'I would do anything to block out the reality of my life'
"THEY had been my boyfriends. I thought they had been in love with me."
These were the tragic words of a 20-year-old woman, struggling to come to terms with the devastating impact of being sexually abused by men in a small rural town when she was 12 and 13 years old.
Breaking her silence for the first time since the shocking abuse came to light seven years ago, the courageous young woman, who has made many suicide attempts, said she was doing it not just for herself but for others.
"I don't feel raped. I feel robbed of my childhood.
"I am a victim of child sex abuse and I stand before this court to have my voice heard for myself and for other young children who are vulnerable and in need of protection," she said.
She said she had sex with 22 men when she was 12 and 13 years old, and that she had never enjoyed sex but had not wanted to say no.
And when she was taken in by gardai for questioning, her first instinct had been to protect the men who abused her.
"I was foolish to believe all these men were in love with me," she said.
She chose to have her statement read to the court by the senior counsel for the State prior to yesterday's sentencing of Paul Gilmore.
It outlined in harrowing detail the mental and physical turbulence the vulnerable child went through after she was removed from the family home at 13 and placed in residential care for the remainder of her childhood.
"I still can't believe that this is my life. My only wish is to be normal like I did before this happened to me," she said.
She told of how she was shocked by the media coverage of the case and particularly one headline, which had described her as a prostitute.
"I was embarrassed and ashamed. I worried about what would happen when I went home. I hated making statements. I thought everyone would talk about me.
"I was called degrading names in the unit. My head was so confused and I constantly questioned myself. Was this all my fault? All I could think of was making it all stop."
Interviewed 20 times by gardai during her teenage years, she revealed how she took drugs and ran away from the residential home.
"I would do anything to block out the reality of my life. I would cut myself. My legs and arms are covered in scars. I hated my life. I wanted to die."
As time went on, the self-harming grew worse and the cuts got deeper.
"I overdosed repeatedly. I was trying to kill myself. I hated my life. I wanted to die. I continue to relive the trauma of what happened to me. The fear was too much to contain in my life. I couldn't trust anyone."
It was only after she was encouraged to engage in therapy that she was "forced to reflect and understand for the first time" that she "was an innocent child who was sexually abused".
She said she still found it hard to trust people and was never able to sustain anything she started.
"I would feel anxious or ashamed, spending days and nights writing suicide notes, all starting with the same words 'why me?'"
She wondered whether any man would be able to accept her or would they think as she did that she was "dirty or stained".