I was inspired to write this and face my own demons. The Stanford story has been a massive trigger for me so I was motivated to write about some of my past. I was sexually abused by three different men but there’s one in particular that I just cannot accept wasn’t my fault. I was in no way “asking for it”, this much I know for sure. Yet somehow I canno accept that I was just a child. I was thirteen and fourteen when this man was in my life. I did not want any of this.
I’m not sure if I ever really liked myself. When some kids would brag about what they were good at or about their latest accomplishment I just wished I could be like them. Wondering daily what it was that made me so incapable of harbouring any talent became a habit. It confused me and left me hoping that I could just fade into the shadows and be forgotten about. The irony in that hope is that at the same time I desperately wanted someone, anyone, to notice me and help me. My innocent mind may not have realised what exactly was wrong at first but my intuition told me that something wasn’t right and my loneliness and discontent compounded these feelings. There was days and weeks when I wished that I would just be ignored, maybe even forgotten about. I felt uncomfortable when others looked at me. Each day when we had to line up for our morning prayers in school I felt inadequate beside my classmates. In class photos I considered myself to be the one that ruined the photo. The one who should be erased.
There was a time in my life, however, when my love of music and writing inspired me to enjoy some creative pursuits. For the first time ever I was seeking the opinions and, hopefully, approval of others. I really wish that I hadn’t. What happened next simply served to remind me that I am safer and possibly even belong hidden from view. Even over ten years later the feelings of regret and shame remain as intense as ever. When that newspaper editor published my first poem in his newspaper I felt something strange. After some contemplation I realised that I was experiencing a sense of pride. For a moment I saw the possibilities in my own potential. That was only a moment and moments quickly fade. Now every time I think about those poems and that newspaper I just think that they were only featured as part of his plan, his game. Flatter the vulnerable child and make her feel like she needs you to help her creatively. Target her interests and tarnish them.
The day I met him in his office it felt like an important moment. It felt like one of those moments in life when you know something big is happening, you may not know what it is yet but the feeling is definitely there. I presumed that I was feeling moved by the moment because it was a point in my life when I was feeling powerful. I was going out and doing something for myself despite all of the reservations I felt about displaying something I had created. It was during the summer holidays that I met him. I felt like it was a summer of change and regrow the before starting second year in school. A new address, newfound confidence and a new pencil case were to be my tools to face the new year. Packing up the contents of my old life I imagined that I was also packing away the memories of my earlier childhood also. It wasn’t that simple. I was still just an innocent child with mature ambitions. On reflection it was actually not a time of power for me. Instead it was a pause right before I actually lost the little power I had regained.
Teachers, guidance counsellors, my GP and my family were all actively encouraging me to not speak about the previous abuse I had endured. The message I received was loud and clear “Shush, don’t talk about that. Keep it to yourself. It is not good to talk about any of that.” That message told me that I was the one that had something to hide. Why? Was it because I had, like I feared, actually done something wrong? I just didn’t understand why I had to hide the effects of the bomb that had exploded in my life. The newspaper editor allowed me to speak forbidden words about the abuse, court cases and the trauma of our legal system. He supported these conversations and listened attentively. It turns my stomach now to think that I ever trusted him with my private thoughts. I revealed my vulnerability to him and showed him how damaged I really was. My words helped him to see the cracks in me more clearly. It didn’t take much to target these cracks and shatter me entirely. He knew that. He was calculating and I’m sure that he absorbed every word and studied my behaviour to ensure that he was fully prepared to successfully get what he wanted. He obtained my silence easily as he knew he would. He so easily slipped into the role of trusty supporter and made himself available anytime.
He familiarised himself with every part of my life. He was right there at a time when I really needed someone to be there for me. He began to feel like a sort of father figure to me. He clearly had other ideas. Looking back, he timed everything so well. He spent time getting to know me before making any inappropriate moves, he won over the trust of my Mom and even of my extended family. He offered to take care of me when my Mom was in work which she gratefully accepted. On one of these occasions I had pneumonia so he told me I could go to sleep for a while in his room while he watched a movie. Just as I began to drift off to sleep I woke up with the weight of him on top of me. Thinking about that experience makes me feel like a piece of meat, him pressing me to the bed while he grinned his body against mine. I didn’t really matter to him, I was just an easy target. I’ve spent so long hating my body as a result of experiences like that. I’m not sure if I even know how to like my body. One thing I do know is that I do not like to be feminine. It’s kinda like I resent my femininity. Three disgusting, terrible men tore me apart before I ever really had a chance in life.
When I push myself to connect with my emotions I can only really associate them with the colour red: to match my overwhelming anger. Unfortunately that anger just tears open my old wounds in painful blasts. It has a wicked tongue that voices an onslaught of additional punishment towards the lost teenager that still dwells within me. I picture her crouched in fear at the centre of a twirling, fierce tornado that she believes she created. Head bowed with shame, terrified to look anyone directly in the eye. She is afraid that they will say that she wanted, even sought, the twisted attention of this man. She desperately wants people to see the invisible chokehold he had on her. She wonders how they could really understand that she said nothing about it yet didn’t want it all to continue when she struggles to understand it. His body pinned her down on his bed, his couch and her couch. He took every opportunity to seize what he desired yet her lips could not form the words she needed to save her. She didn’t want his love of his touches. The first time they were alone he kissed her forehead and said I, then kissed her cheek and said love then kissed her other cheek and said you then moved towards her lips. She backed away and left the scene. He later texted blaming alcohol for his inappropriate actions. It was Sean with his drinking, his excuses and his unwelcome touches all over again. She was somehow transported back to where she was all those months ago. Once again, unable to say a word, somehow paralysed by the actions of another man.
I only finally managed to take action the day he tried to rape me. He had sexually abused me in many other ways but I couldn’t stand the thoughts of another man forcing himself inside me.
In that courtroom I faced wave after wave of verbal abuse. His solicitor claimed that I was too mentally unstable to be believed. He put forward the theory that I was begging for sexual attention. He attempted to portray me as a liar. His words hit me harder than sticks or stones ever could and I had no one in my corner as I felt like I was falling. My solicitor and barrister in the first case were as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike. His solicitor brought up my past and tried to use that as evidence to back up his theory that I’m a liar. I was able to explain that there was insufficient evidence to pursue a case against my step dad, that did not mean that I was lying about a single word of it. The court experience wore me out and broke me down. While I was writing a victim impact statement with a sergeant before the appeal case was to begin he commented about the changes he witnessed in me. He saw me change from being lively, loud and outspoken to quiet, reserved and nervously shy. As a child I trusted others around me but as an adult I am able to find a dozen reasons to not trust those around me. The proceedings in that room stripped me of the little dignity I had left. Telling strangers about the most private details of my life and having to defend these details took so much out of me. It was bad enough making statements to the Gardaí but this was on a whole different level. This was like being on some kind of weird stage for a part I never auditioned for yet had forced upon me anyway. It was a path I never chose yet found myself on anyway. The solicitors were all men. The judge was a man and so was the court clerk. Yet again, I felt powerless in the presence of men who had all of the power.
It sounds strange but I feel like I would have more sympathy and empathy towards myself if I had tried to fight back. I could possibly feel something except anger, shame and sadness. Accepting the fact that I was groomed, that it really was beyond my control and that it really wasn’t my fault feels impossible. I know it doesn’t make sense but I keep asking myself how I allowed myself to be groomed. How could it have happened to me again? My inner critic tells me that the fine details of my experience would be met with judgement instead of understanding. It tells me that I do not deserve anyone’s understanding. I want so badly to be able to say that I somehow hurt him back but even in court I crumbled.
After I trusted him just to have it backfire yet again I started to think that the people who told me to stay quiet were right. Don’t rock the boat, more silence. Silence was everyone’s answer to an issue that I now know needs anything but silence. It’s a crime that creates shockwaves but without much consequences for the perpetrator. While he continued to work, socialise and go about his daily business, his solicitors were busy using tired tactics to delay the inevitable court case. One of these such tactics involved requesting my medical and counselling records which I had to hand over or see the case thrown out. I obeyed request after request while slowly losing all of my emotional strength. I struggled greatly to complete my school years and I know that the ongoing court case which had taken up residence in the back of my mind blocked my concentration during my final school years. Frequent adjournments took away my voice in a court case I initiated while he got to reach an age he was comfortable retiring at with his reputation intact. It feels like there never really was a light at the end of this long tunnel. The judge took the editor’s poor health, his heart condition, into consideration when considering sentencing. No one took my years of upset, stress, worry and all of the interruptions to my young life into consideration. These facts were conveniently overlooked. That sends the wrong message to the survivor. The only time that the accused is referred to outside the context of the case itself was in an attempt to summon the sympathy of the jury because of his supposed poor health. His character and past were not mentioned at all but yet mine was. I was the one on trial and that cannot be denied.
Even after he was reported to the Gardaí he still continued to text me regularly despite the fact that I did not reply. He drove by my school and texted me to tell me when he saw me around the town. I was already in counselling about past issues when the abuse with him stopped but he was aware of this and knew what time and where I went to counselling. I was no longer allowed to enter or leave that building alone as a precaution. Gardaí persuaded me to keep the same mobile number active because the more he texts, the more evidence we have. He contacted me about my school life and school projects. Nothing was mine and mine alone anymore. He was like poison tainting everything I had. Rules were put in place for every aspect of my life. I was told that I did nothing wrong but it felt like I had. It was decided that I could no longer leave school alone. My Mom started to monitor my phone. Teachers were made aware of the situation which worsened my feelings of embarrassment. It felt like they were all talking about me and what happened to me but for some reason I was not allowed to talk about it. They told me that it was over and to move on but it was far from over then.
On the final day of the second court case I sat in that horribly uncomfortable wooden seat in the courtroom awaiting the verdict of the jury. As the twelve jurors poured in one of them, a lady with a friendly face, smiled at me. I was too drained to return to gesture and I couldn’t help wondering how she was able to smile at me, such a kind smile, after everything she had heard throughout the court proceedings. She looked upon me with the understanding I had never been able to show myself. I experienced a similar feeling of confusion when I was met with empathy from my counsellor after I revealed the most painful details of the court case. After everything I’ve been through it is hard to see why anyone would want to be around me, never mind want to help me. In the past I’ve only ever received negative attention so it is incredibly difficult for me to feel worthy at all of such kindness and understanding.
Honestly sometimes I feel like a broken record. The very opposite of a success story. I feel like a burden and really wish that I had learned to cope by now. I don’t want to fall to pieces and need to be helped over every hurdle yet that seems to be my pattern. Everything is fine and I feel down, things are not so good and I’m ready to totally give up, things are good and I’m ready to bolt because I’m so sure things couldn’t possibly really be this good for me. I’m stronger now and I do have more belief in myself but that took many years and a lot of hard work. Recent hard times have catapulted me straight back to the deep depths of self doubt and self hatred. It consumes so much energy to simply hold my own, keep my power and avoid turning my pain back on myself. When I am challenged I return to my default mode: silence. Compared to others, particularly other women, I feel insignificant and unworthy of the same treatment. No matter how I look, how I dress or how much I’m complimented, I still feel different… dirty even. I always wondered where those feelings came from but now I think it makes sense that they were created by my past. Being treated like an object, violated, hurt, ignored and silenced have left me feeling like I don’t matter even now that those culprits are a distant memory.
When I try harder than others around me with my education or other projects it is because I want to prove that I am worth all of the hassle I cause. In recent times I’m finding it easier to ask for help and I hoped that this would lead me to accepting that I, like everyone else, need help sometimes. I am accepting that need but still beating myself up about it afterwards. Sometimes I wish that I never needed to reach out to others but then I wish that I just felt happier doing so. Being harder on myself than necessary actually does feel worthwhile to me because it leads me to achieve more. I crave the comfort these achievements bring because it makes me feel like I’m doing something right. There’s still times when I find myself scrubbing my skin too hard while washing or having memories being triggered which leave me avoiding the mirror for as long as possible each day. When people show that they like me I can’t help but wonder why.
Last year, as part of my course, I had to do a presentation on a topic of my choice. I wanted to do this presentation on how rape and sexual assault affects the mental health of victims. My tutor shot this down stating that it wouldn’t be a good idea to discuss that in front of my classmates. She was unable to justify it any further but I got the message anyway. Don’t talk about it, don’t rock the boat, don’t mention anything too upsetting. Heaven forbid we raise awareness of the real needs of victims after their assaults. I know that people are aware that rape and sexual assault are all too common. From my own experience, however, I also know that people do not know how to react to these type of disclosures. They want to help but just don’t know how. I wanted to help to educate my peers on exactly what survivors need to get through each day and each hour following an attack. Even years later it can feel like the assault happened just hours ago. We have flashbacks and triggers to thank for the vivid memories that come flooding into our minds at any time, beyond our control, taking away our control again. The world may be more comfortable in silence and ignorance but that’s exactly what is required for these despicable people to gain and keep their power.
Once when the newspaper editor brought me to an old graveyard near a local town, he was standing against me pushing my back against a cold stone wall when an older couple walked past. They didn’t say a word and neither did I. He tried to kiss me one evening on the street in that same town. A young couple say this but said nothing. When I was drinking with some friends when I was a teenager I had to say no three times to a guy who thought every lesbian just needed an experience with a man. My secondary school teacher who told my Mom that I had a crush on him left me feeling self conscious and awkward about something that is completely untrue. When I was seventeen and punched by a random man because I’m a dirty lesbian I felt shame once more. A woman that used to babysit me had adult sons that were more like brothers to me until one of them made an inappropriate comment which prompted me to distance myself from the entire family. When my Mom’s partner commented about my breasts while I was wearing a vest I decided that I no longer wanted to wear anything that was in any way revealing. A few years ago a man stood between my wife and I and said we were lucky enough for him to be interested in a threesome with us. Last year I had to push a drunk man in a nightclub away from me. He said I was so uncool and he only wanted a hug. The guy that I had to defend my friend from who wasn’t taking no for an answer reminded me to remain on guard. Last October when I was at a house party and started to feel uncomfortable I had my exit blocked by two men. They told me to relax and said “It’s okay, we won’t rape you” and left me feeling more nervous than beforehand. When I considered these incidents and my abusers actions I realised that my fears in this uncertain world were completely founded. My wife once said that when people know about past abuse they can use that against you to prey upon your vulnerability, this I’m not sure if but it’s certainly possible. A member of the Gardaí once said “It’s okay, there’s nothing to be afraid of now.” We both knew that wasn’t true. Inappropriate whispers and actions are everywhere and are unavoidable.
This is the world we live in. Stand together, everyone, just stick together.