The Kavanagh Sisters Podcast

The Kavanagh Sisters Podcast header image 1

Episode 25 - Mary Crilly, Founder and Director of Sexual Violence Centre Cork

'Trigger Warning' if you or someone you know has been affected by sexual abuse you can call the Sexual Violence Centre Cork on (01800) 496 496.

 In today’s podcast we will be talking to Mary Crilly, Founder and Director of the Sexual Violence Centre Cork (SVCC). SVCC is a non-profit community organisation that opened its doors for the first time in 1982. The Centre has been providing services to victims of sexual violence in Cork for over 38 years.

Mary is a formidable woman and her strength and resilience in advocating for women’s equality and the right for those who have experienced sexual violence or child abuse to receive appropriate services is something she has fought for, for over three decades.  She was the first in Cork to introduce counselling and support to women, men and teenagers who have experienced sexual violence or child sexual abuse.

Mary is a Member of the Irish National Observatory on VAW.  She holds an MA in Women’s Studies and a Diploma in The Psychology of Criminal Behaviour. In 2019, the University College Cork presented Mary with the ‘Inaugural Equality Award’ for her role in promoting equality diversity and inclusion with a focus on her work as director of the centre for sexual violence.  In 2000 she established OSS Cork (Domestic Violence Information Resource Centre) an NGO dedicated to providing supports to victims of Domestic Violence.  She is also the author of ‘Violence in Ireland. The Criminal Justice System – A Guide for Victims’.

In 2019 Mary was diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer and following a major operation and months of intense treatment she is feeling fighting fit. In her own words “I am more determined than ever to fight for survivors of sexual abuse”.

Mary talks about how she feels about TUSLA’s introduction of their latest guidelines for stress testing victims of sexual abuse by their alleged abuser and what she feels needs to happen next. Meeting Mary was something we will not forget in a hurry. She is indeed a force to be reckoned with.

Take Care

Joyce, June and Paula

Audio of Blog - The Silver Lining in the Corona Virus

It’s frightening and surreal to think that we, or those we love could be harmed or even die from this virus and being confined and isolated from those we love only heightens the sense of panic we feel and makes it all the harder to manage our emotions.  The constant reports, news bulletins and all the possible conspiracy theories that are floating around out there is not helpful.  It only succeeds in dragging me into the panic that can shut me down emotionally if I let it. 

SENSE OF COMMUNITY

I watch my neighbours rally around ensuring no one is left alone or stranded and even social media, that can often be negative, is filled with positive stories of people pulling together to support one another. Almost hourly there are posts of communities finding creative ways to demonstrate that no one is alone in this crisis. It is heartening to see people using humour to lift themselves and those around them to stay the course and see the possibilities that can come from hard times.

It’s amazing to see how those that find themselves on the front line (nurses etc) that normally have to fight to be recognised and valued for the work they do, are finally shining through as the real heroes when the chips are down. They not only are on the front line but are willing to put themselves in harm’s way without ever being asked, in order to keep us all safe and cared for.

POSSIBILITIES

I really feel within this crisis we are being handed an opportunity to truly know who we are when all the running and doing we normally fill our days with has been removed.  Some have turned to reading, art, baking, having fun (a thing most of us have forgotten how to do), spending genuine quality time with those they live with. Each day we are finding more and more creative ways to stay in touch with the family members we cannot physically touch at the moment. 

In some ways it has brought me back to my childhood, and aside from the abuse, I do recall the neighbourhood I grew up in, where people looked out for each other, shared what little they had, left doors unlocked and knew without a doubt they had someone to lean on if and when it was needed. 

That time has been offered again as we watch neighbourhoods find ways to interact within the restricted guidelines, enjoy being playful, being creative with simple everyday household items, turning to arts and crafts and most importantly never forgetting the most vulnerable in our neighbourhoods and society in general. 

Many shops seem to have taken the focus off making money and instead are looking at ways to get people through this rough time.  Their commitment to their staff and customers and making sure everyone is kept safe is reassuring to see.

Celebrities and those in positions of influence are pulling together to lift people’s spirits through music and positive messages, again all with the intention of letting us know we are all in this together.

I think it’s magical and although at times I still struggle thinking I should be doing something more, I acknowledge that I am really enjoying doing the things I like and want to do, rather than simply doing things mechanically because it has become my norm.  I find it interesting to know that when things I previously thought vital to my life like going to work, school pickups etc are removed, my world is not falling apart, and life goes on regardless.

I have returned to listening to music. I almost forgot what enjoyment I get from it. I am now taking time to develop a playlist of music that I loved throughout my childhood and teenage years. For as much as I love listening to music, I had forgotten how it lifts my mood and spirit. Until now it was just another thing I put off because I was too busy with things, I believed were more important.  

THE GIFT OF TIME

I believe this time is an opportunity to live rather than merely function. To relax and realise that regardless of the roles we play i.e. mother, wife, sister, friend we are being given a gift of time. Time that we have all forgotten can be filled with people and things we love. Time to look at how we normally fill our time stressing about what has to be done rather than what is really important.  Time to explore what fills our heart, makes us laugh till our stomachs ache, what moves us to tears, time to recognise how much we love and are loved by those around us.  

We are all so familiar with always being busy that we struggle when that feeling is removed.  If we are lucky, we work really hard throughout the year hoping to afford a two-week holiday. The holiday that we almost always waste the first week trying to relax with doing nothing and re-connecting with ourselves. By the time we have finally relaxed its time to go home.

I believe we deserve more than a life filled with to-do lists and deadlines that must be met. The time we spend running back and forth to work, shops, home all without even being conscious of how we spend our days, weeks and even years. This virus has given us the gift of time to re-evaluate our lives, to look and see what fills your soul and what changes you can make to not only survive but really live, live a life full of possibilities.

I also believe that the gift of time has also been given to our planet. The time to repair the damage we as humans have caused. With less people running around in cars polluting the air, we are reducing the toxins in the air we breathe, especially in our towns and cities. It is also allowing rivers and lakes to heal, for fish and dolphins to swim in the lakes that were so full of pollutants that it wasn’t possible before this outbreak.

RECONNECTING

It is inspiring that throughout this epidemic communities have reconnected with what is important. We are all gaining a better understanding of who we are, what matters in our lives. We are selfless in our volunteering, our support for those in our communities that need more help, like the old and sick. We are seeing the true heroes in our communities come to the frontline on our behalf.

I hope we all learn to appreciate that material things don’t really matter in the end. It is the people in our lives that help us to survive and whom we survive for.  We do so much better when we look out for one another. Our lives are richer, more creative, inspiring, thoughtful when we understand that supporting each other is what brings the most joy and happiness in our lives.

Through these times we are being offered a way of swapping the attitude of every man for himself to a deep understanding that we need each other and looking out for others really feeds our souls.  I hope that when this is all over, we all pull together and ensure that the frontline healthcare workers who are literally risking their lives for us and who in the past were undervalued and totally unsupported financially will finally receive respect and the tangible benefits that they deserve.

The only thing I believe the government are getting right is their constant message of ‘We are all in this together’.

Joyce Kavanagh 23rd March 2020

Episode 24 - Rachel Moran, Author, Activist and Campaigner

'Trigger Warning' if you or someone you know has been affected by sexual abuse please remember the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre 24 hour Helpline is open 1800 77 8888

In today’s podcast (Episode 24) we will be talking with Rachel Moran, Author, Activist and Campaigner.

Rachel grew up on the north side of Dublin. She had a difficult childhood. Both of her parents suffered mental health issues and her father committed suicide when she had just turned 14. She ended up in residential care, and during her time there at the age of 15 she met a man who quickly introduced her to prostitution where she stayed until the age of 22 when she courageously managed to break free and put that life behind her.

At age 24 Rachel returned to education and gained a Degree in Journalism from Dublin City University (DCU) where she won the Hybrid Award for Excellence in Journalism. Over the years she has taken part in many newspaper, radio and television interviews both home and abroad. Her bestselling book ‘Paid For - My Journey through Prostitution’ was in the Top Ten Irish bestselling books for over twelve weeks

Rachel is passionate about creating change and has taken part in a TEDxDCU event in November 2013. Her talk was entitled Transforming Lives and Societies through Legislative Change.  She has appeared on the Late, Late show on a number of occasions and continues to fight injustice at every turn. We will talk about the many campaigns that Rachel has spearheaded and been involved in, and discuss her views on the latest campaign ‘We Don’t Buy It’ and why she is fervently against the deregulation of prostitution in Ireland.

Take Care

Joyce, June and Paula 

Audio of Blog - Accountability! - Harvey Weinstein

I was blown away when I heard the announcement of Harvey Weinstein’s sentence.  It felt like a personal win to me and I found myself checking the news, to be sure I wasn’t mistaken and that he had indeed, received a 23-year prison sentence. Even now I have to say WOW.

The women involved in this case may never know how many lives they have saved as their bravery has made an enormous impact across the globe.  This is a victory for all victims of abuse everywhere.

To see someone, previously referred to as a ‘Giant of the Movie Industry’ being held to account for his actions is evidence of real change that will inspire more victims to speak out while putting all predators on notice, with particular emphasis on the rich, famous and powerful ones.

It was remarkable that Judge James Burke, gave no credence to pleas from Weinstein’s legal representatives when asked to consider Weinstein’s personal charitable giving, advanced age, medical issues and lack of criminal history.  This judge demonstrated the wisdom of his position to realise that none of those attributes curtailed his sexual misconduct, so why should they factor at all when considering his sentence.  Wouldn’t it be great if judges worldwide got this message?

Watching this case unfold reminded me of being in court, prosecuting our father for sexually abusing us as children. We were told repeatedly that our fathers age, health and standing in the community are very likely to result in a non-custodial sentence. Thank god it didn’t work out that way as he received a seven-year sentence. 

We continue to be horrified by the number of cases in the Irish courts where these personal attributes that have absolutely nothing to do with the crime, are not only considered but are in some cases the deciding factors when it comes to sentencing of sexual predators. This is shameful. And my only hope is that this case will act as turning point for how things should be done.

AGAINST BEST ADVICE

It was fascinating to hear that not only did Weinstein speak in court, but he did so despite the advice of his very experienced and expensive legal team.  Weinstein practically blamed his legal team for his silence throughout the case whilst continuing to ignore their repeated attempts to hush him as he spoke for about twenty minutes in court.  

Weinstein with no sense of understanding of the lasting harm he had done, expressed his remorse for the situation he found himself in.  He displayed his complete ignorance about consent and lamented about how the allegations had impacted his personal life. He was outspoken about the confusion he felt not only for himself but for all men as he felt he did not understand why this was happening.  He expressed his fear at the lack of due process for men and stated he was really worried about his country.

He continued to speak about his total confusion about how he has ended up where he was as he felt he had consensual relationships with these women.  He felt lots of other men would also be confused if they were to be accused of sexual abuse. He wanted the judge to speak to people he felt had greatly benefitted from his charitable work (naming 9/11 in particular). It was clear that he believed he had done nothing wrong and that what was happening to him in the courts was both unfair and an injustice.

SELF INTEREST

To me, all predators when caught, focus their concern on what is happening to them and how they have been personally impacted, without a thought for their victims.  It seems of great importance to them that we understand the pain they are in.  They have no desire to understand the damage they have done to their victims. These similarities tell us something about the type of people we are dealing with.

My father’s only words when receiving his sentence was ‘I hope you are all fucking happy now’.  I have no doubt, he believed we were the ones that caused him great pain while he remained oblivious to the pain he had brought into our lives. 

The closest my father ever came to an apology was on one of his early court appearances. My sisters, brothers and my mother were all huddled in a circle standing in the hallway of the packed courthouse.  My father appeared behind Paula and attempted to push past her to get to my mother. Paula was not moving. He was furious with the veins standing out on his neck. He had no choice but to continue with the speech he had prepared from the outskirts of the group.  He spit his words out. He was so angry that he could no longer intimidate us to move and let him speak to my mother.

He began to mutter some form of apology to my mother. She was not interested in anything he had to say and simply ignored him.  He was furious at our lack of obedience and Paula’s continued obstruction really bothered him.  The audacity of him attempting to act like the leader he believed he was, while spurting out an insincere apology and expecting that to change everything.  The Guards noticed him and walked towards us to remove him, so he had to reluctantly walk off, still enraged, believing we were the problem.

I find it interesting that regardless of what case is taking place in the media, but particularly when it’s a big case, memories of our own experience get triggered. I feel a great sense of pride in the courageous women involved in all sexual abuse cases and hope these women know how amazing they are and what a great service they are doing for the millions of victims out there.

‘THE MORNING SHOW’

Recently I watched an American TV series called ‘The Morning Show’, produced by and starring Jennifer Aniston (Alex) and Reese Witherspoon (Bradley). This show, although fictional, provided some insight into the world of rich and powerful men like Harvey Weinstein.

The programme is based on a news and talk morning television show that is thrown into chaos when Alex’s (Jennifer) on-air partner of 15 years, Mitch Kessler (played by Steve Carell) is fired for allegations of sexual misconduct.  

Mitch is loved by the audience and appears to be admired by all the production team. He presents as charming, funny and charismatic. However, as the plot unravels it becomes clear that Mitch has used his position and influence to make or break careers of ambitious females within his industry, not unlike what Weinstein did.  

What is very interesting throughout the series is seeing the struggle all the characters within the show had with understanding Mitches behaviour, how they had played a role in maintaining his belief that he was entitled to do what he was doing and there was nothing wrong with it. It explores how those around him, especially the heads of the network colluded in allowing him to basically get away with sexual abuse for years as all they focused on was the ratings.

Mitches own struggle with accepting that his behaviour had serious consequences for the women he abused was demonstrated so well.  Even the female colleagues and specifically Alex his co-anchor and friend really didn’t want to see that they had turned a blind eye to what he did accepting that it was just his way and in fact the way of the world of business.

This programme will challenge you to see how easy it is to work in or live in a toxic culture. A culture that allows those with all the power to do what they want to whom they want. It demonstrates how we all can turn a blind eye to injustice as to speak out would mean the chance of losing careers, friends or family members.  But more importantly it shows how powerful men like Harvey Weinstein and Jimmy Savile can and did get away with abuse even when it’s in plain sight, they are aware that if you turn away once you are unlikely to every speak out.

Joyce Kavanagh - Marcy 16th 2020

Episode 23 - Interview with Eve Farrelly - CARI

'Trigger Warning' if you or someone you know has been affected by sexual abuse please remember the CARI Helpline (Lo Call 1890 924 567)

In today’s podcast (Episode 23 - Interview with Eve Farrelly, Executive Director of CARI, (Children at Risk in Ireland). Eve holds a master’s in management, business, marketing and related support services, she also has a master’s in criminology, a BA in Psychology and advanced Diploma in Date Protection Law.

Eve brings us up to speed on the services offered by CARI as well as highlighting the shortfalls in resources that forces them to have a waiting list for children and their families to enter their services.  Sadly, currently CARI have 85 Children on their waiting list.  Eve also speaks candidly about Tulsa’s latest legislation where an abuser may have the right to question their victim in person.

CARI have two full time offices in Dublin and Limerick.  They provide specialised therapy for children and young people who have been affected by child sexual abuse. They also support the families through the process. Children are referred after their disclosure has been investigated or if they have witnessed sexual assaults on someone else with the aim of ensuring their experience does not go on to define their life. CARI also provides therapy to children, up to (and including) twelve-year olds, who present with sexually harmful behaviour. to enter their services.  

It is inspiring to hear the passion Eve has for her job along with her love for the children she deals with. Her wealth of knowledge and understanding of the effects of this crime is very comforting leaving us yearning that we could have met someone like her when we were young girls.

We hope that this series of interviews help highlight the supports that currently exist, the struggles they face daily to deliver these services and to further emphasize the lack of country wide supports. This demonstrates both the lack of will from our government to take this crime seriously and the need for those in power to understand the impacts of this crime, not only on its victims but on society as a whole.  Hopefully we can unite and get the results we need to tackle sexual abuse and all that goes with that.

Take care

Joyce, June and Paula

 

 

Audio of Blog - You Are Your Own Mother

Mother’s Day is a national celebration enjoyed by many, but for others the day acts as a reminder of the lack of nurturing they received as a child. This often raises unjust feelings of shame and unworthiness in victims.  They can be bombarded with memories of the lack of motherly love and nurturing in their childhood. This can lead to sadness and isolation and in many cases negative self-talk.

Our relationship with our own mother was at times very difficult. She was not available to us emotionally and because she held no value in her own worth, she demonstrated what she was taught culturally about the role of women and how they had nothing of value to contribute other than being selfless and put everyone’s need first.

 

A Change in Perspective is Needed.

Normally on days like this we provide suggested lists of how to mind yourself.  However, as this year women here in Ireland and across the world have shown such strength in speaking out against injustice, we think this might be a great time to make a stand and realise this is a day to be celebrated. Consider this, we are all here and without a mother that would not have happened. 

 

A Walk in the Park

We believe that if you have survived sexual abuse, this one-day challenge should be a walk in the park for you.  Celebrating your own life may be a challenge, but one you are more than capable of succeeding in.

Enjoying watching others celebrate this day may in the past has been difficult but let’s change it around and make it YOUR DAY.  If you see this day as sad due to memories of an abusive mother or the loss of your mother, challenge yourself to see it differently with the focus on you as the mother to be celebrated.

Do not let this day of celebration turn into a day of mourning and nostalgia but rather recognise that you deserve to feel really good about yourself. Regardless of how you feel or have felt about your mother, she brought a great gift into the world and that gift is you, so let the celebrations begin.  Even if it is only for one day let’s push ourselves to make that happen.  Use it as day one of acknowledging your own worth and the realisation of just how special you are.

 

What Can You Do for Yourself?

To help keep you focused try to answer the questions below.

  • When is the last time I told me that I love me?
  • What are the gifts/qualities I bring to this world?
  • Do the people I surround myself with bring value to my life?
  • Do I treat myself with the love and respect I deserve? If not, is that reflected in how others treat me?
  • Where am I on my priority list
  • Do I mind and respect my body?
  • When is the last time I did something nice for myself?
  • How do I feed my soul?
  • Where am I not being honest with myself and why?
  • Am I kind to myself?

 

Answer these questions as honestly as you can, by answering them truthfully warts and all you will see what you know about yourself, what you like and want to keep and which of those beliefs you may need to let go of.

Hopefully this will help you identify your thoughts be they negative or positive. It is only with awareness that we can decide to let go of things that no longer serve us and make the changes needed in our lives.

The main thing to remember is that you deserve to be loved and the best person to do this is YOU.  In loving yourself you are setting a trend; you are relaying to others just how you expect to be treated and you learn how to truly respect yourself.

Focus on yourself for this day, regardless of if or how many children you have, or whether you have pleasant or negative memories of your mother. Use this as a day to begin putting yourself first, recognising all the things you place of more importance before your needs.

 

Let’s make Mother’s Day a day to remember positively. 

Audio of Blog - The Price Paid for Surviving Childhood Sexual Abuse

Besides the sexual abuse that went on in my childhood home, the physical, emotional and mental abuse was also an everyday occurrence.  Thinking about how I survived and the coping mechanisms I used, has been triggered by the questions arising while creating our podcasts.  Although somewhere inside, it is clear to me how I survived, I still struggle to understand or explain it.    

Was I Blind to the Truth?  

How could I be so blind to all that was happening around me?  How can I say with any degree of honesty or certainty that I really didn’t know what was happening to others in my home?  In order to understand and explain this, I have found myself for some time now really looking back and reliving memories from my childhood.

Now I can see, not only did I know my father was abusing my sisters and beating my brothers, I had actually witnessed it.  That’s not easy to understand or explain, even for me.  So, here’s the contradiction, although I witnessed a lot, I also genuinely believed that I knew nothing about the abuse taking place in my home.  I had to really examine my ability to disassociate and compartmentalise what was happening in my home. Only now, at this stage in my healing, can I see why and how I was able to remove myself from any situation that I read as unsafe and convince myself it never happened.  I will attempt to explain how I did that in the hope it will help other victims of childhood sexual abuse understand themselves.

Escaping the Fear

Imagine your home as just one very large room and all of your family are in that room. When I close my eyes and go back in time, I can clearly see my brothers sitting at the table eating their dinner, my mother is cleaning the kitchen, my younger sisters and brother are playing a card game on the floor and my dad is shouting at the TV as he watches a football match.  Everything seems fine on the surface as I sit and try do some homework on my lap. 

 

My father suddenly stands up and click’s his fingers. I freeze. It feels like I’ve momentarily lost my sight, as everything goes blank and very quiet. I can hear nothing.  When I realise, he is not directing his attention towards me, I focus on getting out of that room. I can see the door and I know exactly how many steps I have to take to reach it. Everything else around me disappears, except for a few sounds in the room that somehow, I can still hear. I focus on getting to the door, nothing else matters. I am still aware of my father’s movements and hear the sound of him smacking one of my brothers as he passes him. I can hear him shouting obscenities at one of my other brothers.   I am aware of his movements as he nods for my sister to go upstairs where he will rape her. 

My attention goes to my heart, it’s beating so fast. My throat feels dry, and I’m aware I’m shaking. I’m terrified and I know I have to get out. It’s not safe here and I cannot allow myself to see what’s happening around me.

I have to get out, but everything feels like it’s moving in slow motion. It takes forever to reach the door. I can’t breathe and all I can think is, I have to get out.

What was the cost?

Based on my present understanding of how I survived on a daily basis, this is a fair description of how I handled the trauma. Once outside, I managed to completely block out what was happening inside my home.  I usually joined some friends that were playing on the road and immersed myself in whatever they were doing. Slowly, my heart would calm. The dissociation allowed me to leave my fear behind and carry on playing like I was normal, the compartmentalisation allowed me to hold onto the belief that I saw, heard and knew nothing as by now what I witnessed was already stored somewhere in the back of my head. The weight of what was happening was far too heavy for me as a child to comprehend or deal with and both of these coping mechanisms allowed me to live in a bubble where I was the only one that my father was abusing. I also believed I deserved his abuse and it happened because of who I was or something I had done or said.

Understanding Myself

It is obvious to me now that the guilt and shame remained with me even though I dissociated and compartmentalised memories, which was even more confusing because I had no known reason to explain these feelings. I could only conclude I was inherently bad.

I understand the power of the body to protect us from what is perceived as imminent danger and our minds ability to deny and hide away traumatic events that it feels will harm us.  That was what I did, but never consciously.  I also believe what I did to survive is exactly what happens to most victims of childhood abuse.

As a child all I ever wanted was to be loved. Sadly, for me, regardless of how badly my father abused me, I still was able to convince myself that he did love me.  I was so innocent and naive and believed every word he said.  I didn’t know till much later in my life that he deliberately isolated me from my family so we would never sit and have conversations or confide in each other. 

I feel such a deep sadness at times because the tools I used to protect myself became the biggest obstacles in getting to know myself and heal from my past. Even now I have to consciously check in with myself in order to know if I am hungry, tired or feeling anything at all.

While sex no longer brings back painful memories and is something that I can feel good about, the effort involved in staying connected to my body often leads me to believe it’s simply not worth the hassle.  Now while I do not wish to sound negative, nor do I want others to think my daily existence is consumed with this stuff, as although the fight for me continues and is part of my everyday life I am blessed to have support from those around me who understand and love me and I have now developed mechanisms to help me connect.  The main point is that knowing myself does not come naturally to me due to my background and the learning never ends.

Joyce Kavanagh

Episode 22 - Maeve Lewis - CEO One in Four

'Trigger Warning' if you or someone you know has been affected by sexual abuse please remember the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre 24-Hour Helpline 1800 77 888

In this week’s podcast, we talk to Maeve Lewis, the CEO of One in Four. One in four currently provides supports to adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. They have an advocacy team to support those lucky enough to make it to court and this service is free. Their help extends to families and partners, which is recognised as invaluable for recovery and leads to a higher level of support for victims. One in four also provide a two-year prevention programme for sex offenders many of whom are referred to them by the Gardai.

Maeve Lewis (Bachelor of Arts in European Studies, H. Dip. Ed, BA (Hons) in Psychology) has worked in the field of sexual violence since 1979 in a variety of roles and in 2019 she was the winner of Outstanding Contribution to Society Award by the University of Limerick 2019 Alumni Award.  Maeve is dedicated to protecting victims of sexual abuse. Her overall commitment to fight against what can only be described as unsurmountable obstacles in finding the resources to help victims receive help and embark on what is a long and painful journey to self-discovery is unquestionable. She continues to demand justice and fairness for all victims facing the justice system and challenge those agencies responsible for providing supports to do better.

We hope that this series of interviews help highlight the supports that currently exist, the struggles they face daily to deliver these services and to further emphasize the lack of country wide supports. This demonstrates both the lack of will from our government to take this crime seriously and the need for those in power to understand the impacts of this crime, not only on its victims but on society as a whole.  Hopefully we can unite and get the results we need to tackle sexual abuse and all that goes with that.

 

Take care

Joyce, June and Paula

Audio of Blog - Multiple Abusers - It Must Have Been My Fault!

I've thought of writing about this for a long time and to be honest, I’m not sure why I haven’t. The abuse at the hands of my father, in many ways, made my other abusers fade into the background. I was sexually abused by a brother, John, whom I haven’t seen in over thirty years and another close family relative.

The first clear memory of John abusing me was when I was around 4 years old, he gave me this beautiful butterfly badge that you sew on to your clothes and told me I could keep it if I let him touch me. I had absolutely no idea what he meant and my only memory of what happened with him was me, staring at this blue and pink butterfly badge when my father walked in and screamed at John, calling him all sorts of names.

My father then battered John leaving him black and blue, he literally kicked him down the stairs. I was so shocked I just stood there not moving, terrified, waiting on him to kill me too, even though I didn’t understand what was happening. I am aware, that all sounds like an appropriate reaction to finding someone abusing your child. But what happened next was even more devastating to a four-year-old, and ensured I never said a word to anyone.

My father came back upstairs and told me to go into his room and sit on the bed. He lay me down and removed my pants all the while telling me that he would make me all better. He repeated that I was to never let anyone do that to me, that I was to tell him if anyone ever tried to touch me again. He kept saying that John was a little bollox and was lucky he didn’t kill him and if he or anyone else hurts me again he would kill them. Then he raped me. That is my first clear memory of my father sexually penetrating me and the physical pain is something I don’t think I could ever forget. John went on to abuse me for many years after, but I never told on him.

Because I had multiple abusers, I never felt safe either in or out of the house. What was even worse was I had no reason not to believe that the abuse wasn’t my fault. I was the common denominator. I grew up believing I was the one to blame, that I was a sick and evil person and I would definitely be going to hell when I died.

I now understand why I found it so difficult to identify with other girls in group therapy. I felt I couldn’t say it wasn’t my fault and mean it. I hadn’t told about my other abusers and so I really struggled to say or see myself as a victim. I could, over time accept that maybe I was a victim of my father's, but it didn’t explain why I was also being abused by two others.

I couldn’t blame the other abusers on my father, so it had to be me. I had to have allowed it to happen with John. That’s hard to even think as John was on the spectrum of special needs. He was not someone I think I would have been afraid of. With that in mind the only conclusion I could come to was I either allowed it to happen or by not telling, allowed it to continue.

Suffering abuse by multiple abusers left me even more isolated, I wanted to belong and desperately needing to be loved. I felt like I was a freak and had somehow been placed in this home by mistake. I kept thinking there had to be some reason why everyone hated me, I believed that I was different than all  my siblings. I blamed myself for being overly sensitive and hated that I didn’t find their slagging and making fun of me amusing. I wasn’t quick witted so couldn’t respond with something witty without feeling even more stupid. I waited for years for someone to come knocking on my door to tell me there was an awful mistake and that my real mother and father now want me back. needless to say, that didn’t happen.

I now understand that I was easy pickings for both my brother and my relative. I was lost and starved for love. My understanding of love was being abused so why would I have ever had any other experience. I was a moody, angry, sullen child who made it difficult for anyone who was a good person to get close to me. I didn’t trust anyone and yet I was easily taken in by the mere idea of someone liking me or wanting to be in my company.

I never confronted John in person, but I know he did abuse many others in our neighbourhood and eventually ran to England to avoid being arrested here. I have thought of John over the years and wondered what would have happened if I told someone, could I have stopped him abusing others, I will never know the answer to that. I didn’t have the courage as a child to do anything other than survive. John entered into a treatment programme in England when he was arrested and given a choice either the treatment programme or jail. It was whilst there that I sent him a letter telling him what he had done to me and how my life had been impacted. John denied everything said I was lying. He went on to take part in a channel 4 documentary on paedophiles as the star pupil.

With regard to my other abuser I won’t name him as his family are all aware of his past and it would serve no one to publicly name him which would only result in hurting his family who are all innocent. I confronted him in person, about two years into therapy. I made the decision because he had children himself and I wanted to make sure he didn’t abuse them. I asked Joyce to come with me and we called to his home when we knew he was at home alone. I told him exactly what he had done to me and how it made me feel. His response was not to deny everything and just kept saying that he didn’t remember anything. I had already been prepared by my councillor of what could happen, so I just repeated the damage he had done to my life. I threatened to bring charges if he didn’t get help. He agreed to go into treatment but to be honest at the time I really don’t think I would have had the strength to press charges and go through the justice system again. He did get help and spent a number of years in treatment and to my knowledge has not offended since.

Having a number of abusers just solidified my self-loathing. It made seeing myself as a victim so much harder to believe. It has taken me years to understand that each time I was abused and by whom, all needed examining. The damage inflicted on my mind and body is incalculable but with time and compassion I have allowed memories to be explored. I understand the damage that was done to me and the behaviours and beliefs that shaped all my interactions that at the time saved my life. Today, for me, it’s about letting go of what no longer serves me and living a life not filled with anger, resentment or pain.

Paula

Audio of Blog - Is 2018 Really The Year of The Woman

There is hardly a day goes by without a new or historic case of child sexual abuse hitting the headlines along with considerable coverage of the #timesup and #metoo campaigns, you would probably think that the answer to that question above is yes.

The Right to Speak Up

This year marks the centenary of those brave women who fought and finally won the right for women to vote. Oprah Winfrey’s powerful acceptance speech for the Cecil B. Demille award at the Golden Globes, 2018 was inspirational as she announced that the ‘Time was up’ for abusers with particular reference to powerful and brutal abusive men. She went on to commend all of the brave women who came forth and told their story.  Mentioning celebrities speaking out about their abuse has ignited and bolstered women everywhere to finally come forward and speak out. All of this would appear to suggest that 2018 will be a year when women finally take control of their lives and careers.

Is it a Cause for Celebration?

This all sounds very positive and encouraging. However, just because women are speaking out and finally telling their stories of abuse does not necessarily make it a cause for celebration.

As survivors of sexual abuse, we understand the level of courage it takes to simply type the words ‘Me Too’ or join campaigns like #timesup. Our concern is what happens when they do?  For many women their secret has been hidden or buried for many years and now they can’t go back.

Do we have the resources to deal with the number of victims emerging through these campaigns?  What happens to them after they speak out? Where do they go with their pain, confusion and hurt?

No Political Interest

There is no evidence of our politicians showing any great concern or interest in this issue.  Once again, we appear to be waiting for men in positions of power to do the right thing.  What is holding them back?  How can they not see the value in putting in place the necessary resources?  What has to happen in order to acknowledge that this issue will not go away and requires men to become part of the solution and not the problem.

Something has to give, and things will only get worse if the current stance of turning a blind eye to the underfunded, overburdened minimal services that currently struggle to meet the demands placed upon them. Services like the Rape Crisis CentreOne in Four and The CARI Foundation, currently have long waiting lists and their CEO, s have to spend an inordinate amount of their precious time fundraising just to stay open.  It would appear that in Ireland the stance has been taken that it isn’t really anything to do with us and that it is an American celebrity issue.

Taking Responsibility

Although we didn’t have the back up of such campaigns when we were prosecuting our father, we do know the turmoil in our lives when we spoke up and tried to deal with the sheer devastation that came with it.  The memories came flooding back quicker than we could process and for most of the time it felt like we had been hit by a truck.

We who encourage victims to speak out must share the responsibility to provide these brave women with the answers, support and help they so badly need. We also must be mindful not to place undue pressure on women who may not yet be ready to speak out. Waiving anonymity may be a step too far for some and we must honour everyone’s process.  Sexual abuse may be in the media much more than ever, but headlines die as quick as they arise.  Unless there is a celebrity involved the story doesn’t even last 24 hours.

If a victim is lucky enough to receive justice through the courts, what then?  The offender may be placed in prison for a few years, which also seems to depend on the mood of the judge on the day.  The sheer lack of understanding around the impacts of this crime not only on the victim but their families, communities and society are demonstrated all too frequently through grossly inappropriate sentencing.

There remains no pressure on the judicial system to educate themselves on the impacts on its victims and although we can appreciate that all cases are not the same, are we to simply look on as injustice continues through the courts sentencing procedures.  Have we no recourse?  Have we no rights? It would appear that judges are accountable to no one.  Why are they not listening to the people they are there to serve?

We are aware there are many treatment programs available to perpetrators, but none appear to be mandatory.  How can that work? How can things ever be different or produce better outcomes for the public.

These are just some of the real concerns we have around the current outpouring of pain in the world. Particularly on this little isle of ours. We are sure we are not alone when we urge everyone to get on board and do whatever you can do to ensure that women’s pain does not become sound bites and that it does in fact become the year of the woman.  It is time for change……

The Kavanagh Sisters – 23rd April 2018