Two sisters who were regularly raped and abused by their father have encouraged other victims to come forward.
Amy Barrett and Melissa O’Keeffe, speaking after Jerry O’Keeffe was jailed for 10 years, sent out a defiant message to other sex abuse victims that it is never too late to seek help.
Both women waived their right to anonymity to speak out publicly.
O’Keeffe, aged 68, a retired soldier, of Oakhill, Youghal, Co Cork, pleaded guilty at the Central Criminal Court to three charges of rape, five of indecent assault and one of sexual assault. These were nine sample charges out of 78 covering a period from January 1980 to March 1987.
Justice Patrick McCarthy said O’Keeffe’s crimes had brought about the destruction of his daughters’ childhoods.
“It is hard to find words to describe each new outrage inflicted on these children,” the judge said.
Speaking outside court, Amy said she and Melissa were happy with the sentence. It was never about the jail term, it was about his admission of guilt, she said.
“It’s almost like we’re in mourning for him now,” she said. “It was never about the sentence it was always about an admission of guilt, keeping him away from other kids, and getting closure for ourselves.”
They encouraged others to report abuse.
“It’s a kind of happy-sad because 10 years sends out a good message that abuse and rape of a child is not right,” Amy said. “It doesn’t matter how long it takes the victim to come forward, it’s never too late.
“We are happy but we are sad at the same time because obviously he is still our dad and it is almost like we are going to be in mourning for him now.”
The court heard Amy’s rape ordeal occurred over five years, starting when she was eight, and that it was a commonplace event and amounted to “repeated, extremely serious abuse”.
The assaults against Melissa, which began when she was 11 and went on for six years, were also extremely serious.
The sisters reported the abuse to the Southern Health Board in 1999 after attending the Rape Crisis Centre in Cork. As a result, O’Keeffe agreed to leave the family home and no further action was taken against him. Melissa said she went to gardaí in 1999 but withdrew the allegations after her parents confronted her.
Both victims reported the matter to gardaí again in October 2014.
Mr Justice McCarthy said that he was taking O’Keeffe’s guilty plea into account in mitigation, but that it came “not at the 11th hour but at five minutes to midnight” after legal proceedings had commenced.
He said “these days 68 is no great age” and said it would not count towards mitigation of his sentence. He said the case merited consecutive sentences, and the appropriate total period of incarceration was 10 years. He imposed a seven-year sentence for the rapes and a three-year term of imprisonment for the sexual assaults, to run consecutively.
Mr Justice McCarthy instructed that O’Keeffe’s name be added to the sex offenders register and said he must liaise with the probation services for three years following his release.
Speaking to TV3 News ahead of yesterday’s sentencing, Amy said despite of the abuse, she still loved her father.
“I still love my dad and I know people might think that that’s just mental, but I do,” she said. “I looked up to him. I don’t understand and I would say to him ‘why?’ I had an opportunity to confront my dad a few years ago and I did and I asked him. I said ‘do you remember raping me, Dad?’ and he said ‘I do girl’ like I had just said something so casual. He’s very flippant about it all.
“I would ask him ‘why?’ I didn’t deserve this, my innocence taken away from me, Melissa’s innocence taken away.”
Melissa said she would never forgive her father and he was now dead to her.
“I don’t like him,” she said. “I want no more to do with him. He’s dead to me, I suppose.”
Mary Crilly of the Sexual Violence Centre Cork said the sister’s bravery should help others to come forward.
“It’s never too late and I think these two women have really shown that and I really admire them and the way they really kept at it, kept holding on,” she said.
“They had a horrific life, a horrific childhood but they kept going this is going on for years and they finally have justice.”
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