Dominique Meehan: 'My family and friends had to learn on the fly how to support me after I was raped and that's not good enough'
Rape and sexual assault are common crimes, so shouldn't we be teaching people how to support the survivors? Dominique Meehan waived her anonymity after Keith Hearne was jailed for raping and falsely imprisoning her in a Dublin hotel. Here she shares advice on how to help a loved one if they are affected.
Every survivor of trauma needs to be supported by their family and friends, but also by the society around them, whether that be by putting up accident black spots on roads, or by making counselling services available for soldiers coming home from war.
Rape survivors are exactly the same. The role family and friends play in helping a rape survivor get through their first few days after their attack all the way up to the months and years on is vital. My rape was two years and three months ago and I still need to lean on my support network to get through trauma episodes. These episodes include flashbacks, nightmares or anxiety attacks I have about being around people who look like Keith Hearne, or just men in general.
This is the problem for a lot of rape survivors, often a whole gender can send a survivor into a traumatic spiral, possibly to alcoholism, drug abuse, self-harm or suicide just to get away from their pain. But such a spiral is completely preventable with a good support network and counselling in place.
We as a society need to support rape survivors in the best way we can but the problem is no one teaches us how. My friends and family had to learn on the fly, which is just wrong in a society that’s supposed to be in the information age. And when the crime of rape and sexual abuse happens to 1 in four women and 1 in 33 men, shouldn’t tips be written on the sides of buses, on billboards, on television?
And now we must learn step by step.
1. Finding out.
Someone has told you to sit down and tells you they’ve been hurt. If the situation seems serious and you suspect they have been raped, sit quietly. Let them speak in their own time. This is very important. The person sitting in front of you, man or woman, had all their power taken away. In this moment, it is essential for you to not break their trust by rushing them.
They may never use the word “rape”. They might say “I was attacked”, “someone hurt me”. Let them expand as far as they are comfortable.
Ask them to answer a yes or no question, “Were you raped?” You need to know this answer because it will quickly fall to you to carry out the next few steps.
2. SATU (Sexual Assault Treatment Unit)
Now has come the time for some tough love. Many survivors will want to deny what has happened, despite already confirming they were raped. What they need is to be seen by a doctor in their nearest SATU. Reassure them that everything said and done there will be kept confidential, that nothing will be reported to the gardaí unless they give their express permission. But it is crucial that they attend, in case they have contracted an STI.
From the outside looking in, it might be difficult to understand why someone would not want to report such a serious crime, but this isn’t a burglary or a car theft. Rape is an abuse of power, a power trip for the rapist.
I talk about power a lot when it comes to rape. This is because rape has very little to do with the act of sex. Rape is forcing someone to do something so intimate, so personal, something they would never do if they haven’t been forced to. The survivor needs to be shown that they still have power, that their decisions are respected.
Deciding to report to the gardaí is a part of regaining their power and their control of their being. The nurses will talk to the survivor, on their own or with you in the room. Let the survivor decide. SATU will make sure they are healthy by taking blood, doing internal exams. There will be one injection to protect them from Hepatitis B and four tablets for Chlamydia. The nurses will also make a follow-up appointment. It is your job in the coming weeks to make sure they go.
Phone numbers, should you need them, are included below.
3. The First Few Months and Beyond
The staff in SATU will give the survivor all the other vital steps they need for their mental health, such as counselling and contacting their doctor if they give permission. If not don’t worry, the numbers you need for making an appointment are listed below. Even if the survivor is in counselling and attending SATU, this is not the time for you to slack off. You are part of this person’s support network and they will need to talk and vent their emotions to someone. Make yourself available to them.
There are a number of things you can do that are really easy and show that you care. What you are trying to do essentially is prove to them they haven’t changed in your eyes. Many survivors feel tainted, dirty or used. Show them they are still a normal person to you. Continue doing the things you used to do before, like gaming or watching movies.
- Read more: 'I wanted everyone to know what he did to me': Woman (24) who bravely waived anonymity to jail vicious rapist
4. Taking Care of You
Communicate with other people in the survivor’s support group to make sure everyone in is pulling their weight because supporting a rape survivor is not a one-person job. Supporting someone is hard and it’s okay to ask for help, or even back off completely.
The support network the survivor has can support each other too, to make things easier.
If you have any worries or questions, ring the RCNI and they will be happy to answer any questions you have, or tweet me at @DominiqueMeehan and I will endeavour to find an answer for you. Support networks are essential for a rape victim to become a rape survivor, and it doesn’t happen overnight. We all need to learn to rally around survivors and protect vulnerable people in our community.
- Cork SATU: 021 4926297
- Donegal SATU: 0870681964 or 0749125888 ext. 3595
- Dublin SATU: 018171700 (Ask for SATU)
- Galway SATU: 091765751 (out of hours, contact your local Garda station)
- Mullingar SATU: 044 93 40221 (ask for the nursing administration)
- Midwest SATU: 1850 212 999
- Waterford SATU: 051 848000 (ask for SATU)
- National Helpline 1800 77 8888