July 2020 - The Kavanagh Sisters Skip to content

Month: July 2020

What is Choice?

If you look up the word choice for a definition you will get so many alternatives to its meaning and many different contexts in which the meaning of the word choice changes.

So when it comes to explaining why many victims that do not live with their abuser appear to choose to continually return to the scene of the crime only to be abused again and again is not a simple explanation and neither is the implied choice of the victim.

I can only speak from my personal experience of being a child that was continually abused by my father well into my teenage years when some would consider that I was then old enough to make the choice to say no, to leave home, to run away or to report him to the authorities.

I have heard this said by many people who do not understand the impacts of abuse and so many more people that really struggle to understand how grown women or men stay with a partner who is beating them sometimes so badly that they end up in hospital fighting for their lives.

In many cases when these women or men are asked to press charges against their partners they refuse stating that they couldn’t do that to him/her as they love them and they accept the show of remorse and the promise by him/her that they will never do that again.

I believe to explain this you have to understand how self-hatred, guilt and shame play such a huge role in removing the belief that you have choice, that you can say no, that you can run away or remove yourself from a dangerous situation or relationship.

When I finally said no to my father, I can honestly tell you I did not believe I had choice or that by me saying no, the sexual abuse would end. I also can’t tell you how much I suffered as a result of saying no, and the self-inflicted pain and mental torture that made my life a living hell from that day on.


What I can say however, choice is only there if the person themselves believe they can make a choice. The word itself implies that you have the ability to see what’s happening to you and all the possible alternatives and then pick which one is the best for you. It not about if the choice is difficult or painful or the possible consequences of making such choices, its about having the ability to think you can make one.

To me, that ability to see choice is totally dependent on your ability to see yourself as something worth saving.  Someone who deserves better, has a right to not be hurt, abused, tortured, diminished in any way. You need to see yourself as someone who matters in the world.

How many of us can honestly not only say that but mean it. Unfortunately, it is these very beliefs that are removed by the abuser as soon as they begin their grooming process. The grooming process can happen to anyone in any walk of life and at any age. It is this grooming process that allows the abuser to corrode the very things that makes us human.

The saying that ‘you can’t love someone else until you love yourself’ used to get right up my nose. I always felt I had no problem loving others in fact most of the time I didn’t think I had any difficulty being kind and generous with my friends and partners. It is only now that I actually understand why that saying is true.

I never made a true connection with anyone on any level other than superficial. I was operating out of my damaged self and avoidance of any real emotional pain was my end game. I didn’t know this was what I was doing, I always just believed that people will always let you down, everyone will always put themselves first, no one really cares about anyone other than themselves, and so all my relationships begun out of need and lasted because I focused on their issues and not my own.

I now believe that those who are abused by someone outside of their family have all the emotional hurts that victims of all abuse carry, without question. They feel just as sick, dirty, stupid and weak as I did. I bet they even believe that the hate they hold for themselves is more justified and have no difficulty taking on the views held by society. I can even bet they believe that what happened was their choice and not that of their abuser, that is how deep an impact the grooming process has on all its victims.

By Paula Kavanagh 


  1. Do you believe that Jeffery Epstein would have attracted and been able to sexually abuse girls who believed their self-worth was equal to his?
  2. Do you believe Harvey Weinstein would have been able to sexually force himself on beautiful actresses f they didn’t believe in his power and fear that his power could make or break their career?
  3. Do you believe that hundreds, possibly thousands of 13 and 14-year-old girls were happy to continually return for sex with unattractive overweight middle-aged Pakistani men in the Rochdale sex abuse scandal?
  4. Do you believe that young boys and girls could have been frightened, manipulated and coerced into sexually abusive acts all across the world by scout leaders, coaches, parents, siblings etc for the sole purpose of providing sexual gratification to the perpetrator?  

In all these instances of sexual abuse, what makes it possible for perpetrators to abuse, is an imbalance of power.


The key to why a victim would return to an abuser after they had been sexually abused by them is in the grooming, and that is as unique as the people involved. The abuser will say anything he has to, instilling fear into his victims to control them in order to fulfill his sexual fantasies. In my case it was ‘if you tell, your mother will leave’ that was all it took. When you hear it as an adult it sounds unbelievable that I wasn’t threatened with death if I told the secret, but there it is. 

It is easy to imagine a child being manipulated and frightened into doing and believing whatever an abuser wants them to do/believe, but abusers are predators, with no conscience and can coerce anyone at any age or stage of life if the power imbalance is there.

The abuser does not have to be highly intelligent; the victim just has to believe that they are more powerful than them which makes them more susceptible to being controlled.

It is also important to note that grooming is premeditation of a crime and should be considered as such on a charge sheet.


I feel it is vitally important that there is an understanding of why a victim would return to an abuser because this detail in a victim’s statement has been unjustly used against them in court. Barristers have been known to ask victims “how is it that you say this man sexually abused you but yet, you later attended his wedding?” or, “if this man sexually abused you, why are there photos of you both after the abuse is said to have taken place, looking very happy in each other’s company?”

My response to this is: It has been well established and acknowledged that victims put a lot of energy into hiding the abuse, possibly for their entire life, is it any wonder that it cannot be detected in a photograph? and so, it shouldn’t be allowed to be used against a victim in court.



An abuser often inserts himself into a child’s life by befriending the parents and taking his time. This ensures the child believes he is a friend to be trusted. He pays particular attention to the child, so she/he feels special, cared for, loved, understood and ironically safe. These are the actions that create an emotional and psychological response in the child, which adds such confusion when the abuse occurs.

Young girls and boys who are tied into a sport, hobby, or a club that requires them to return on a regular to an abusive coach, trainer or scout leader, often don’t tell of the abuse because they believe whatever the abuser has told them. The abuser may have convinced them they are guilty, and no one will believe them if they tell. Their parents will disown them, or they will be harmed if they speak out. Abusers alter their information (grooming) to adapt to the child’s sensitivities but ultimately it is once again, all about an abuse of power.

There are additional reasons why an older child or adult would return to an abuser including threats, manipulation, coercion, and or money.


With adults, their abuse may involve physical violence or threats of physical violence to either themselves or possibly their children. Adult sexual abuse is often tied up in coercive control and domestic violence. There is also sexual harassment that occurs in work settings which brings up the possible loss of livelihood or career choice if one decides to make a stand.

If the sexual abuse continues with a person from childhood to adulthood, the power imbalance remains in place.  The victim is now somewhat institutionalised and although an adult can see the childhood threats should no longer be viable, the power imbalance has been so established to allow for dispensing of threats altogether.

Power imbalance is gender inequality. Some people think they are separate but think about it; sexual abuse could not occur if both people held equal power.  Because of this power imbalance, for so many victims, returning to an abuser, is not a real choice at all. There can be no choice when there is an imbalance of power.


In the Jeffery Epstein case, a lot of the teenage girls he abused were from impoverished troubled backgrounds. He behaved in a way that completely normalised the abuse which would have totally confused these girls.

He also paid them $200 every time he abused them. These girls would probably never have that kind of money before. He promised them he would pay for their education {which he never did} but the promise was there. He manipulated them until he got what he wanted.

He lived in a mansion, brought some of them on his private jet to his private Island to meet with A list celebrities. Can you imagine how that would feel as a teenager?  He would ask them if they any friends they could bring and he would pay them extra for each person they brought. This was very clever because it would not only increase his victim portfolio, but it ensured the victims took ownership and felt complicit in their abuse and that of the other girls they introduced to him. This was a deliberate move on his part, to ensure they would never tell.


In the Rochdale sex abuse scandal, hundreds, possibly thousands of teenage girls were being abused in every town in England by mainly Pakistani men in well organised street grooming gangs.

At first these men would befriend girls from difficult backgrounds, the men would pick them up in taxis and bring them to a room over a local curry shop. They would give them food, cigarettes, alcohol and drugs to make them believe they were their friends. The alcohol consumption would escalate until the girls were completely intoxicated and they would begin raping them. Then things would change completely, these men would threaten the girls. This was all carried out with a sense of entitlement by these men who then began passing the girls around among many other men.

The girls would feel it was impossible to get out of the situation. The men knew the police were not taking any action even when on occasion one of the girls made a statement. These men over time became more and more brazen and treated the girls as objects whose only purpose was to provide sexual gratification. They then discarded them with the same regard as a used condom (which none of them seemed to use) as many of these girls became pregnant.



There is also Harvey Weinstein, who was regarded as one of the most powerful men on the planet at one point in time.  He used his power as leverage to gain access to women’s bodies. He sexually abused them with impunity. He had such levels of power and like Jeffery Epstein, he normalised his abuse and created an entire support system around him. He held people’s careers in his hands and anyone who didn’t go along with what he wanted, he would ruin them and ensure they were unemployable.

He would play with people’s lives and wave leading roles over the women he abused.  He would arrange meetings with women in hotel rooms to discuss a role in a movie and then corner them somewhere and force himself on them. He would then brag that these women threw themselves at him because they wanted a particular role in a movie. 


Sexual abuse is about power and control and in our patriarchal society, it is up to men to admit to and address this imbalance. In the absence of this, victims of abuse are left confused and filled with self-hatred.

Do you still believe victims are making a free choice returning to an abuser?

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