A High Court judge has commented 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 the woman 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law could not be any clearer that the consequences of continuing to have sex with someone or touch them, once they have withdrawn consent, will lead to a prosecution.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 that it is mainly men that find 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 convictions 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.
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 today 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 that “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 that 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 continued.
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 that 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 that a probation report before the court concludes that 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 commented.
She accepted evidence that 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”.