A JUDGE has expressed concern that social media giant Facebook hindered a garda investigation into allegations that a 15-year-old girl had been raped at an apartment in the city.
The revelation emerged this Wednesday during the sentencing hearing of a 19-year-old man who has admitted engaging in a sexual act with a girl under the age of 17.
While the young girl initially told gardai she had been pushed into a bedroom and forced to have sexual intercourse against her will it was subsequently established the pair had consensual sex.
However, because of her age at the time, the girl was not legally allowed to give her consent.
During a sentencing hearing, Detective garda Ivan Muldoon said the teenager, who was aged 15 and eight months at the time of the offence, was in the care of the Health Service Executive but had left her foster home.
The defendant, who cannot be identified and who lives in a village outside the city had turned 18 a number of weeks before the incident – in April 2013.
Limerick Circuit Court was the two met earlier on the day of the offence in the Patrickswell area before travelling into the city where they went to the home of one of the young girls’ friends.
Det Garda Muldoon told the court that while the mother of the friend was present in the apartment at the time she was drunk and did not intervene.
He said the victim was interviewed a number of days after the incident by specialist garda interviewers in the presence of a social worker and the court heard the defendant was “totally shocked” when the allegations were put to him.
At all times he maintained he had consensual sex with the girl, who he believed was aged 16.
Mark Nicholas BL, defending, said the initial allegations made against his client were “corrosive” and that at all times he had been “straight up” in his dealings with gardai.
The court was told that during the investigation of the incident, gardai became aware that the accused man and the injured party had known each other prior to the incident – primarily through Facebook.
However, Det Garda Muldoon said there had been “difficulties” securing details of the interaction between the pair on Facebook as the social media giant did not give gardai access to the information being sought as it deemed the matter was not serious enough.
John O’Sullivan BL, prosecuting said the company has protocols in place in relation to garda investigations and that the defendant’s guilty plea may have been a factor in its decision.
Judge O’Donnell commented that it was concerning that the investigation had been “blocked” given the instant nature of the social media site.
In mitigation, Mr Nicholas said his client has no previous convictions and had never come to the attention of gardai prior to the incident.
He said it was a difficult and awkward case but that his client had fully cooperated with the garda investigation.
Mr Nicholas said while his client committed a statutory offence most young people “don’t actually know the law” in relation to such activity.
He said it is a fact of life that young people are having sex given the sexualised world of social media and television advertising.
He also highlighted the influence that popstars such as Rihanna and Miley Cyrus have on young people.
He said the relationship between his client and the victim “was not Romeo and Juliet” and he described what happened as sordid.
Having listened to the submissions, Judge O’Donnell questioned if, given the circumstances of what happened, if it would be fair to criminalise the defendant.
He said was a “very unusual prosecution” and he commented that it was an “enormous mitigating factor” that gardai accepted the defendant’s version of events.
He adjourned the case for a year for review.