We have learned a lot about Tom Humphries’ behaviour with minors these last few weeks, and we have also learned a lot about Tom Humphries himself. Some news outlets have chosen to mention his achievements in articles ostensibly concerning the outcome of the trial, and many public commentators have alluded multiple times to his talent as a sports writer. The Irish Times have even taken us through ‘A Day in the Life’ of a jailed Humphries. Of course, it is not that Humphries’ crimes negate his writing skills, but it is simply not relevant when discussing his predatory actions.
Fellow sports journalist and long-time personal friend of Humphries, David Walsh has come under scrutiny for defending Humphries as a “great, great man.” He and Donal Og Cusack also provided character references for the trial which led to lighter sentencing for Humphries. But why is a character reference even relevant? He groomed a child into a sexual relationship with him that lasted months. It was never his character that was on trial, but his actions. How successful his career has been or how highly his friends think of him should be of no relevance when deliberating the magnitude of his crime. It, obviously in this case, does not mean that he is willing to treat everyone with the same respect. One should not be judged by how they treat their peers, but in how they treat those who are more vulnerable than they are. Humphries’ lauded fine character cannot undo the damage his abuse has inflicted on that young woman.
When Eamon Dunphy weighed in, he said that he didn’t realise the scale of the abuse, and that he thought it was “more of a question of . . . underage sex.” But another word for this is paedophilia. His reaction suggests a deep misunderstanding of the entire situation which isn’t just limited to Dunphy, for it is a misunderstanding that runs parallel to the perceived relevance of a character reference. For Dunphy knew Humphries, not a paedophile.
The idea of a child sexual predator still seems to be of an almost sickly, visibly abnormal outsider whom one inherently knows to stay away from. Yet many well-known sex-offending paedophiles have been rock stars, TV stars, politicians, and priests. They are examples of men of good standing within a community, and most of them had enough social power to enable abuse. Just last year, a scandal erupted in British football when Andy Woodward accused his coach Barry Bennell – a man who had already been arrested and jailed multiple times for paedophilia – of sexually abusing him consistently when he was a child. As a result, dozens of other men from all over Britain came forward about similar abuses they said they experienced as children at the hands of their own football coaches.
In Humphries’ case, the abuse was discovered by his own daughter when she asked him for his old mobile phones to be recycled. When she put her sim card into one of the phones she came across some of the sexually explicit messages. The extent of his manipulation of the child can be traced through the many text messages he sent the girl. She had asked him to stop and he eventually wore her down. Gardaí found over 16,000 messages he exchanged with her over the period of, and leading up to, the physical abuse. We know that he was also aware of issues she had which made her vulnerable, such as anorexia.
When confronted by his family, Humphries, after years of abuse and manipulation of a child, was overcome suddenly and admitted to psychiatric hospital over fears he would take his own life. Similar to Weinstein’s self-admittance to a rehab centre because he was “not doing OK,” Humphries became the victim of his actions only after he was caught. Gardaí were unable to speak to him for 18 months after his admission to psychiatric care. When they could speak to him, he provided little information of value to advancing the case.
Humphries received a two-and-a-half-year sentence for his actions. The lenience of the sentence is partially due to Humphries’ high profile, which judge Karen O’Connor stated should be taken into account, since “the higher the profile and success of a member of our society, the greater the fall.” Critics have pointed out, however, that it was the very high-profile position he had that he used to his advantage to perpetrate the abuse in the first place. Indeed, in the cases of so many abusers, high social standing is par for the course. Status is often the main circumstance which allows their behaviour to thrive unhindered. It seems fair to ask why Humphries should benefit further from the high status he abused in the first place.
Different representatives of the justice system have come out in defence of the sentence because it is consistent with outcomes for similar cases. A barrister named Joe Brolly was quoted as saying that people should “allow the courts to do their jobs and not succumb to this base instinct of outrage and revenge.” He appears to miss the point completely. The problem for many seems to be that the sentence does not strike them as one which embodies justice. If this is standard sentencing for crimes like this, it is surely more, rather than less, cause for concern for these critics.
Every celebration of Humphries’ talents and personality, inside or outside of the courtroom, must be yet another blow to the young woman who suffered at his hands. She has already said in her victim impact statement that she is plagued by flashbacks and panic attacks, and suffers from depression. She also said, “I never felt as low and as small about myself as when this happened to me.” We can only imagine the strength of her character it is taking her to recover from months of abuse she had to endure in the midst of her formative years.