Newstalk host Dil opens heart about her 'child sex-abuse hell'
Published 03/04/2011 | 05:00
As host of Newstalk's groundbreaking show Global Village, Dil Wickremasinghe fearlessly tackles a variety of thorny topics including racial discrimination, sex trafficking and institutional abuse.
But she says coming to Ireland from Sri Lanka led her to confront for the first time her own terrible secret of childhood sexual abuse that she had suppressed for years.
The abuse was committed by a maths teacher when she was a young teen but it led to a sundering of her relationship with her mother who she told about the abuse but who chose not to believe her.
Instead she sent Dil back to her abuser whose initial groping and inappropriate touching then escalated into full sexual violence.
"I am 37 now. I was 14 and was a good student despite the fact that I had moved to Sri Lanka after being born and educated in Italy. I picked up English relatively quickly and fared well in most subjects. However, as I struggled with mathematics my parents decided to send me for extra classes to a neighbour who was the principal of a local school. It was extremely important for me to pass mathematics as it was a compulsory subject, which if not passed would result in me being expelled by my school," Dil said.
She said she started going to the class, held in a neighbour's house just yards from the safety of home, along with two other classmates from school.
"The teacher was in his 60s, married, short, wore thick rimmed black glasses and smelled of cheap aftershave," she added, the details still etched on her mind more than 20 years later.
"During class he used to grab our thighs under the table. We decided to tell our parents about it as we felt very uncomfortable. My classmates were taken out of the class. However, when I told my mother she didn't believe me as she thought I was making it up so that I could avoid going to math classes.
"I returned to the class but this time I was alone with him so the abuse escalated to full sexual violence which went on for about two years, two to three times a week," she recalled.
Inevitably Dil failed maths and was expelled from school.
"My family were very upset. They felt I had let them down. They called me stupid and lazy. My father even went as far as to tell me that I didn't deserve to live so I should kill myself ... I did think about it for a while but decided to leave the family home instead."
Dil's mother was a Jehovah's Witness and sex never came up for discussion in the family.
"I still remember the day I told her and how her reaction impacted on me. When she didn't believe me I couldn't bring myself to tell anyone else. I knew that my world as I knew it had changed forever. I was very close to my mother throughout my entire childhood but after that day I have never been able to repair my relationship with her as I felt she had failed me as my guardian."
The events of those years led to conflicting emotions for Dil. "This was my first sexual experience. I remember thinking it was my fault and that I had provoked it and that I even deserved it.
"Then as time went on I used to wonder if it really happened and had it been really that bad?
"I kept thinking I should have tried harder to stop it and felt I was responsible for it. I felt a deep sense of shame and anger towards my mother and my family as the experience completely altered my life in relation to how I felt about myself.
"Because I failed academically I felt unintelligent and lacked self-confidence for a very long time. The experience robbed me of my identity -- it changed me.
Coming to Ireland proved a turning point. "Coming to this country was my salvation as for the first time I was living in a country that actually spoke about sexual abuse. I remember every time I heard of a sex-abuse story in the media the shame would rise within me like hot boiling lava and my ears would get red hot. I never wanted to address it as I was fearful of going to a therapist and having to actually talk about it.
"However, my personal life was falling apart and a friend of mine recommended the services of One in Four. Thanks to them I have been able to work through it and become the person I was always meant to be.
"I feel very lucky that I live in Dublin and that I had a close friend who was a psychotherapist who recommended One in Four to me. I think that there is still a fair bit to go in relation to creating a more accessible support service for survivors of sexual abuse especially on a national level," said Dil.
Requests to One in Four for help on sexual abuse issues have increased six-fold since the publication of the Murphy report in November 2009. More than 1,140 people contacted the organisation last year, seeking advocacy services for their interaction with the justice system -- an overall increase of 267 per cent.
As a result One In Four has introduced a new support service for families where one or more members has experienced sexual violence, and a suicide prevention programme. Funds raised by runners taking part in Dublin's Mini Marathon on behalf of One In Four on June 6 will go to the charity and both Dil and Xpose presenter Aisling O'Loughlin are taking part in the race.
Anyone interested in running for One in Four this June should visit www.oneinfour.org for more details or send an email to email@example.com. The charity's number is 01-662 4070.