€4m award recognises ‘impact of sex abuse’

Record damages of €4m awarded by the High Court to a 55-year-old woman who was repeatedly raped and abused as a teenager may suggest juries are becoming more aware of the long-term effects of child sexual abuse, according to the Rape Crisis Network.

The highest ever amount of damages was made to Jacqueline O’Toole from Pearse St in Dublin last week. Her cousin was also abused by Joseph Carrick, from Blackrock, Co Dublin, and she was awarded €700,000 on the same day.

The related trials were held separately and the size of damages was decided by different juries. A freezing order was also put on Carrick’s assets which include a property portfolio.

Executive director of the Rape Crisis Network, Fiona Neary, said the case wasn’t “atypical” but Jacqueline’s pregnancy aged 15 following rape could have elicited a lot of sympathy from the jury: “These weren’t atypical cases but these were exceptional awards. Maybe people’s understanding of the effects of sexual abuse is growing. Maybe we are moving on as a society from a time when we wanted to deny abuse was happening to now after all the reports, to a greater understanding of what abuse and rape does to a child.”

Ms Daly said the centre had examined a case in the High Court the week before last where Marcella Breslin from Donegal was awarded €2.8m after being raped by her godfather.

“In that case we couldn’t find one single issue that would have led to the substantial increase in damages. These weren’t atypical cases but these were exceptional awards. The thing is however that most often, civil cases are settled outside the court and so we don’t know the size of these settlements,” she said.

The RCNI’s legal adviser, Caroline Counihan, also pointed out that there is a dearth of published damages figures in civil cases as so many are settled out of court.

“Juries are not given any instruction on what is appropriate and in the O’Toole case this week, you can see how there were two separate juries. We should remember for these women it’s not about the money however. Their number one aim to identify the wrong done to them. This figure can also be appealed,” said Ms Counihan.

After appeal, the highest sum paid to date in a sexual assault civil case is €400,000 which was set down by a judge.

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