Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Victims let down by sentencing

High-profile cases such as that of Jimmy Savile or other celebrities who have been found guilty of abuse show that there is no moral tolerance today for such activities
High-profile cases such as that of Jimmy Savile or other celebrities who have been found guilty of abuse show that there is no moral tolerance today for such activities

It takes tremendous courage for someone who has been abused to come forward and tell their story to the police and prosecuting authorities. In many cases they may have buried the shame of the abuse deep within their psyche, sharing that secret with no one.

They may have felt somehow to blame or may have thought that no one would believe their accusation. Their attacker may have been a pillar of society or a person of influence, making them seemingly immune from investigation.

But high-profile cases such as that of Jimmy Savile or other celebrities who have been found guilty of abuse show that there is no moral tolerance today for such activities.

Anyone who comes forward and proves that they were abused will normally expect that their abuser will face the inside of a prison cell.

So it must have come as a surprise to the two boys – now adults – who were abused by former Mourne Mountain Rescue Team volunteer James McEvoy to see him walk away from court.

He was given a suspended sentence, partly because his guilty plea spared the boys recounting their ordeals in open court. It was also pointed out that he had suffered a catastrophic dent to his reputation. That was hardly anyone's fault but his own.

The victims, on the other hand, had to dredge up those memories of abuse from their childhood and run the risk of public identification and social stigma which could follow whilst being innocent.

As our report today demonstrates they will not be alone in feeling that justice was not entirely done in this case. The judge, of course, has to take many things into consideration, including whether the defendant pleads guilty or not, the scale of the abuse and the character of the person in the dock.

But campaigners feel that existing sentencing guidelines need to be toughened up. They argue that physical or sexual abuse of children is a particularly heinous crime and that sentencing guidelines should reflect this.

Otherwise some victims may question whether it is worth their while bringing their attackers to the notice of the police. And that would really be letting the guilty off the hook.

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