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Sunday 21 July 2019

'My fear evaporated, he was just a man' - sexual assault victim opens up about meeting attacker and playing herself in new film

Ailbhe Griffith shared her story on The Late Late Show, RTE One
Ailbhe Griffith shared her story on The Late Late Show, RTE One
Rachel Farrell

Rachel Farrell

A woman who was viciously assaulted on her walk home from work in 2005 has spoken about meeting with her attacker a decade later, and playing herself in an upcoming true-life movie.

Ailbhe Griffith was 21 and working in a bar when the attack occured. She was walking the short four-minute walk from the bus stop to her home when a man pulled her from behind.

"Life was good. I had graduated and was about to do post grad in law. I was working in bars and restaurants to save money to go travelling," Ailbhe told Ryan Tubridy on the Late Late Show.

"I had gotten a sense that someone had gotten off the bus behind me. I noticed someone walking parallel to me and alarm bells were ringing."

Ailbhe believed that working in a bar had left her prepared to handle all sorts of "uncomfortable situations," but nothing could prepare her for what happened next.

"I turned around and just saw him looking straight at me. Within that split second I just knew something awful was about happen," she explained.

"I was grabbed and pulled into a bush backwards, my clothes were taken off, he strangled me and sexually assaulted me over the course of 40-50 minutes .… I just wanted to stay alive."

The attacker stopped when two passersby intervened, and chased the man down while she ran home. Going to report the attack to the Gardai was her initiation into the justice system.

"[Reporting it is] just the first part of it, the wheels move slowly, there is a lot of waiting. There was no trial, I was happy with the sentence handed down. It was a guilty plea so I didn’t need to go to trial," she said.

The process of getting justice left Ailbhe feeling more and more frustrated at her attacker, questioning how he could be human.

"I had post-traumatic stress and eating disorders. When I first heard the attacker’s name I couldn’t even believe he had a name. I couldn’t conceive that this monster could also be a human.

"It was mind boggling. These experiences began to make me think. One time, I saw him standing outside a district court talking to a solicitor, I was floored, I couldn’t believe he was just standing there.

"The victim impact statement was the only time I felt my story was heard."

A decade later, Ailbhe decided she wanted to meet with her attacker as she sought closure on questions that preyed on her mind ever since the attack. She met with Dr Marie Keenan, a restorative justice practioner.

Dr Keenan explained that using a restorative justice meeting can help to "reduce fear".

"It's been in this country since 2009 but more recently we've been trying to develop it for more serious crimes," she said.

"What happens, as Ailbhe describes, are that the outcomes are really good. The most important thing is that it reduces post traumatic stress disorder and reduces fear."

When asked what she got from the meeting, Ailbhe said she got what she wanted - "to see him as a human, to let go of the anger I’d felt.

"I felt I couldn’t forgive him if I didn’t see him as a human. Also for him to see that I’m a human.

"My fear evaporated the minute I went into the room. I saw that he was just a man.

"Now I am really good. I am happy. It’s been absolutely and utterly transformative for me."

The basis of meeting her attacker has been developed into a movie called The Meeting, which will be released on September 28. In it, Ailbhe plays herself.

Her attacker is played by Terry O'Neill and the movie explores their discussion on the psychological and emotional ramifications of the assault.

If you have been affected by this article, you can contact the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre’s National 24-hour Helpline on 1800 77 8888, or see their website on http://www.drcc.ie/

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