Tuesday 16 January 2018

'I wanted to burst out crying... I didn't feel free to express myself. I told no one for 10 years of rape'

Names have been changed in this interview to protect identities.
Names have been changed in this interview to protect identities.

"IT took me ten years to tell anyone that I was raped. Until something like that happens to you, I don't think people realise how profound it is.

"It affects your self-esteem, your confidence and your natural development.

"You are never free and you have to work very hard to break that.

"Only for the help I received in the Rape Crisis Centre, I don't know if I would still be here."

Mary was a 19-year-old aspiring teacher when she went on a student exchange programme to Europe with friends.

One night, nearing the end of the stay, she was raped by a man living in the same house.

For weeks, the 24-year-old was persistently trying to convince her to be his girlfriend.

"In my innocence, I didn't expect what was going to happen.

"I was naive, it wasn't like now, it was summer 1991. I had a few boyfriends but had never had sex.

"He was very persistent in pursuing me. I knew that he wanted me to be his girlfriend.

"I was out of my depth."

Despite being told numerous times that there was no possibility of this, he took no notice.

"He made me nervous and was reading between the lines.

"He was aggressively insistent, to the point of being obsessive."

Mary said that she tried to make sure that she was never alone in the house with him.

One night, he came into her room when she was asleep and forced himself on her.

"I was asleep for around a half hour. I woke as he was locking the door behind him.

"I didn't react I suppose in the way that people see in the movies, kicking and screaming.

"It doesn't happen like that."

The man wouldn't take no for an answer.

"I tried to reason with him but he just wasn't having any of it.

"He kept saying stuff like I know you want to be with me and I really want this."

Mary said that her memory of the rape is selective and therapy is helping her with this. He was much stronger than me physically, he was 6 foot 2" and well built.

"There was no comparison between us.

"You think that you could be able to push them off, but you can't."

She said that she remembers certain things.

"He barely took off his clothes, he wasn't naked. Emotionally, I went to a different place.

"I was crying. I remember trying to pull back and I banged my head."

She said that she was unable to call for help and the ordeal lasted all night until she passed out. "I thought he was going to kill me.

"I was very intimated by his physical stature.

"I beat myself up as to why I didn't do this or why I didn't do that.

"It wasn't until it was explained to me that there's a part in your brain that has a fight or flight response that it hugely helped me and I accepted that there was nothing I could have done."

Mary said the blame, the self loathing and the shame was unbearable.

"As a woman, I think we are very good at that. Not saying he's a bastard, instead saying why didn't I do this or this. It's very hard for a rape victim to realise this."

The following day she felt really sick with a nauseating headache.

"He was gone when I woke. I felt quite weak and didn't have any strength. I was very dizzy too.

"I felt like I wanted to burst out crying, but I also felt that I had to get a hold of myself.

"I didn't feel free to express what had happened. I didn't tell anyone for ten years."

Mary said that she found it difficult to express herself, being a private person. He acted like all the other days, like nothing had happened.

"He was very domineering."

She said that there was a combination of factors as to why she decided not to tell anyone.

"I think the lack of publicity was one. It's improved a bit but there is still a way to go yet.

"Until something like this happens to you, I don't think people realise how profound it is.

"It affects your confidence, your self esteem and your natural development."

When she returned to Ireland, Mary no longer felt she was capable of going to college.

"I wanted to be a teacher, but my concentration was deeply affected.

"It was very hard to concentrate. It's like you have an internal hum that you are never free from. It's very hard to break from."

She explained that not only your body, but your mind and spirit are also affected.

"A lot of people who are abused or raped end up as under or over achievers – there is no middle ground."

Mary left Ireland soon afterward and worked abroad for 16 years.

"Going abroad was a way out, it was the best way I knew to deal with it.

"I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown if I stayed.

"Was it the best option? Probably not."

She suffered with insomnia for years.

"This has hugely improved since I sought help with the Rape Crisis Centre.

"I try and avoid stress triggers that affect sleep patterns and I've learned ways to relax.

"It also changed hugely intimate relationships – not physically – but from a point of view emotionally.

"I became quite needy in relationships."

She met a man 18 months after her ordeal and they were together six years.

"He was a very kind, gentle person.

"You want the first experience that you should have had, the journey of discovery.

"It was not the physicality that was the issue, I was extremely vulnerable and I found it hard to trust someone.

"He never knew about the rape."

Mary said that you try and get on with life.

"I didn't throw myself into drugs or alcohol. But until you deal with it, you are never free.

"It's like you're carrying around an extra four stone bag of potatoes."

Ten years after she was raped, Mary confided in a close female friend.

It was in 2009 that she sought professional help and put a call through to the rape crisis helpline.

She wishes that younger people nowadays are not as afraid at seeking help.

"In my first sessions, I never stopped crying.

"It took me awhile to voice the intimate details of what happened.

"I was living in Dublin and since I came to Sligo, I prefer the centre here. It is more private and I'm also in a men and women's group."

What is her advice to people who are raped? Be kind to yourself, be patient.

"If you do choose to tell someone about it, dealing with it is the best thing that you can do in the long run.

"It's like you are pulling yourself up out of a hole and you realise that you are not damaged goods."

Recently, Mary has slowly started telling friends and family.

"It's hard for them to find the words to say or how to approach it.

"A survivor of rape has this inner trauma.

"So it's important to be kind to them and patient. They won't respond to someone being pushy."

Mary said that she is now in a reasonably good place, thanks to the therapy she has received.

"Although I have a bit of work to do, the bouts of depression and self loathing are not as frequent.

"I don't think the help you receive in the rape crisis centre is measurable.

"I don't know if I would be still here without it. There's so much to deal with – loss, pain, frustration, anger, reality.

"I know that a lot of survivors say it, in order to get the ball rolling, you have to seek help to move on.

"You are freeing yourself up in a way.

"I recently managed to go to college and start a new chapter."

Sligo Champion

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