April 2018 - The Kavanagh Sisters Skip to content

Month: April 2018

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 Centre, One 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

The Aftermath of the Belfast Rape Case

I believe timing played a major role in the publics reaction to the Belfast rape trial.  The world has changed a lot in the last six months and for many, the trial represented the straw that broke the camels back.

Shift in Thinking

Rape cases happen every day but because of how this trial was reported on, and the treatment of both the victim and the accused men, this case caused a palpable shift in thinking about casual sex and how consent is given and understood. For many women both north and south of the border it was time to stand up and say enough is enough.

It is also reasonable to say that we only heard about this case because the accused were celebrities in the rugby world.  Although the accused were found not guilty of rape, the public’s reaction following the verdict was understandable and, in my opinion, warranted.

Even though they were found not guilty of rape, they were most definitely guilty of treating a young girl as an object for their own sexual gratification. They demonstrated no understanding of the condition they left the young girl in and showed a complete lack of consideration for her wellbeing. They paid no regard to the fact that the girl they had intimate relations with left their home bloodied, bruised and in tears.  In my opinion this is a disgusting way to behave towards anyone.  The inappropriate texts that emerged during the trial added to how enraged the public felt towards these men.

It is rare that people react so strongly to a rape case, but the Belfast trial provoked an enormous response as it clearly highlighted the plight of the victim.  It must have resonated or affected people personally in order to trigger this level of response.

In my opinion both our drinking culture and our not too distant relationship with the church and its deliberate misrepresentation of what sex and sexuality meant in our lives allowed both men and women to relate to the victim and accused.  There probably is no one, male or female who hasn’t woke up at some time in their past, hung over and not remembering where they were or how they got home.

I find It commendable that people got behind the victim in the Belfast rape trial as she demonstrated such courage while being treated appallingly by the courts. However, it would be even better if everyone could respond to the entire issue of rape and sexual violence in the same way and recognise how personally our lives are impacted by these crimes.  We are in danger of becoming de-sensitised to this crime through the regularity of media reports.   We need to see this crime for the epidemic that it is?

Living in Denial

Knowing that the available statistics around rape and sexual violence is not reflective of the actual numbers of victims living with the impacts of this crime, makes it inconceivable that Northern Ireland was left with no rape crisis centre due to lack of funding.  It speaks volumes about the levels of denial that currently exists around the need for providing resources for these crimes.

We need to understand how victims of sexual crimes are affected if we are ever to realise how these crimes ultimately impact and shape our communities.  When will we see that through not providing adequate supports to both the victims and perpetrators in these cases, we all pay the price?

Some examples of how the effects on victims spill over into all our lives:

  1. Some victims looking for pain relief from their emotional and psychological suffering turn to drink or drugs. These individuals that we often refer to as “druggies” are merely trying to stop the pain they feel. If anything, we should feel compassion for the levels of pain they are trying to avoid.
  2. Some victims get in deeper and deeper and have to turn to crime to support the habit that began because of an inability to cope with their suffering.  They don’t’ feel they are worth anything. The drugs they take to avoid their pain is also preventing them from any positive feelings or hope for a better future.
  3. Violence is often the trade mark of male victims of sexual abuse in an attempt to take back their power and their masculinity.  These victims often end up in prison for committing violent crimes and are likely to be there because they don’t know how to express emotions in a healthy manner as they were neither given the permission or the tools necessary to speak out.
  4. We found during our research for ‘Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse’ that men and women that have experienced abuse and don’t receive treatment for trauma are more likely to develop mental health issues, addictions, eating disorders and have suicidal tendencies.
  5. Marital issues around sex, spills over into discontentment and unhappy marriages. This leads to poor parenting which contributes to the next generation of dysfunctional adults.

These are just some of the ways rape and sexual violence impacts all of us. Although this might seem like an extreme generalisation, it is not even touching the sides of the scale of this problem.

Yet another way we pay for this crime is through our taxes. We pay for this crime through the health sector, judicial system, child and family services, addictions services, and probation services.

Wake Up Call

We need to collectively wake up to the scale of the problem and start taking it seriously. An obvious starting point would be providing the much-needed funding for the current experienced service providers both north and south of the border like the Rape Crisis Centres-One in Four-CARI and Nexus. We need to recognise the vital role these services play in providing advice and support to victims and their families.

The waiting lists for these services are outrageous with Nexus NI currently holding a waiting list of 800 people. I wonder what it will take before the government understand just how short sighted it is not to supply the funding on this end of the problem, knowing that if these individuals cannot access the help they need they will end up costing the state more through the fall out.  The state needs to step up to the plate and start fulfilling their responsibilities.  Victims are tired of being let down with nowhere to turn and trying navigate their pain and suffering while this country constantly demonstrates no consideration or compassion through lack of provision for them.

It is also important that we all understand that we can play a role in calling for change. We have a right to feel outraged and see the current situation as unacceptable. Protesting does have an impact on how we move forward. Everyone needs to do whatever they can, public voices do count.

Moving Forward

In relation to the men at the centre of the Belfast trial I offer the following advice. Give back, find a relatable cause (such as the new development of a rape crisis centre in Belfast) and fund raise or give talks if that’s what is needed to redeem yourselves.

Rightly or wrongly you find yourselves in a very negative position. A position that represents an era of misogyny and male domination that we are rightly moving away from. Your actions now could make a huge positive contribution to that movement.

 

June- 19th April 2018

Child Abuse and PTSD

Talking and writing about our childhood abuse and how it impacted us, were key to us gaining a greater understanding of thoughts and behaviours that we had as adults, and that we hated.  We didn’t know that these thoughts and behaviours were actually disorders that were researched and understood by many health professionals. These disorders or conditions developed as a direct result of the abuse we had each endured as children and some still impact us today.

Mental and physical health issues like depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem, headaches, backpain, and panic attacks are just a few. We would find it difficult to identify any area of our lives that wasn’t altered or damaged as a result of our abuse. However, it is extremely unlikely that we would have ever fully accepted that we were not responsible for causing these problems, if we had we not gone back and picked our lives apart.

With that in mind we continue researching and working on ourselves. This blog is about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and we hope that it helps make sense for those of you who suffer from this particular disorder and those that support them.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is defined as a mental condition that makes it difficult to regulate emotions. It is said that individuals who have suffered childhood sexual abuse and repetitive or prolonged exposure to trauma can develop any number of conditions and disorders.  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is just one of them.

Most of us will have heard of PTSD and we associate it with soldiers following a tour in a war-torn country. We don’t tend to connect it with adults that have suffered child abuse, and this is probably because as an adult, the symptoms of PTSD can mimic other disorders like, depression, anxiety, hypervigilance, problems with alcohol and drugs, sleep issues, and eating disorders, all making it difficult to diagnose the condition. PTSD often develops in children that experience any form of prolonged trauma. The list below outlines some of the conditions that drivel the development of this condition.

PTSD can develop in children if the following conditions exist:

  • If the child feels threatened.
  • The relationship of the child to the perpetrator, the closer the relationship the more likely the child will experience PTSD in later life.
  • If the child feels alone or abandoned by their caregiver.
  • If the child feels guilty or responsible for the abuse.
  • The child’s physical and emotional short-term response to abuse (i.e. if the child’s heart rate escalates, this will increase the likelihood of developing PTSD as an adult.

PTSD is grouped by the following types of symptoms:

  1. Re-Experiencing.
    1. Re-experiencing, or reliving, the traumatic event.
  2. Avoidance.
    1. Actively avoiding people, places, or situations that remind you of the traumatic event.
  3. Hyperarousal.
  4. Negative Thoughts and Beliefs.

These symptoms show up in the following ways.

  • Trouble sleeping / bad dreams / flashbacks.
  • Fear of dying, anxiety, or depression.
  • Loss of interest in activities.
  • Regular physical complaints such as headaches or stomach-aches.
  • Extreme emotional reactions.
  • Irritability, anger, violence.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Increased vigilance or alertness to their environment.
  • Avoiding people or places.

For us, PTSD is not just another collection of trivial words and symptoms put together for dramatic affect.   They are real symptoms that as survivors of child sexual abuse, we have dismissed for far too long believing we were just hypochondriacs’ or plain mad. It is also understandable why PTSD can be difficult to diagnose as the symptoms can be associated with many other conditions. It is for this very reason that understanding how abuse impacts the human psyche is vital if you are to recover.

It would be very difficult for those of you who have not been abused to try to image the levels of fear a child feels being raped by an adult. It is all the more difficult when you understand that in most cases it is an adult the child trusts and loves. You might get a glimpse of the fear if you can imagine waking up in the middle of the night and hearing sounds downstairs. You know no one else should be in your home, but you hear the sounds of presses opening and closing, and then you hear footsteps at the end of the stairs.  That can only give you a tiny sense of what it is like growing up in a home with an abusing parent.

It is impossible to live with that level of awareness or fear on an ongoing basis, so children learn to dissociate or compartmentalise their experiences in order to cope with daily life. These suppressed emotions are what cause various mental conditions and disorders to develop later in life. I doubt that any victim of trauma can escape the occurrence of mental health issues and with PTSD like other mental health conditions there appears to be no cure other than a combination between medication and therapy. I believe that if you work through your abuse and fully understand the origins of your thoughts and behaviours you will be in a much better place to control the symptoms and live a much healthier life.

We strongly recommend researching and writing as an approach when you begin your own healing journey. We also believe that if we had a book with the information that is contained within our book ‘Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse’ we could have been spared years of unnecessary pain and suffering. We know that anyone suffering from the impacts of sexual abuse will benefit from the learning we have gained. We also want to spread a clear message of hope to other victims, that there is life after abuse.

If everyone understood abuse and its impacts, people would better comprehend why it can take so long for victims to come forward and speak out. It may also help people appreciate why it takes so long to recover from this horrendous crime.  With understanding would come the desire to provide the necessary resources and demand the changes in policy and practices of the judicial system. The more everyone understands how sexual abuse impacts its victims the more compassionate we will all be towards each other.

Paula-8th April 2018

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