Metro Weekly

Irish Soldier Receives No Jail Time for Assaulting Woman

Protests broke out across Ireland as a soldier avoided jail for assaulting a woman in an anti-gay slur incident.

Natasha O’Brien (Limerick Leader screenshot), Cathal Crotty (Social Media)
Natasha O’Brien (Limerick Leader screenshot), Cathal Crotty (Social Media)

Protests broke out across Ireland after a soldier who pleaded guilty to assaulting a woman who had intervened to stop him from yelling homophobic slurs at a passerby was given a sentence that allows him to avoid serving time in prison. 

Thousands of people marched in major cities, including Cork, Dublin, Galway, and Limerick, as part of protests organized by women’s rights groups, objecting to the sentence and standing in solidarity with the victim, 24-year-old Natasha O’Brien.

“It’s one thing to be the victim of a heinous crime at the hands of a man who has pledged to protect the citizens of Ireland, but it is another thing when the Department of Justice and the Defence Forces overlook it,” O’Brien said at the Limerick rally, criticizing Cathal Crotty’s sentence. 

Crotty pleaded guilty to assaulting O’Brien on May 29, 2022, after she asked him to stop shouting homophobic slurs at others in the city center of Limerick.

The Irish Army private, who was off-duty and intoxicated at the time, grabbed O’Brien by the hair, knocking her to the ground and punching her at least six times, reported The Guardian.

He later boasted of the incident to friends on Snapchat: “Two to put her down, two to put her out.”

O’Brien suffered a broken nose, swelling, bruising, and a concussion. She later told the Limerick circuit criminal court that the attack left her feeling like “a punching bag” and that her last conscious thought was, “He’s not stopping. I’m going to die.”

O’Brien said she suffered from persistent concussion symptoms and a sense of dread and isolation, which led to self-destructive behavior and the loss of her job at a local pub.

“I became numb and detached from reality, living in perpetual fear of seeing him again,” she testified.

Crotty initially claimed that O’Brien had instigated the violence, but later decided to plead guilty after closed-circuit television camera footage showed that the assault was unprovoked.

O’Brien had been on her way home after work when she asked Crotty to stop hurling anti-gay slurs. She did not know him previously.

Crotty’s superior, commandant Paul Togher, testified that the 22-year-old had acted out of character and was an exemplary and disciplined soldier.

On June 20, Judge Tom O’Donnell gave Crotty a fully-suspended three-year sentence and ordered him to pay 3,000 euros in compensation.

O’Donnell called the assault appalling, cowardly, and vicious, but took into account Crotty’s guilty plea, his lack of previous convictions, and the potential end to his army career if sentenced to jail.

O’Brien criticized the sentence as emblematic of a broken system, noting that other assault cases had also resulted in outcomes where perpetrators did not serve time in jail, which she argued has the effect of deterring victims from pursuing charges against their attackers.

“This is not just this man, this is many, many, many, young people in Ireland that carry on like this, and there was really no justice,” she said with in an interview BBC Radio Ulster’s Evening Extra program.

Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris said that attacks like the one Crotty committed against O’Brien were unacceptable.

“We are living in a country where there is still an epidemic of gender-based violence,” Harris said.

Helen McEntee, Ireland’s justice minister, said the government is considering a law that would require a person supplying a character reference to be cross-examined in cases of domestic or sexual violence against women.

The Director of Public Prosecutions has since lodged an appeal of Crotty’s sentence, calling it too lenient, according to the Irish Independent.

“This is a step forward, but I am still at the bottom of a big mountain so I’m going to keep going,” O’Brien said in response to the appeal. “The amount of victims that have come forward to me with sentencing horror stories, and their convicted [abusers] walking free, with no hope of an appeal, is quite frightening.”

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