Brave sex abuse survivor speaks out so others might seek help
GILLIAN Kavanagh has spent more than 21 years living with a terrible secret. But when one of her neighbours was recently named as a child sex-abuser she knew it was time to speak out about her own ordeal.
The 30-year-old decided to reveal the abuse she suffered as a young girl so that other victims might seek help.
"I want to let people know that there is light at the end of tunnel and that you can survive it," Ms Kavanagh said.
She found the courage to tell her story after reading about the abuse a young boy and girl suffered at the hands of one of her neighbours.
Michael Butler (87), of Maudlin Street, Kilkenny, was convicted recently of abusing the two children in the 1980s and early 1990s. He was not involved in the abuse Ms Kavanagh suffered, but his appearance in the papers made her want to reach out to others.
Ms Kavanagh was indecently assaulted by a teenage boy when she was just nine years old. And although her attacker was sentenced to two years in St Patrick's Institution for Young Offenders, she struggled for decades to come to terms with what happened to her.
"Most of the pictures I had of myself as a kid I threw out. I'm always at the back and I'm always wearing boy's clothes. It was a very frightening ordeal, the gardai and the social workers coming to the door."
The Kavanagh family endured verbal threats and attacks to their home in the period leading up to the trial. Eventually they were forced to move to a different part of Kilkenny. But the problems followed the nine-year-old Gillian. She became more introverted and unable to handle simple situations at school.
"I wouldn't ask if I could go to the toilet, I used to wet myself a lot because I was too scared to ask."
As a teenager Ms Kavanagh cut her hair short and hid under a scarf and hat. She feels these years were stolen from her.
"The only man's hand I've ever held walking the streets of Kilkenny was my father's.
"My poor dad died fairly young, it was hard on him -- he never saw me in a dress and he always saw me unhappy."
Her mother also died young but she says her three brothers have been a great support.
She decided to tell her story to encourage others to speak out. "I am ready to talk about it if it gives one man or woman in this country a chance to step forward to the gardai or their local rape crisis centre," she said.