Two Tipperary women who were sexually abused by their stepfather as children have urged others in their situation to come forward and seek justice.
Emma Witherow, 27, and her sister, Vanessa, 24, waived their right to anonymity last week after John Joe Patterson, 54, of Kilclooney, Moyne, pleaded at Nenagh Circuit Court to one count of sexually assaulting Vanessa. He had already been convicted by a jury of 39 counts of sexual assault on Emma between September 1996 and 2006 following a five-week trial.
The two brave women have now called on others to find the courage to report abuse to the Gardai.
“We would encourage others who have suffered sexual abuse to come forward. We knew we had each other for support but the Gardai were fantastic. They believed us from day one. They were like rocks. All the gardai were so supportive,” said Emma.
They had special praise for Det Trevor Moore, who led the investigation, along with Det PJ Ahearn, Garda Martina Kelly and Sgt Fiona Fogarty. They reported the abuse five years ago, and this was followed by three years of a Garda investigation and it took another two years before the case came to court.
“Trevor was brilliant. The gardai never get thanked enough. We really want to thank them. If they didn’t do their job we wouldn’t be here today,” said Vanessa.
“Martina sat beside me for the five-week trial and she was was going to be there for Vanessa,” said Emma.
She told the Tipperary Star that once the abuse began, in her case when she was just nine years old, and when her sister was abused also aged nine, they had “no childhood after that. The effect was massive.”
Both were still in primary school when the abuse began, and Vanessa said she loved going to school because it was a “lot more relaxed than being at home where you were looking over your shoulder”. They were both “terrified” to go home.
They have no doubt their torment held them back over the years.
Emma eventually decided to do something about her abuser when she was 18 years old and moved out of the house, taking Vanessa with her.
“I thought it would stop, but it didn’t. Vanessa was only 13 when I moved out and I wasn’t leaving her there,” said Emma, who first moved into rented accommodation before buying a house. “We were happy just to get out of there.”
Vanessa said: “From the outside looking in you would think we were a normal family. We were an average household.”
John Joe Patterson will be sentenced on October 6 by Nenagh Circuit Court and both said that should bring some closure, ”but you will never forget it,” said Emma. “We have to give our victim impact statement. It will not be as hard as giving evidence, but part of the closure will be to get up there and read it out. We also wanted to give people the courage to come forward. We also wanted him named.”
One thing both are in no doubt about is they will never forgive their stepfather.
“There will be no forgiveness on my behalf,” said Emma.
“Not for him,” said Vanessa.
Emma said her stepfather never showed any remorse, never said sorry and stated that he had grinned after he was found guilty by the jury.
“Forgiveness will never come because he is not sorry,” said Emma.
After October 6, they hope to start lving their lives, particularly through living their lost childhoods through their own children.
However, as mothers, trust is a big issue. “Other mothers are protective of their children, but we are over-protective because of what happened to us,” said Vanessa.
They believe that waiving their anonymity was the right thing to do as the support they have received has been fantastic.
“I was walking down the street and a complete stranger came over to me and said: ‘Congratulations. You are so brave. Keep up the good work,” said Vanessa.