herald

Sunday 4 December 2016

Deirdre O'Shaughnessy: Enough is enough, we need mandatory rape sentences now

Magnus Meyer
Magnus Meyer

Imagine a life sentence of disturbed sleep. Imagine being sentenced to never trusting another person. A life of solitary confinement with your trauma.

That's the sentence Magnus Meyer Hustveit condemned Niamh Nic Dhomhnaill to when he raped her repeatedly in the bed they shared, while she was asleep.

Hustveit will not have to worry about being violated. He will not have to worry about being locked away. He will not have to worry about never trusting another human being again.

He's been convicted of rape, but won't serve a day in jail. Admission of a crime, saving the victim the trauma of testifying or cross-examination, can act in mitigation of sentencing. That's not unusual.

But should it lead to the suspension of a seven-year custodial sentence? Imagine if a similar sentence was handed down in a drugs crime - "yes, Your Honour, that cocaine is mine, can I go home now?"

Hustveit never saw what he was doing as rape. He did it, he said, because she prevented him from using pornography and masturbating. He couldn't control himself, you see, and, well, wasn't there a body handy?

His then-girlfriend, deep in sleep due to medication she had been prescribed, was an available subject for his urges. Never mind such a quaint notion as consent.

Everything about this shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what rape is.

There was no stranger down a dark alley, no struggle, no cuts and bruises, no broken ribs or physical scars. When the scars are emotional, it's easy for a rapist to pretend it was 'sleepy sex', or that the victim's presence in the bed is an open invitation. Because men are uncontrollable animals with 'urges', and women are a collection of body parts there for their use.

survivor

Hustveit confessed, in an email, saying that he knew she could prosecute him, but hoping that she wouldn't. He underestimated her.

In her victim impact statement, Ms Nic Dhomhnaill credited another brave abuse survivor, Mairia Cahill, for giving her the courage to speak out.

The crime itself is an unimaginable breach of trust.

And now Ms Nic Dhomhnaill has been let down again. On Tuesday, she watched the man who stole her peace of mind walk free.

Approximately 25pc of us will be raped or sexually abused in our lifetimes. Just 7pc of those abused or raped report the crime to gardai. Just 10pc of those reported cases make it to court, and once they do, between 5pc and 10pc of prosecutions result in convictions.

It's hardly surprising more victims don't come forward. In a case like this, in which Ms Nic Dhomhnaill had a written confession from Hustveit as evidence - in which he admitted using her body for his "gratification" numerous times over a period of a year - anything other than a conviction would have been farcical.

So many cases are about who to believe, about bogging the victim down in dates and details and history. This one was cut and dried.

But it's hard to see how stealing three years of somebody's life carries less of a term of imprisonment in Ireland than, for example, fraudulently importing garlic (two years).

Getting as far as a conviction takes enormous personal courage and strength. A custodial sentence is not meant to be a reward to the victim, but a recognition of the damage done by a crime.

There is no evidence Hustveit will not re-offend. There is no evidence he has been rehabilitated. There is no evidence that his actions have had any impact on his life. He still has his job. Incredibly, he is in a relationship. His family supported him throughout.

The only impact on his life will have been adverse publicity, only made possible by Ms Nic Dhomhnaill's decision to waive anonymity. It should not be up to her to punish her rapist by exposing herself to media scrutiny.

Fiona Doyle, Mairia Cahill, Niamh Cosgrave. How many more victims must do this?

The DPP must appeal this sentence, and it's time the Oireachtas brought in mandatory minimum sentencing for rape. Enough is enough.

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