The RCNI yesterday called on the Government to examine alternatives to prisons for abusers found guilty of such crimes so that victims would not be deterred from reporting such attacks to gardaí.
It followed the imposition of a 11-year jail sentence on a 79-year-old Cavan man, John (Seán) Costello, by the Central Criminal Court on Tuesday for raping a young female relative between 1988 and 1990.
The trial judge suspended all but 18 months of the sentence because of Costello’s advanced age and ill health.
“Sadly, decisions of this nature are all too common in our justice system,” said RCNI spokesperson, Ingrid Wallace.
Costello of Ballyhaise, Cavan was found guilty on 16 separate counts of rape plus five charges of indecent assault on his son’s sister-in-law.
Condemning the sentence, Ms Wallace acknowledged that the Irish prison system was not geared towards the elderly, but argued that alternative punishments should be considered.
“It’s very likely that this man would die in prison because of his age if he was made to serve his full sentence.
lthough as a society we probably don’t want that, he is unlikely to serve more than 12 months in jail.
While the 11-year prison sentence reflects society’s condemnation of a pretty horrific list of crimes, the suspension of a large portion of it also sends out a strong message.”
“Increasingly we are seeing people coming forward reporting cases of child sex abuse that can go back 20-40 years which makes it most likely that the perpetrators are of an advanced age.
The State needs to look at alternative punitive measures to prison for people who are convicted of such crimes,” said Ms Wallace.
She suggested large fines could be imposed in cases where those found guilty of sexual offences had sizeable wealth.
Meanwhile, Costello’s victim, who called herself Catherine, said she was numb but relieved following the ordeal of the trial.
The 26-year-old Cavan woman welcomed the verdict insofar as it would bring a degree of closure as well as the “naming and shaming” of Costello.
“I can’t exactly say the full reason why I named him. I just thought I’ve carried this burden around for so long, now it’s time to pass it back to you,” said Catherine who was first raped by Costello when aged 11.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s Liveline, Catherine said: “I do think he should serve his full 11 years. He shouldn’t have got any of it suspended. At the same time he could just as easily have walked out of court.”
She claimed she only reported Costello to the gardaí three years ago when he responded to her request for an apology with a solicitor’s letter.
The RCNI said suspended sentences like that in the Costello case would only further deter other rape victims from reporting the crime to the authorities.
“The RCNI is extremely concerned about the message this type of sentencing gives to other victims of sexual violence.
As we know from the Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland report, only 9% of survivors of sexual violence are prepared to come forward and report to the gardaí.”