“I have my life back now. This is my time”: Rape victim welcomes end of nightmare

Rape survivor, Stephanie Hickey

“I have my life back now. This is my time.” Those were the words of rape victim Stephan Hickey who waived her anonymity on Monday when the man who abused her was sentenced to 10 years for the sexual abuse and rape of her, her sister and a third woman over the course of 12 years.

Stephanie Hickey (46) and her sister Deirdre Fahy (52), waived their right to anonymity at a sentence hearing last July so their brother-in-law Bartholomew Prendergast (66) could be named.

Speaking on RTE’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show today she said she was “very happy” with the sentence as she had feared “that this would never happen. I have kept my secret for so long.”

She told of how the abuse started when she was 12 when her brother-in-law began grooming her. “He was very manipulative.” She said she had not been aware that what had happened to her was rape until she had spoken to gardai.

The abuse was so frequent that she could not say how many times it happened. It occurred in her parents’ home, in a lorry, a van, a car and in a bedroom in her sister’s house.

She explained that she was in her 20s when she realised that her sister Deirdre had also been abused by Prendergast. “She thought it was just her and I thought it was just me. She carries a lot of guilt, that if she had spoken out it wouldn’t have happened to me.”

Ms Hickey said she had been afraid to speak out at the time as their home was “very Catholic” and such subjects were not spoken about. At the time she had told one friend who lived in the same area as Prendergast.

“I didn’t want to go there any more, when she asked me, I told her why.”

She recalled a meeting that took place in the home of Prendergast and her sister, to whom he was married, when it was brought to the attention of the family what was happening to Stephanie and another girl. “I could hear raised voices, I was taken home after, but nothing was spoken about it. He was sent to a family friend, a priest, to help him.”

But the abuse continued for a further few years after that, she said. “We were made aware that he was ‘fixed’, that he was assessed.”

She said she had always wanted to come forward but had been very fearful. “I didn’t know how my parents would react, would they turn against me?”

Matters came to a head in November 2015 when her father was very ill in hospital and it was mentioned that Prendergast was going to visit her father.

“I knew there was no way I was going to let him visit my Dad. I spoke to my partner when I went home and then I went to the garda station.”

Waiving her anonymity had been “huge” for her, she added. For the first year after she reported the abuse she did not want people to know her story, she felt she was being judged, but in the end she wanted the public to judge her story.

It is “a big effort” for victims to waive anonymity, she said. She has four children, one of them a minor and she did not want them to be in the public eye.

But she felt they only way she could “let people know he was evil” was to waive anonymity. Prendergast was a well known musician and appeared well liked, people thought “he was such a nice guy”. People had accused her and her sister of “jumping on the bandwagon to strengthen the story.”

Addressing him directly in court when she gave her victim impact statement had been empowering, she said. He had taken her virginity and she had not been aware of what she was losing, but the hurt and pain never went away.

Victims should give their own impact statements in court if they can, she added.

“I will never forgive him. He didn’t say sorry at any time, he didn’t apologise. He showed no remorse, displayed no feelings, he looked unconcerned, he never made eye contact.

“I have my life back. The hurt involved when you’re raped never goes away, it’s like shame on your body. But I achieved something I never thought I would. I have my life back now.

“I hope he is feeling some of the pain and suffering that I and Deirdre carried for 30 years.”

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