Man who repeatedly sexually assaulted young girl he was babysitting gets suspended sentence

A man who repeatedly sexually assaulted a young girl he was babysitting two decades ago has received a suspended sentence of 20 months.

Stephen Browner, now aged 36, was a teenager when he forced the child to masturbate him on dates between December 1997 and December 1999. She was aged between eight and 10 at the time.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that Browner says he has lived with intense feelings of guilt and shame about his actions. Judge Sinéad Ní Chúlacháin said that the attacks left the victim with “a sadness that remains with her” and “desecrated” her idea of love.

Browner of Stoneybatter, Dublin pleaded guilty to eight counts of sexual assault at her family home in a south Dublin suburb on dates between December 1997 and December 1999.

Stephen Browner. Pic: Collins

Elva Duffy BL, prosecuting, told the court that the complainant wished to lift reporting restrictions in the case so that Browner can be named. Judge Ní Chúlacháin told Browner that the victim was “motivated by a concern to protect others from you”.

She suspended a 20-month prison term on conditions including that he undergo all treatment programmes recommended by the Probation Service, including victim awareness.

The judge accepted the offending was out of character and that Browner was a minor at the time, 14 to 16 years old. She noted a report that states he is at a low risk of re-offending.

She told Browner that he is on the sex offenders register and has “an obligation to let future girlfriends know that you are on the register”.

Judge Ní Chúlacháin also noted that reports before the court say that he is remorseful but she said he has not taken concrete steps to deal with his offending, such as undergoing counselling.

“You will have to live with revulsion you have for yourself,” she said.

In a letter to the court, Browner said he was sorry and said he always knew his past actions would “catch up” with him.

“I've never been able to live with myself,” he said.

Detective Garda Paul Lynch told the court that the victim went to gardaí in 2016 and Browner was interviewed the following year. He admitted he had made the child masturbate him around half a dozen times and part of this abuse was linked to “a gun game” he played with the victim.

He told detectives: “I am ashamed, If I could change what went on, I would do”.

The abuse began in the run-up to Christmas 1997 when Browner was babysitting the girl. The victim's family and Browner's family were neighbours at the time.

After being put to bed the girl sneaked downstairs with the intention to jump in and frighten Browner. She found him watching something on television and masturbating himself.

He seemed to stop and seemed dumbstruck to see her. She told gardaí she didn't understand and was naive.

On a following occasion, he was masturbating, and she walked in on him and he continued and asked her did she want to have a go. This behaviour escalated to him moving the girl's hand to his penis while playing a game with her.

On a later occasion, he was having a shower and made her masturbate him. The court heard that the incidents ended in 1999 when the girl told the family of another boy and he told her to tell her parents.

She went to her mother and this woman went to Browner's mother and told her about the assaults. Browner's mother responded by bending over and said “I think I'm going to be sick”, the court heard.

Browner then wrote a letter of apology which was handed into the victim's family. The letter was ripped up.

In 2016 the victim became very upset and broke down and made a decision to go to gardaí.

Brian Gageby BL, defending, for Browner told the court that his client never touched the child himself or asked her to expose herself. He said he never made any threats or force.

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