November 2017

Two Cork sisters sexually abused by ex army dad say it’s like they’re going to be ‘in mourning’ after he was caged

TWO sisters sexually abused by their dad said it’s like they’re going to be “in mourning” for him after he was caged.

Former soldier Jerry O’Keeffe was sentenced to ten years in prison for repeatedly raping and indecently assaulting his two daughters, who said they’re “happy and sad” after justice was done.

They told how an admission of guilt was more important to them than the length of the sentence and said it was important that he will now be kept away from other children.

O’Keeffe, 69, of Oakhill, Youghal, Cork, pleaded guilty at the Central Criminal Court to three charges of rape, five of indecent assault and one of sexual assault at the family home.

These were nine sample charges out of a total of 78 covering a period from January 1980 to March 1987.

Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy told the court that it “beggars belief” that a father would rape his daughter and said “it is hard to find words to describe each new outrage inflicted on these children”.

The Judge said that O’Keeffe pleaded guilty to a “considerable number of offences” namely rape and indecent assault of Amy, and said that he “at least seems to have restricted himself to indecent assault” of Melissa.

Both women waived their right to anonymity, which they said they hope will help and encourage other victims of rape and abuse.

The court heard that O’Keeffe began the abuse of Amy in the living room where he used to molest her as she sat on his knee, before taking her up to her bedroom and raping her.

Her sister Melissa told Gardai that her father would come into her bedroom and begin “seriously sexually assaulting” her, but stopped short of penetrating.

The judge said Melissa used to turn away from him in a bid to cope, and the effect it has had on her life has been devastating.

In a victim impact statement Amy Barrett described her childhood as “very traumatic”, and said she was “a mixed bag of confusion and terror” as a result of her father’s crimes.

Amy told how she “loved and trusted” her father and that trust was betrayed.

She said the abuse has left her nervous and afraid and said she considered suicide to end the pain. She said she had always found it difficult to make friends as a result.

She said coming forward was extremely difficult because it made her relive it all, but thanked the Rape Crisis Centre and her “brilliant” husband for their continued support.

She added that she “had feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment and hurt for years but today I hand them back to my Dad.”

Mr Justice McCarthy said O’Keeffe’s rape of Amy, which began when she was eight years old, was a “commonplace event” and amounted to repeated, extremely serious abuse.

He said the assaults against Melissa O’Keeffe, which began when she was 11, were also extremely serious.

Melissa said she couldn’t remember what age the abuse started, but said it only became clear that it was wrong when she started going to school.

A victim impact statement read out in court described how she refrained from calling out for her mother in case she got into trouble.

She said she felt alone and had no one to talk to. She made a complaint to gardai when she was 16 but she was “pressured” by her parents to withdraw the statement, so she went back and said she had made the story up.

At a later date she tried to tell her aunty, but her parents again pressured her to keep quiet.

She told how things such as smells trigger her memory and remind her of the abuse, and said the last year has been particularly difficult for her and her sister as they waited on the trial.

The statement said: “If I get a certain smell or if someone moves in a certain way I freak out. But today I finally have the voice that I didn’t have when I was 16”.

Speaking outside the courts on Monday, Amy told how they felt justice had now been done, and said it was never about the length of the sentence, rather their dad owning up to his crimes.

Amy said: “For us it was about an admission of guilt, keeping him away from other kids, and obviously for closure for ourselves as well.

“We do feel justice has been done, it (the ten year term) is fair enough. It was never about the term it was about admission.

“It’s a happy-sad. Ten years sends out a good message that abuse and rape of a child is not right, and it doesn’t matter how long it takes a victim to come forward, it’s not too late.

“We’re happy but sad at the same time because he’s still our dad, and it’s almost like we’re going to be in mourning for him now.

“My plan is to put it behind me and try get on with the rest of my life now. It will never leave but you just have to do the best you can.

“I felt that the Rape Crisis Centre did so much for me years ago that we got to this point where we waived our anonymity to help others and it’s not too late and it’s not your fault.

“I didn’t ask for this, Melissa didn’t either, it was dad, he’s the one that’s in the wrong and I just hope now that we’ll make peace with it and dad will too.”

Mr Justice McCarthy said their victim impact statements conveyed a degree of hurt and pain that was difficult to understand.

He said the one mitigating factor was the fact that he pleaded guilty, but he said the plea came “not at the eleventh hour but at five minutes to midnight” after legal proceedings had begun.

During the course of the submission, Justice McCarthy heard that O’Keeffe was an “otherwise good character”.

He said the case merited consecutive sentences relating to each daughter. He said the appropriate total period of imprisonment in this case should be ten years.

He handed down a seven year sentence for the rape offences and a three year term of imprisonment for the sexual assaults, to run consecutively.

During a previous hearing in October, Sgt John Sharkey told the court that O’Keeffe regularly asked Amy, who was aged eight at the time, to sit on his lap in the sitting room.

He would then sexually assault her before bringing her upstairs to his bedroom where he would remove his clothes and rape her.

The abuse ended in 1985 when Mrs Barrett was aged 12.

O’Keeffe began abusing Melissa in the family’s new home at Catherine’s Street, Youghal, Co Cork, where she said he would go into her bedroom late at night after returning from the pub and climb into bed beside her and proceed to molest her.

Amy reported the abuse to the Southern Health Board in 1999 after visiting the Rape Crisis Centre in Cork. It resulted in O’Keefe agreeing to leave the family home and no further action was taken against him.