'Too many sex offence cases involve lack of understanding of word no', says judge

Man who sexually assaulted woman after he disturbed his friend having sex with her in the back of a dark van jailed for three and a half years
'Too many sex offence cases involve lack of understanding of word no', says judge

'Young men must understand that "no means no’". It doesn’t mean "maybe" or "I have started so I will finish",' the judge said

A High Court judge has said that too many sexual offence cases “seems to be a lack of understanding of the simplest of words: ‘no’”.

Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring made those comments in the sentencing of a Longford man, Patrick McLoughlin, 35, who sexually assaulted a woman after he disturbed his friend having sex with her in the back of a dark van.

The judge said the law could not be any clearer that the consequences of continuing to have sex with someone or touch them, once they have withdrawn consent, will lead to a prosecution.

“Young men must understand that ‘no means no’. It doesn’t mean ‘maybe’ or ‘I have started so I will finish’,” the judge said before she added it was mainly men who found themselves in these situations and mainly women whose lives will be shattered by these actions “sometimes beyond repair”.

“Too many cases seem to be a lack of understanding of the simplest of words ‘no’,” the judge said.

McLoughlin, of Torboy, Moydow, Co Longford, still maintains his innocence after a Central Criminal Court jury convicted him last March following a trial in Castlebar, Co Mayo.

He had pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting the woman in Galway city centre on a date in August 2017. He has one previous conviction for a minor assault dating back to 2017.

Ms Justice Ring sentenced McLoughlin to five years in prison with the final 18 months suspended on strict conditions, including that he engage with the Probation Service for those 18 months.

His friend, Karl Reilly, 39, who continued having sex with the woman after she asked him to stop when McLoughlin disturbed them, was convicted of raping the woman.

Last month, Justice Ring sentenced Reilly, of Inny View, Aghara, Carrickboy, Co Longford, to a seven-year sentence with the final 18 months suspended.

The woman testified McLoughlin touched her vagina after touching her leg and also inserted something into her anus. Her DNA was later found on McLoughlin’s hand.

McLoughlin claimed he went back into the van to go to sleep, having initially been told to leave by Reilly. He said he woke up by the woman touching his penis and asking him to call a taxi. He said she called his phone to try and find it but it was out of charge.

He told gardaí he went back to sleep and then woke up “with an army of guards around me”.

McLoughlin said he thought it was “ridiculous” and suggested the woman had been intoxicated and was angry that she had to walk in the rain.

Men mocked and laughed at victim

The court heard the young woman was “petrified” by the situation and the men mocked and laughed at her before she left the van and was aided by a passer-by, who found her in a distressed state.

Fiona Murphy SC, defending McLoughlin, said her client had written a letter for the court which expressed genuine sympathy to the victim. “He appreciates that he should have assisted her when she was looking for a taxi,” counsel told the court.

She said McLoughlin maintains his innocence and doesn’t accept the verdict of the jury.

Sentencing McLoughlin on Monday, the judge noted from the victim impact statement that the woman continues to ask herself why she got into the van in the first place.

“She should not blame herself for making that decision,” Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring said, adding “in hindsight” it may not have been wise “but that is life”.

“There were only two people in the wrong,” she said, referring to Reilly and McLoughlin.

The judge also noted the woman spoke of her difficulty in leaving the van at the time.

“She was in an unknown environment. One man who ignored her when she told him to stop and a second man, who she had not met at all and without asking for her consent, began to sexually assault her. 

“She was unable to take on two men in a very dark environment. No fault attaches to her in this regard,” Ms Justice Ring said.

She wished the victim well into the future. “Hopefully it will not define her. She is more than what happened on that night in August 2017.” 

Ms Justice Ring said it was an aggravating feature of the case that McLoughlin had never met the woman before coming into the van that night. “He was a total stranger to her”.

She said he had performed the most intimate of actions in the dark interior of a van. “It is hard not to see it as a case as seeing an opportunity and taking it without a regard for her,” Ms Justice Ring said.

She noted McLoughlin and Reilly had “laughed at the woman’s expense” and McLoughlin had just got off the phone with his girlfriend when he returned to the van and sexually assaulted the woman.

Ms Justice Ring accepted a probation report before the court concludes McLoughlin is at a low risk of re-offending, has strong support from family and friends, is a married man with children and has a good work history.

“His decisions and actions not only injured him but also his own children and family and he alone bears the responsibility for his actions,” she said.

She accepted evidence the behaviour may have been out of character for McLoughlin but added “whether in or out of character, it is a reality for her and will mar her life in the future”.

Victim impact statement

The young woman told the court in her victim impact statement how her decision to get into the van “haunts” her and she blames herself, feeling guilt and shame, for letting it happen.

She outlined how she had met a man in a bar that night that she believed was nice and decent and had believed she was safe. She said she didn’t hate them, but hated herself for letting it happen.

She told the court of the continuing traumatic effects the offences have had on her life, including nightmares, trouble sleeping and concentrating, panic attacks and emotional pain.

“I need them to realise what they did that night was not OK, none of it was OK,” she told the court. “I hope after all this, they are sorry for what they have done.” 

 A prosecuting garda told James Dwyer SC, prosecuting, that both Reilly and the injured party had separately come to Galway to stay and socialise. They met in a bar where they chatted and kissed.

They went to a local hotel where the woman understood Reilly was staying for further drinks and he invited her to his accommodation. She was surprised to find he was sleeping in a van in a car park.

She got into the van and they had consensual sex. The back of the van was unlit and dark.

The court heard while they were having sex McLoughlin opened the door to the back of the van and was told by Reilly to go away. This man got into the front of the van and records show he was on a phone call for some time.

The woman at this point told Reilly she did not want to continue having sex but he did not stop and continued having sex with her. McLoughlin said he later returned to the back of the van to go to sleep.

The woman at this point pushed Reilly away. McLoughlin touched her leg without her consent and digitally penetrated her anus.

She began screaming and kicking and they stopped. The woman was distressed and when she asked if they were going to kill her, the men laughed at her.

The woman stayed in the van for a time and later left saying she needed a toilet. There was no evidence she was stopped leaving the van.

Afterwards, “a good Samaritan” found the woman outside in a distressed state and she was taken to gardaí and a sexual assault treatment unit. Gardai approached the van and both men, who were still asleep, were arrested.

In her victim impact statement, the woman described how she had been petrified and could not believe what was happening. She knew she could not win against two of them and told how they had laughed and mocked her.

Ms Murphy said McLoughlin had 12 people in court to support him along with his wife and sister. She handed in a number of letters which she described as “heartfelt” from all members of his family.

She submitted her client shows high regard and respect for everyone in his life and this type of behaviour is “absolutely out of character”.

He has three children, including an infant daughter, who has health difficulties. McLoughlin employs a large number of people and assists the local community, Ms Murphy submitted.

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