Courthouse’s support room ‘an embrace’ for witnesses says sexual abuse victim

A woman who suffered sexual abuse by her brother-in-law when she was a child, has described a new court support room in Tralee for vulnerable witnesses as being like “an embrace”.

Deborah Courtney, aged 54, from Castlegregory, Co Kerry, was only 10 when she suffered the abuse, which continued for three years. In February 2015 she and her older sister Mary, waived their right to anonymity, following the conviction of their abuser, Jimmy Flannery.

Flannery, aged 76, of Baile Na Buaile, Dingle, was jailed for 10 years, following a five-day trial at the Central Criminal Court in Dublin last year. He had denied three counts of raping Mary Courtney at locations in Dingle between January 1971 and April 1975 and 10 counts of sexual assault against her between April 1969 and April 1974.

He was also convicted of the sexual assault of Deborah Courtney.

Ms Courtney said she and her sister’s four-year journey for justice, which began at Tralee Circuit Criminal Court, was all the more daunting because of the facilities in the courthouse. She now hopes other victims of abuse will be encouraged to come forward because of the new facility.

“First of all, you have the physical boundaries of the room. It shows the victims respect I suppose and gives them a sense of dignity,” she said.

“You feel so vulnerable and exposed. I walked up those courthouse steps in 2012 with my sister and the place was so neglected looking and so cold. We felt bad enough but then we were bumping into the family and the perpetrator and we did not need that.

“The victims need to be protected and it’s almost like an embrace to have a room like this — it’s so calming and welcoming. You can have your own private chat here or just let go and break down if you need to. But you can do it in private.”

Both cases were being tried separately at the Tralee court but following the collapse of the first trial due to a hung jury, they were eventually heard at the Central Criminal Court.

“It was a very hard process and I would not have been able to go through it without the support of the Kerry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre,” she said.

“I needed support while the case was before the court. It’s much harder to be in the community where the abuse occurred because you have people not believing you, your shame and guilt and then you’re trying to build yourself up and you’re told, ‘Sure, leave it be’. But when we went to the Central Criminal Court in Dublin it was so different because the facilities were so much better.”

The manager of the Kerry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, Vera O’Leary, who lobbied for the new facility, paid tribute to the Court Service for providing the room.

She said because they had no budget it would not have been renovated without the goodwill and generosity of local businesses and individuals.

“It gives a very clear message to both victims and survivors that you will be believed and you will be supported, so please come forward. I think the local people giving that message will probably encourage more people to come forward than any awareness campaign we could undertake at the centre,” Ms O’Leary said.


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