Níamh Ní Dhomhnaill : He controlled me, mocked me and abused me in the place we... regarded as a home
As her former partner walks free despite admitting raping her in her sleep, Níamh Ní Dhomhnaill says she can't believe he escaped any significant consequences
Published 18/07/2015 | 02:30
I never thought that I would be raped. It seems like an utterly naïve thing to say, but it is the truth.
I thought that I was too smart, and that I would outrun, outsmart any potential attacker. I kept my eyes glued when walking home late at night, something I frequently did, despite friends and my parents advice not to. I used to love the freedom of walking home after a night out, or an evening debrief over tea in town with friends about some latest minor scandal. I was always aware that rape happened but, perhaps like many reading this, I just didn't think it could happen to me.
On reflection now, it is probably a fairer assertion that I did not want to believe it could happen to me. All too aware of stranger danger, I succumbed to the most dangerous of complacencies within a relationship: that I was safe with this person who, on the surface campaigned ferociously for women's rights and LGBT issues, to name two of many.
However, within the confines of our relationship, my former partner Magnus Meyer Hustveit controlled me, mocked me and abused me in the place we - I shudder now to refer to it - regarded as a home.
A relationship should never be discussed in terms of how it confines individuals, but I was very much confined by him. For those who have never experienced an abusive relationship, it really is not as simple as packing and leaving. I know I thought that I was too self-aware and savvy to find myself in that situation, but the truth is that it can happen to anyone: it is not something relegated to specific genders, socio-economic groups, or belief systems. It happens between people, regardless of any of these differentiating factors we might perceive.
A motivating factor for me in going public was that I felt I did not fit what a lot of people might view as the profile of an individual who became entangled in a dangerous and abusive relationship. Tall, outspoken, educated, confident, socially minded and sociable, and yet I write this because, despite these characteristics, I found myself in a situation where I dreaded coming back in the evenings after work for fear of what would happen. Abusers and their victims really know no discernible profiles.
My experience of rape is one of utter confusion. Why did he do it? How did he do it? It tormented me for a very long time that he did this without my waking. It was always a running joke between my best friend and I that if someone stirred in the same room that I was sleeping in, I would immediately wake up. I have had to let go of the questions as to how I did not wake: were I to continue to ask, I would never trust anyone again. I was not, contrary to what has been reported, on medication. I had been unwell and fatigued for a long period of time, but that does not go any way to explaining the panic I feel for having no memory of being raped. It is, in fact, terrifying to know that you were violated in a place most of us regard as a sanctuary.
Having to ask the unfathomable question, 'Did you have sex with me while I was asleep?' was as strange as it sounds. The pieces of the puzzle were there for me to assemble and come to that conclusion, but the enormity of what that actually meant was something else entirely.
By the time I had realised he had done it again two weeks later, pressed him on his behaviour and he told me it had been going on a few times a week for the past 11 months, I felt like I had been hit by a truck.
The decision to go to the Gardaí was not even a decision I remember making; it was a foregone conclusion.
Armed with an admission in an email, I felt I had done my best in a situation that was otherwise unprovable. Like many accusations of rape, it would have been a case of one person's word against another and, given the deceitful nature of his crimes, there was no way a case could be made to prosecute without some form of evidence.
In the end, that the very evidence that made it possible to bring Magnus and his crimes to court seemed to also exonerate him of any significant punitive consequences was undeniably beyond comprehension.
Nonetheless, this was the outcome, and Magnus was able to return, as was disclosed to the court, to his job, his recent fiancée, her two young children, and all of the things he enjoys about having his freedom.
I do not know if I can ever truly believe that a person who takes so much from you can ever give it back. Nothing could return me to who I was before his crimes, but that is not what I sought when I reported his crimes. I did it because we are taught from early on that you report behaviour that is harmful.
I do not know whether he feels remorse or bears any shame for what he did to me, but I do know that, as someone who has experienced rape and sexual assault, I feel I will always bear consequences as a result of his actions. I will not know shame for what he has done to me, but I have had to work hard on that. Those of us who have experienced rape or sexual abuse are, I believe, left with a life sentence. How can you look at life the same way again?
However, I would urge anyone for whom this resonates to not stay silent. Talk. Whether you've said it before or have never found the words, please find a way. Because to stay silent not only hurts you, it allows that person potentially to abuse again and it also leaves them with the power they took from you.
Rape and sexual abuse leave us disempowered, but it has been my experience that this power can be reclaimed. Do not be discouraged by comments made or judgments passed and do not feel shame for another's actions.
We do not all have to waive our anonymity, but we should feel supported enough to do so within whatever circles we feel comfortable, so that we can talk, cry, heal and help.