in a bunch of nettles when she saw him approach.

“I reference these text messages and Facebook messages,” Mr Murray told Judge Moran “to show that the physical actions of the appellant were not playful but were sinister.”

The Irish Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), also expressed concern over O’Donoghue’s sentence and urged parents to to be vigilant over online safety.

Facebook has insisted that it is “one of the safest places for people to spend time on the web”.

Zero tolerance

“We have a zero-tolerance policy for child exploitative activity on the site and when such illegal behaviour is detected Facebook works with law enforcement agencies to ensure that these people are brought to justice,” said a spokeswoman.

Facebook said it has a number of measures designed to protect users who are aged from 13 to 17-years-old including preventing adults from ‘friending’ young users unless they have an existing social connection. In the Limerick case, O’Donoghue was able to ‘friend’ the 14-year-old girl as she was a friend of one of his children.