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Sex abuse victim's courage commended in court

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

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A RATHFRILAND man who was sexually abused by his uncle over a 10 year period, has been commended by a judge for his courage in pursuing justice.
Declan Travers of Lissize Road, Rathfriland appeared at Newry Crown Court on Tuesday charged with gross indecency with or towards a child, 13 counts of indecent assault on a male, and three counts of incitement to commit gross indecency. He pleaded guilty to all 17 charges.
The 48-year-old, who abused his nephew Don Travers, was sentenced to three years' imprisonment followed by three years on probation.
Judge Kevin Finnegan QC said Don, who waived his right to anonymity, put his own anger and hurt aside to eliminate the possibility of there being other victims.
The Prosecution's Michael Chambers told the court "the systematic level of abuse" began when Don was five or six, by his uncle who is nine years older, and continued until he was 14 or 15.
On one occasion Travers persuaded Don to come to his room to play with a train set and during the abuse said: "This is what your mummy and daddy do."
He told Don that what was happening was "normal" and was "for his benefit". Don told police some incidents took place in a field on the Lissize Road and at hay house and cow shed on the family farm.
During one incident in the hay house, Don looked out of a window and could see people at his father's garage. Travers told him to get back from the window and said he shouldn't let anyone into their secret.
Don said similar incidents occurred 50-60 times. He said the abuse occurred regularly over a period of a few weeks and would then stop for a period of time.
The court heard that during the abuse, which escalated in severity as time progressed, Don felt "totally used and very upset" - suffering considerable trauma as a result.
Mr Chambers said Don eventually confronted his uncle and brought the abuse to the attention of police.
Justin Byrne, Defence for Travers, told the court that in a taped conversation with Don, Travers admitted his guilt and remorse.
Mr Byrne told the court: "He said: 'I know I've ruined your life. If you think I've completely ignored it you're wrong, it's been with me. I'm sorry, I'm very very sorry'."
Defence said a pre-sentence report demonstrated that Travers accepted his guilt, the effect it had on Don, and he had shown genuine remorse for what he had done.
Mr Byrne added: "Don thankfully has been married and has children and is now in a stable relationship. He seems to have been able to move on and have a relatively normal life, considering. Defence is not trying to justify what he [Travers] did but is attempting to explain why."
He said when the abuse began Travers himself was a child, aged 13, and that growing up in the small town of Rathfriland during the 70s and 80s was difficult for "a young man struggling with his sexuality and struggling to be accepted by his own family".
“Perhaps there was some level of experimentation but as time went on it escalated, it began more serious and he [Travers] fully accepts that," he said.
As harrowing details were read to the court, Judge Finnegan offered to halt proceedings as Don, who was supported by his family, became visibly distressed. However Don said he wanted the case to continue.
Mr Byrne said Travers is an openly gay man who is in a stable relationship and his partner is fully aware of the case and supports him. He told Judge Finnegan: "He knows what he did was wrong. When it stopped he went on to lead a productive life, he became a qualified chef and worked abroad. Perhaps when he was away this did ease things."
Mr Byrne said Travers was a man of good character, there were no other victims and that probation believe he is of low risk.
Before sentencing, Judge Finnegan said: "It's right to say at the outset, that sometimes when the lawyers and the judge are speaking it appears to the victim and their family that they are forgotten.
“One very significant feature of this case is the courage of the victim who was just a child when he suffered this horrific ordeal. He brought these offences to the attention of the police and the courts through his own courage.
“An exchange between the victim and the accused led to this case, and credit to him [Don] for that. His concern was to eliminate the possibility there may be more victims and he put this over and above his own anger and I commend him strongly for that."
Judge Finnegan said while he recognised that Don had suffered greatly at the hands of his uncle, he hoped his courage continues, saying he believed there is "some light at the end of the tunnel" for Don.
Sentencing Travers, Judge Finnegan said he gave credit for his guilty pleas at the earliest opportunity, the fact that he has a clear record and that from reports it was clear Travers was a hard working man.
However he said aggravating factors were the age of Don when the abuse began, the length of time the abuse continued, the age gap of nine years between Don and his uncle, the breach of the trust, and the fact the abuse progressed in severity.
He said there were three main factors he had to take into consideration: "The first is the culpability of the offender which was high, second is the harm to the victim which was significant and high, and third is the risk to the public which I consider to be low."
Travers was sentenced to three years in jail, followed by three years on supervised probation. He also must sign the Sex Offenders Register for five years and be subject to a Sex Offenders Prevention Order for the requisite period. Travers is also forbidden from working with children and vulnerable adults during this time.

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