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Dublin: 15°C Thursday 28 October 2021

'I was nine when he first abused me, I was home from school because I was sick'

Emma and Vanessa Witherow’s mother stood by their stepfather after he was jailed for sexually abusing them over ten years.

Image: TV3

EARLIER THIS WEEK John Joe Patterson was jailed for sexually abusing his two stepdaughters over a ten-year period.

He was sentenced to eight years in prison with the final 18 months suspended. The girls’ mother, Francis, is standing by her husband (55) – a former driver and milk man from Tipperary.

The sisters, Emma and Vanessa Witherow, appeared on TV3′s Ireland AM today to discuss what has happened to them.

Speaking about their mother’s decision to stand by their stepfather, Vanessa said: “I wouldn’t give her the title mother. I miss having a mother figure, but I don’t miss her. She didn’t show us the proper love a mother shows her kids, like I’m showing my kids. Mothers (should) protect their children because if you don’t who’s going to?”

She said her stepfather’s sentence is “not half enough”, stating: “I mean he took all our childhood, all our teenage years and is still taking parts of our lives away from us. He deserves a lot more.”

The sisters spoke about their memories of being abused.

Emma recalled: “I was nine, the first abuse was when I was at home sick from school and I was out helping him. He used to deliver hampers and the boxes of stuff would be dropped by a lorry to the shed at the side of our home place. We were stacking the boxes and, when we were finished, then he just pushed me down on a pallet and put me face down and abused me.”

Witherow sisters speak out in exclusive television interview on ?Ireland AM? - In Picture: L-R - Emma, Vanessa & Laura Witherow Vanessa Source: TV3

I was nine so I didn’t really understand what was after happening. I know when he gave me money I thought ‘I can get the CD I want now’ because I love my music.
I was so terrified I never opened my mouth. I knew it was wrong. I never knew when the next abuse was going to happen. I would always be face down and I would always have my pants and underwear pulled down and he would be on top of me and on the back of me. It would always be skin to skin.

Vanessa added: “You don’t understand what’s happening … The last time was probably the worst … I can remember the smell, what he was wearing, the room. Those details will never leave me. Even just talking about it – you can feel that rush down your spine … It’ll never leave. It’s learning to cope with the thoughts and the feelings that will get you through it.”

In a desperate attempt to evade Patterson, Emma left the family home aged 18, taking Vanessa (then 13) with her.

When sentencing Patterson, Judge John Hannan said he represented “the dark underbelly of Irish family life”.

Read: Man who abused stepdaughters over decade represents “dark underbelly of Irish family life”

Read: Sisters abused by stepfather say they will never forgive mother who stood by him

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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