Sunday 17 November 2019

Ireland is backward over supporting rape victims

One sex-abuse victim explains why she's angry at the treatment victims get and the public and official attitudes to them

A few weeks ago I read Niamh Ni Dhomhnaill's story about how she was raped by her then partner while she slept. It sickened me to the core. The headline in the Sunday Independent read: "It's time we put rape victims first". If that were my article, I would have headlined it "It's long overdue…"

It's yet another example of how backward Ireland is in supporting rape victims. The fact that there is a debate on the definition of rape disgusts me as much as the act of rape. To me, it's obvious.

It's when one person performs a sexual act on another person without their willingness, regardless of whether the two people are known to each other or not. Without knowing this, how can we even start to educate the next generation about sexual violence? There was no willingness on Ms Ni Dhomhnaill's part as she was asleep.

My first 800 to 1,000 sexual experiences were with my older brother, without my willingness. I said "stop" and "no". He held me down and said I wanted it and said no-one would believe me. Most of my family are aware of this now. He is married and his wife has knowledge of the abuse and they have children.

I reported him to the HSE two years ago and have rarely heard from them despite regular calls as to the progress on determining his children's safety. Tusla states on their website "Children First". How many years after reporting will they become first?

My family have told me the children are "fine", which is not reassuring when it comes to a child's safety. My family members are aware of what he did and they sit alongside him for dinners, Christmas, family get-togethers and they talk about normal things. I find this disturbing and very upsetting .

I told my parents about the abuse 25 years ago or so. I am still, on and off , in therapy. As far as I am aware, he never received therapy to ensure he doesn't abuse again. An abuser is not a creature recognisable in a crowd. He/she is a human, who chose to act in an inhumane manner towards another person.

In my case, it started when I was a child, and continued up to my early adult years. He was a couple of years older. I was a young innocent, naive, but kind and decent child.

I was given no logical reason as to why he hurt me. Now I am angry, stressed and still in therapy, when I can afford it, through Credit Union loans, and when I have emotional energy to undergo it.

A few years after I told my parents, I lived abroad to escape. While there, the infamous X Case occurred in Ireland. I had people of all nationalities verbally attack me and my other Irish friends in public for the Irish system's failure to both protect and support the girl raped in this case. Twenty-five years later and hardly anything has changed. Why haven't we progressed with victims' rights?

A lot has happened here since the Celtic Tiger was followed by the recession - a failing health system, water protests, etc.

I listen to these dramas and despite being affected by them, and having a few minor health issues, plus being overweight and, lonely because I don't have a partner, I feel I could cope better if I didn't have to deal with the lack of family and legal support for victims like myself.

I know I'm not alone, as I've heard it from many others in group counselling.

The fact is I'm not ashamed of what happened to me. But I am ashamed of my family. I know they're ashamed of me. They look at me and I remind them of their failings.

I know I'm lucky to have great friends. Even though they are all busy, I appreciate the time they make the effort to spend with me and I love them and their families for their ongoing love and support. On top of all that, they also donated generously to the Rape Crisis Centre when I recently completed a sporting event.

To prove I'm not ashamed, I'm supplying the newspaper with my name and details, but to openly name myself in this paper could hurt the few of the family I do actually care about, though why I should put them before me is another sad reflection of my life. But Ms Ni Dhomhnaill's point "that no abuse victim should have to waive anonymity" is another sad reflection that rape and abuse victims don't feel able to be open about their experiences. Why? I think we're an amazing bunch of people who have to work harder than anyone else in the country at healing ourselves.

I do understand that some of those victimised are unable to go to court. I have not yet gone to the gardai - I may yet - but there are many difficulties.

It's shocking, however, that suspended sentences are allowed for sexual crimes. And I am equally angry at the judges who impose these sentences. They listen to a rapist say they're sorry and will get help. The reality is that very few do, otherwise there wouldn't be so many angry victims in Ireland struggling to get on with their lives. They're in A&Es crippled with pain, they're the lonely child in the school, the bully in the workplace. Something happened to them and neglect after neglect is having a knock-on effect on this country.

I have a few bits of advice for rape and abuse victims reading this.

Find a friend who is willing to listen to your problems as you do theirs. If they can't, find a better friend.

Counselling helps. It's hard work, but it is worth it.

Do things you love - music, theatre, sport, or swim with dolphins, or travel.

Take care of yourself, exercise, eat well, meditate and have a small few treats a week. You deserve it.

Get a healthy balance between being on your own and being with people. You need some time to yourself to heal properly.

Say daily "I am proud of myself" out loud, say it until you believe it and then keep saying it.

Sunday Independent

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