Paula Kavanagh, Author at The Kavanagh Sisters Skip to content

Author: Paula Kavanagh

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 DOES IT TAKE TO BELIEVE THAT YOU HAVE CHOICE?

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 

TRIGGERED!

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In the past few weeks, I realised that the coping mechanisms I used as a child to survive my abuse were being triggered in response to the corona virus and the lockdown restrictions. Growing up I really struggled with anxiety that often manifested in anger. I hated not having any control over my life, and today,I find myself right back were it all began. The more the government continues to increase the restrictions that curtail my movements, interactions, and relationships, the more my resentment grows.

You may think that I should not be taking it so personal as the government are ‘supposedly’ only looking out for me. It’s just the only other time someone was supposed to be ‘looking out for me’ was when I was a child and my father exerted similar measures in order to control me, granting him the freedom to regularly rape and abuse me.

The daily onslaught of death notices and reminders to stay inside, only serve to further frighten and confuse me. The more I listen to the various experts on both sides of the fence, the worse I feel. So here is why I think my childhood anxiety/trauma has come to the surface again.  

If I were to write a step by step guidebook on how to groom a child for abuse, it would be similar to what is happening with the covid crisis.

 STEP ONE:

ABUSE: After telling the child you care about them, begin slowly introducing fear into the child’s life. At the same time introduce rules that must be followed; small rules to begin with that will help you gauge how compliant the child is.

COVID – The government reassured us on how we will get through this if we all work together, consistently reminding us of the severity of the consequences (instilling fear) if we do not wash hands, coughing into our sleeve, and stay away from others.

STEP TWO:

ABUSE: Increase the fear gradually over time and introduce more rules that must be followed. This will ensure the child will keep your secret and feel it is for their own good. If done correctly – this will be followed without question.

COVID – Government daily death counts, reminders of the rules and consequences for us all if not followed. Increasing the restrictions gradually – introduce more things to fear- objects, surfaces – widen the group to stay away from and include those most vulnerable (elderly, sick).

 STEP THREE:

ABUSE: While continuing to increase the fear, introduce catastrophic consequences for telling your secret. Make them responsible for others – (if you tell anyone, your mother will leave; your brothers and sisters will be taken into care). This will ensure the child feels responsible for the safety of others instilling a sense of guilt and fear.

COVID – Push the need to use hand sanitisers, wear masks and gloves. This will make sure you understand that it’s your responsibility to protect others, if you don’t you could kill someone you love.  Increased isolation for everyone making it against the rules to visit loved ones especially those that need support like elderly parents and those suffering or dying with an illness.

STEP FOUR:

ABUSE: Assert your opinions on the child. Insist you are the only one that will tell them the truth, everyone else will only lie to them. Convince them that you are the only one that can protect and care for them. Keep up the fear levels warning that outside the home is unsafe.  

COVID – Maintain daily bulletins, announce deaths while showing images of body bags and communal graves. Denounce other media reports as false or dangerous sources that you should ignore. This is a sure way to make you compliant, afraid, and responsible for everyone.

STEP FIVE:

ABUSE: Undermine the child at every turn, tell them they are stupid, ignorant and know nothing. Criticize their choices and opinions. Maintain control over their movements, activities, and relationships. Let them know that no one is to be trusted but you.

COVID- Take away independence and create dependency through job losses while providing just enough financial aid. This will make people believe that you really do care in case they are wavering. Encourage division asking people to be vigilant and report on their neighbours’ activities – after all its in everyone’s best interest.

STEP SIX:

ABUSE – Ok collect your diploma – you now have total control over every aspect of the child’s life and the acceptance by the child that this is just how it is.

COVID- Normalise the situation, make it routine, provide small rewards for correct behaviours. Lift restrictions gradually while make it understood that you can take them back if people don’t behave.

A perfect breeding ground for abuse is when an individual is vulnerable, isolated, and totally dependent on someone else for their survival. This will also ensure that the child or adult learns to ignore their natural instincts and will not turn to those they know and love for support. For me, the current crisis makes me feel like I’m right back in my home with my father controlling the narrative. I’m being told to ignore what I’m feeling because after all, aren’t we all in this together. However, after all the years of work I’ve done to reconnect with myself and trust my gut, I refuse to fall into that trap again.

I constantly hear government officials stating that they are the only source I should be going to for information.  This automatically makes me feel uneasy.  I have spent years overcoming my ability to blindly follow and not question what I’m being told. To assume others, know better, understand more and are smarter than me. It took so long to reconnect with my gut feelings and trust myself when something feels wrong.  For me it’s healthy to question what I’m being told. I am no longer willing to ignore what I feel. I have the right to ask questions, to seek answers, to allow for other opinions and viewpoints. To make up my own mind when I have access to all the information, and not just go along because it’s the easier option to avoid conflict.

I now understand the importance of listening to myself. I no longer fear my own instincts, my need to question anything that feels wrong or uncomfortable. I’m not trying to sway anyone to believe one thing or another. I am merely pointing out that regardless of what you believe, questioning what is happening around you is the healthiest thing you can do no matter what the outcome.

I am not suggesting that our government is grooming us for their own ends, however, I think it is appalling the way things unfolded. It is clear there was no care, planning or understanding of the effects on the mental health of victims of trauma, their families or those within their communities. Not one centre providing support to victims of trauma, be it rape, incest, or childhood abuse were given additional funding. In fact, all the current services suffered badly due to the inability to fundraise just to keep their doors open. Another thing, that is an utter disgrace given the surge of abuse cases which occurred as a direct result of the lockdown.

So, if like me you have been triggered during this crisis, know that it’s perfectly normal and understandable given our history with trauma. Understanding that the abuse of power in the hands of our abuser was reflected in the steps that this crisis brought, will at least help you make sense of your reactions and emotional responses over the past few months.  It is important that you mind yourself, your mental health and reach out for support to family or friends. I would urge you not to try to go it alone but talk to someone even if it is just the person on the other end of a confidential helpline.

By Paula Kavanagh

LIVING IN FEAR! NOW DO YOU SEE ME?

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We have spent years trying to help people understand the fear experienced by children who suffer child abuse or childhood trauma and how that fear impacts their lives. We do this not just to provide a deeper understanding of the crime itself, but also to help those in a position of power comprehend that fighting for lifelong supports to be put in place for victims, is warranted. At present no government in any country has stood up to the task but we will not give up until that position changes.

It occurred to me while recording our latest podcast that the Corona pandemic may provide us the perfect opportunity to succeed in this endeavour as we now have a real life experience of intense fear that everyone alive can relate to, which could improve the likelihood and willingness of people in positions of power to finally understand why it can take a lifetime to recover from being sexually abused.

To fully utilise the experience of fear gripping the world today to for the greater good and help us fuel the desired outcome I would like to demonstrate a small comparison between the fear experienced by children who are sexually abused and where we find ourselves today.

JUST ANOTHER DAY IN 2020

I woke to the sound of my alarm and as I reached to grab my phone, for a split second I forgot what was happening in the world and thought about the job I once looked so forward to going to.

When reality kicked in, I felt a heaviness in my chest from a mixture of anxiety and fear. I gave out to myself yet again for not deleting my alarm as it is now three weeks since I left my home and it doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon.

I delay getting up and turn on my tv to block out the silence only to be hit with another news bulletin about how many deaths worldwide has occurred overnight. Fresh warnings about staying indoors run across the bottom of the screen and the warning that the police were mounting roadblocks to stop you if you break the curfew.

I feel a tightness in the pit of my stomach that is now a constant, along with the unwelcome sound of my heart pounding.  I feel the familiar sensations of tingling rushing through my body and I sit on the side of the bed screaming in my head, in an attempt to stop the inevitable panic that is coming.

The voice on the tv keeps repeating ‘stay at home’ like it’s a new mantra. Don’t listen to any news source but us as there is a lot of fake news out there and it will only get you distressed. Trust no one, not even your grandchildren, as they may be infected, we are the only ones that you should go to for the truth, We have your best interest at heart, We are here doing our best to protect you and will always put your health first.

Social media bombards you with repeating the death toll and how easy it is to be infected by standing too close to someone, or touching your face or an item that comes through the post because the virus can be still alive for a long time after an infected person touches it.

I am terrified all the time, I don’t know who to listen to and the voice in my head won’t stop as it tells me I could get sick and die all alone surrounded by people in hazmat suits. So, I stay isolated and alone every day. I am too afraid to go outside and yet I feel just as afraid indoors. I feel so trapped and alone. Who can I speak to, no one will understand, and they won’t believe just how bad it is? I am not sure I could explain this feeling. I am afraid of everyone and everything.

When I do speak to other members of my family on the phone, they all seem to be coping just fine, so I am not going to tell them how bad I am. They seem to be handling this situation so much better than me so it must be me. I must be mad or weak or stupid. I don’t think they really care about me.  I would feel ashamed and embarrassed telling them I’m terrified. They have their own lives to live. I am all alone in this, I’ll have to find a way to cope.

I try but struggle to change my focus, my legs won’t work, I have no one to call they are at least an hour’s drive from me, so they won’t be able to arrive on time to save me. The tears start to stream down my cheeks, and I can’t breathe what will I do? I think about dying alone in a makeshift hospital surrounded by people in hazmat suits. God what a way to go.

I reach into my dresser to grab more painkillers. These pills the doctor prescribed to lessen my panic leave me feeling exhausted and not wanting to do anything, so I climb back into bed and pull the covers up over my head.

JUST ANOTHER DAY IN MY CHILDHOOD

I woke abruptly to the covers being pulled off me and I scramble to pull my nightdress down to cover myself. “get the fuck up now” he said  

I immediately feel the heaviness in my chest of anxiety and fear. My movements are laboured, and my heart is heavy because I dread facing another day of hell.

I get dressed and head downstairs only to hear him shouting at everyone “get the fuck out to work ‘Now’ and I won’t tell you again

I slowly walk out to work in the factory (it’s a large extension attached to our home) and hear him, in response to a question telling one of my brothers that he shouldn’t listen to the news reports its all fucking lies anyway and if he wants to know anything just ask him.

My father is a bully who rules the house with lies, intimidation and fear. He has control over where and when I go anywhere, what I do with my time, who I see and what I watch on tv and what I listen to on the radio.

He is constantly telling us that no one can be trusted and that family stick together and that he is the only one who can protect us.

He is always clicking his fingers shouting out orders to everyone.  I am cleaning up when I feel him behind me, I know what he wants, the hairs on my neck stand up and my heart is thumping, the blood is rushing to my head.  There is no escape, no one coming to save me, I escape in the only way I know, by going inside my head to a dark space until its over.

WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER

Because of this pandemic I may no longer need expressions like, imagine if this was you, only to see people struggle to either bring an image or an emotion to the surface. Although I believe childhood fear during abuse is worse than the fear we are all being exposed during this pandemic, I still feel, when I explain the fear and anxiety I grew up with, everyone now has some sense of what childhood fear can feel like not only for me but for those like me.

Today the source of that fear comes in messages we receive daily such as, the fear of what could happen if we don’t stay at home and stay away from others. We are asked not to buy into conspiracy theories or streams of information coming from social media stating that we should only trust reliable sources, we don’t ask who these reliable sources are but instead we accept they are, as we are told in the media. We are assured that our government have our best interest at heart and that they are here to protect and guide us.

The people holding all the control can go unchallenged because we all want to believe that no one would willingly hurt us. The same applies to children being abused, quite often by someone they know and trust. As children they are hurt and confused as they too don’t want to believe someone would willingly hurt them.  

The feelings of self-hatred and blame destroy any chance of the child breaking free from their situation and just like all of us today they adapt to their environment and do all they can to bury the fear and anxiety. Sadly these feelings become a way of life and although they are often unconscious, they can lead to an inability to ask for help.

HOPES FOR A BETTER FUTURE

My hope is that you can see through this small example how todays pandemic could be triggering for survivors of childhood abuse and the similarities in the control and power imbalance.

It is my wish that victims have compassion for themselves and an admiration for the strength and courage they possess to survive childhood sexual abuse or trauma.

This pandemic could have some very positive outcomes if we only try to see that we are all impacted when even one of us is suffering. It is my belief that only when we come together can we make the lasting changes that benefit everyone.

Multiple Abusers – It Must Have Been My Fault!

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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

Episode Seventeen

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The Power Of Letting Go!

‘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 8888

In today’s podcast (episode 17) ‘The Power of Letting Go!’  we will be discussing forgiveness, who benefits from forgiveness and why should sexually abuse survivors even consider forgiving their abuser.

We understand the pictures conjured up by the very word forgiveness and the immediate resistance that jumps to the surface. But for us, when we replaced the word ‘forgiveness’ with ‘letting go’ it made it a lot easier to explore the possibilities of taking that step.

We are not suggesting that if you choose to go down the path of forgiveness that your abuser or any abuser is forgiven for their actions, or that they do not suffer the consequences of those actions. Being held accountable is a vital part of moving forward. Rather we want you to think of exactly who is suffering by you holding onto the pain and suffering that your abuser caused.

We all struggled with the concept of forgiveness for a long time and for each of us this step meant different things at different times in our lives.  We understand that letting go of your past although essential, is not easy and is more of a process that happens in layers. However, we know that allowing our dad to continue to take up space in our heads wasn’t hurting him but was in fact, destroying us.

The word forgiveness itself was a barrier to us moving forward as it conjured up images of sitting with him and playing happy families and to us that was inconceivable. But forgiving someone does not require that you ever have to have them in your life.  Over time and through many discussions we realised just how much of our own precious time was taken up with thoughts of him.

We each discovered our own way of letting him go. Letting go of all pain and suffering that he caused was a vital part of our recovery. This is not something that happens easily or quickly, but in the letting go we allowed space for healing.

We hope by sharing our experiences we can demonstrate that not only is forgiveness possible but necessary for your healing. The one who benefits the most from letting go is YOU, not him. You deserve to move forward unencumbered by the past. Forgiveness or letting go will provide you with the opportunity to live a life you were meant to live, free from pain.

Please share and spread the word……

Take care

Joyce, June and Paula

Let’s Call A Spade A Spade

Male Privilege and Just How Dangerous it is to us All

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The other night I watched a documentary on Netflix called ‘Hello Privilege, It’s Me, Chelsea’ in which Chelsea Handler an American comedian explored what it means to be born with white privilege in America.

While watching the programme I couldn’t help making comparisons with what I see as ‘Male Privilege.’ During the programme it became clear that Chelsea was fighting a losing battle when trying to ask white Americans about how they believed they may have benefited from being white. Time and time again she got met with denial, ignorance and an unwillingness to even entertain there is such a thing as white privilege.

Chelsea also spoke to Tim Wise, an Activist and writer who made the point, that those that benefit the most from privilege don’t have to think about it, because they aren’t the ones with the problems. He also made the point that the flip side of privilege is oppression.

This is exactly what is wrong when trying to address the issues and problems borne from male privilege.  Women are fighting for equality day in day out, but men consistently fail to listen, or see that it is their very privilege that blocks them from understanding just how dangerous this male privilege is and how it has and continues to impact all our lives.

Male privilege is never more apparent than when looking at the sex industry. Earlier tonight, I read a most disturbing piece online by John Whitehead, a Constitutional attorney  – ‘The Essence of Evil: Sex with Children Has Become Big Business in America.’ It is a hard read, but in my opinion a necessary one.  It’s a disturbing account of the extremely lucrative sex trafficking of kids.

In the piece it details the horrendous, disgusting and stomach-churning treatment of trafficked children and how the youngest kids are trained to have oral sex with men. “They’d get you hungry then to train you to have oral sex. “They put honey on a man. For the littlest kids, you had to learn not to gag. And they would push things in you so you would open up better.” Reading this alone was enough to make me feel enraged at the men who pay to rape these children. Without customers there would be no traffickers and please do not make the mistake in thinking this is an American problem it is a global one with Ireland being right in the mix.

If a man, any man, hands over money to be given access to a child that he then feels entitled to go ahead and rape that child, make no mistake, this is not a business transaction, it is the RAPE of a CHILD.  Why are we not screaming from the rooftops for this to stop, for all those responsible, from the pimps to the entitled men who use children as things they can do whatever they wish to, be held accountable for their disgusting and depraved actions.

Why do we as a society, not view these men who use pimps to gain access to children and young women in the same light as we do paedophiles or rapists.  

Is it because the men who use these pimps and call these numbers are not easily identified?  Or is it that we do not want to accept that they have nothing that makes them stand out from any other man. They could be your father, brother, uncle, friend, son, colleague or neighbour.

Now here’s the thing,  if I was describing a paedophile that description above would be exactly the same, and yet, as a society these men are not condemned, they do not when caught, get put on the sex register, they are not seen by other men in and out of prison in the same light. Their actions are not seen as the actions of a depraved person.

Just what mentality do you have to possess to allows you to pay to rape a child or young woman.  Why don’t they see what they are doing as disgusting and how in some cases do they even brag about using ‘the service’ and share contact details.  This is not any different than someone who rapes their own sister, mother, child or a child of your friend, partner or neighbour.  Having sex paid for or not with anyone who clearly is not in a position to give consent is RAPE.

However, women all getting on board is not ever going to make this stop. Men need to urgently understand and realise that as members of society they have a duty and a responsibility to make the world a safe place for everyone. No one is more important or should have more rights than another. It is this male privilege that allows the   belief or mindset to see someone as less than and that allows those men to act with impunity when it comes to this crime.

Any man that feels its ok to pay for sex, to pay to watch children being raped on the internet, to engage in any form of sexual activity with anyone regardless of their age or gender for money, needs to see the reality of what is happening. Its time we stop allowing our children to be raped by men that feel because they pay, they are somehow not responsible to  that individual.

We need to start holding men to account, its time that men see that visiting sex parlors that are filled with trafficked women and children is not funny and something you have a laugh with the lads about.  Although men might use the excuse to themselves that sex is just a physical act, I can assure you that is not what that child in front of them is feeling. Its time we call a spade a spade. If you engage in paid sex with a child, you are a RAPIST.

Paula Kavanagh – 29th September 2019 

Victims of Sexual Abuse in Positions of Power

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Whenever we have spoken or written about sexual abuse, we have always talked about victims from our own perspective. We have discussed how the numerous psychological impacts of abuse can disempower victims, causing all sorts of conditions and disorders and as a result of those impacts, victims can make some poor choices in their lives.

However, recently I read an article about the appalling and endemic sexual abuse of young boys at one of Dublin’s private colleges Terenure College run by the Carmelite order of priests that occurred in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The article spoke about how the young boys turned out by this college, would most likely go on to become captains of industry, top rugby players, political leaders and decision makers for our country.

THE TRUE COST

Some might see the fact that victims of abuse can manage to excel at whatever field they choose and do not let their abuse hold them back,  as a positive.  However,  I believe that we must acknowledge the damage that abuse does to its victims and be willing to explore what happens if victims do not look at, or deal with, their abuse.

The true cost of not understanding exactly how abuse and its impacts are forever ingrained into the personality of an individual is vitally important. We need to be aware that if unaddressed, these impacts will negatively influence the decisions, attitudes and behaviours of victims in whatever role they may find themselves in.

If a victim of abuse fears or chooses not to explore their past, they may do whatever it takes to push or ignore their feelings of anger, self-hatred, rejection, and hurt deep down inside, living in a state of permanent denial. These feelings most likely originated from their experience of powerlessness while being abused.

EXTERNAL APPROVAL

With no real sense of self, a victim who has used his/her career to mask or avoid feeling vulnerable, may go on to gauge their success or failures by the reaction of those around them. They may become overachievers, obsessive in their need to win or climb to the top. They often place excessively harsh demands on themselves, constantly setting unreachable targets ensuring they will always be disappointed. They will continually strive for perfection that does not exist regardless of what area of their life they try to achieve it in.

Overachieving in education or a career path can often lead to what is outwardly perceived as success. Victims may misread their unhealthy obsession with power as drive and ambition.

NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY

If these victims then rise to positions of power and control they are likely to develop a narcissistic personality. If they do not acknowledge or deal with their past they can develop an inflated sense of entitlement based on the belief that they, and only they can do anything right. It is also not uncommon for them to be arrogant, domineering and exploitative. This behaviour conflicts with their excessive need for admiration and makes it difficult to maintain relationships in their private or professional lives. However, the biggest problem with a narcissist is their inability to have empathy. So, when it comes to making decisions based on what is good for the people, they will undoubtedly make the wrong choices.

For the most part they are too busy playing the game with their peers and looking for approval from their inner circle. For this reason, they will never be able to understand the plight of the new employee, the unemployed, sick, elderly or minority groups, unless they feel they are belonging to one of those groups. It is the groups of people they are currently influenced by that will determine their decisions. They won’t be unduly concerned with the masses but rather with the chosen few that they admire and feel they understand.

They are most likely to pay lip service rather than taking action or making real changes to improve the lives of the people they may represent in whatever position they hold.

Due to the blocking of their own feelings they cannot connect with others pain and suffering. Their focus will be on how to climb higher and how to make connections to improve their lot.

Because of their perceived success, they may question other peoples motivation and even resent others feeling that in their eyes, others have not done enough to better themselves. They may feel that others are lazy or stupid and have no desire to be any better, this leads to resenting that ‘these people’ benefit from their hard work.

DANGERS FOR US ALL

Having a narcissist in a position that influences our lives is dangerous for us all. They are incapable of including emotion in their decisions but instead use logic. These facts or logical conclusions are also skewed, because they use their own filter which is influenced by their own negative life experience. The energy they put into avoiding being triggered emotionally, can ensure they will avoid making decisions that serve anyone other than themselves.

WHO IS PULLING OUR STRINGS

When I look at this country and how it is currently being run, alongside examining the disastrous decisions that impact the most vulnerable within our society, like the almost 10,000 homeless, the 400 people left waiting on hospital trolleys (26% increase from last year), coupled with the constant under-funding of support services for abuse victims, I can only conclude that we have a number of individuals with a narcissistic personality disorder in positions of power. No one who has the ability to feel empathy for another individual could stand by and not do something about this country’s current situation.

And not to repeat myself, but the biggest problem with a narcissist is their inability to have empathy. We must ask ourselves when terrible decisions are being made that impact all our lives, who has the most to gain from making those decision. What could possibly be behind those decisions if not self-serving greed and ambition. What if anything can we as individuals do to change it?

Paula – 24th August 2018

Hidden Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse

As much as I hate labels, in our case being labelled as victims of sexual abuse gave us direction when we first went looking for support.  However, I know that even now, the level of support available for victims of sexual abuse in Ireland, and around the world, is inadequate and receives insufficient funding.  There is a lack of will from governments to improve the support survivors can assess and this needs to change.

Survivors Helping Survivors

In the absence of adequate support for victims of sexual abuse, survivors are taking control and providing support for each other.  Shaneda Daly, a fellow survivor of sexual abuse has taking matters into her own hands and set up a support page on Facebook for survivors of abuse.

In addition to this, Shaneda is looking to fill the gap by setting up support groups around the country that will be run by survivors for survivors.  While this is very commendable it is also sad that survivors must resort to this due to lack of available resources.  It may well be the only way to reach the multitude of survivors.

Hidden Victims 

In our new book ‘Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse’ we want to make survivors, and those who support them aware of the ways abuse effects every aspect of their lives. In addition to this, we think it’s important to highlight the impact that abuse has on those who have not been directly abused, who we call secondary victims.  I know that for every victim of abuse, there are family members, partners and friends who share their pain.

When someone you love tells you that they have been abused it can be overwhelming. Often those we tell aren’t equipped to know what to do or say.  If you are lucky enough not to have experienced sexual abuse first hand, knowing someone close to you who has been abused can leave you feeling anxious, depressed, and powerless.

We have had many reach out to us asking how they can support someone who has disclosed their abuse.  These supporters rarely feel that they too may need help.  Abuse affects not only the life of the victim but also those close to them. Finding out that a son, daughter, sister, brother, mother, father, or friend has been abused can change their life forever. They need to learn how to deal with their own feelings in order to be able to effectively support the victim.

A Brothers Pain

I am part of a large family and even today I watch my siblings struggling.  When the silence about the abuse my sisters and I experienced was finally broken, our siblings were not seen as victims. Yet the fact that they also grew up in our family home meant that they too were groomed. Like us, they also lived by the unwritten rules that came hand in hand with abuse.  The negative feelings and thoughts they learnt to push down are similar to how we felt, but they were not awarded the same level of empathy we were or directed to get help.

I see my brothers struggle to get through life.  I know they feel they let us down by not protecting us and they are ashamed that they didn’t stand up to my father when they were children.  It challenges their sense of manhood in ways we don’t fully understand. They do not give any credence to the fact they were children when all this was happening.

Unfortunately, they don’t have the skills to separate how they felt then from how they feel now. This is taking its toll on each one of them.   They continue with their inner struggle of self- judgement, guilt, and shame. As men they worry that they too may be judged as having the same sexual tendencies as our father.

The fear they carry, without any justification, remains with them always. They are not equipped to face the fear but instead they continue to beat themselves up over an issue that was not theirs but our fathers.

A Sisters Struggle

My older sister was not as fortunate as us when it came to getting help and support. This was mainly because she left the family home when she was 18.  Also abused by our father, she escaped to lived abroad and has done ever since.  She continues to carry guilt for not being able to protect us, her younger sisters and constantly questions if things could have been different if she had of spoken out and reported our dad years ago.

Prior to the court case she returned home to make a statement, but my father accused her of ‘jumping on the band wagon.’ While he admitted to sexually abusing each of us, he continued to refuse that he had also abused her. With no one able to collaborate her story the Garda suggested she not pursue any additional charges.

She was informed that the legal outcome for our father would be the same regardless of whether she was part of the process or not.  Although my father did get sent to prison, I often wonder how she feels deep down.  She never got to tell her story and I wonder if this still hurts her.

A Mothers Innocence

I am aware that not all victims of abuse are fortunate enough to have their family stand by them when they disclose abuse. While we cannot ignore the fact that some mothers are responsible for abusing their children this is not my personal experience, and so best to leave that for another conversion. It’s best that I discuss what I know.

In the case of my own mother, I watched her persecuted both internally and externally when our abuse was made public.  Her perception of how neighbours and friends thought of her ensured she became a recluse. She felt so guilty for not protecting us. She believed the view of the outside world was that it isn’t possible to have abuse in a house without the mother knowing.  This presumption is born out of ignorance.  I believe that unless you have grown up in an abusive family you cannot understand the complexities that go hand in hand with abuse.

Supporting Mothers

We are so grateful to the brave mothers who shared their stories in ‘Why go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse.’ Their experiences will break your heart. They tell of the isolation and pain they felt as secondary victims of abuse. Each of them know that with a little support their life could be a little easier.

That really made me think. It’s clearly not recognised that although not directly abused themselves, their worlds have been turned upside down by abuse. They too are victims.  They are not responsible for what happened to their children. They shouldn’t be isolated, they need support.

Support Systems

The lack of family support systems is clear. Families and secondary victims need to receive help and be able to access appropriate information to build their understanding of the impacts the abuse has had on each member of the family.

Adequate support will allow secondary victims to identify their own feelings and work through the pain and confusion.  With the support of a professional the whole family could help each other heal.

Until that happens I urge you to be mindful when you hear of cases of abuse and instead of jumping to judgements be aware that there are secondary victims too.

Joyce-9th January 2018

Does Childhood Sexual Abuse Change Who You Are Forever?

Click on the image to listen to the blog 

Can you ever be healed from the impacts of childhood sexual abuse (csa)? or does csa become part or your DNA?

It might seem strange to anyone who has not suffered abuse to even ask the question, can you heal from abuse. This is because we live in a society where conditions or ailments can be treated or cured by taking a course of medication.  For those of us who have experienced sexual abuse or childhood trauma, it can often feel like it can never be overcome.

Even when you think that you are doing ‘okay’ and getting on with things, a major event can throw you to such an extent that you feel like your life is falling apart.  That is what happened to me when my mother died. My reaction to her death made me look for answers to the questions I have always held about areas of my life that I felt were unfix-able.

Looking for Answers

I wanted to know why even after all the work I had done on myself and all the knowledge I had around the various impacts of child sexual abuse, I still felt there was something missing that stopped me feeling human. I had always struggled with making lasting connections with people, always found it strange that I was still incapable of feeling empathy and compassion for people on the news in horrendous situations. I could not cry or really feel for others at emotional events like funerals, unless I was completely pissed.

Attachment Disorder and Childhood Sexual Abuse

It was only through a chance conversation with my partner in which she suggested that I should look into attachment disorders that I eventually uncovered the missing answers to my questions.

I had only ever heard of attachment disorders in relation to children and separation from a mother, so I had never made a connection to the possibility of this being related to me as a victim of abuse. This search sent me down the road to uncover information about how the levels of trauma experienced as a child can impact brain development and prevent connections between different parts of the brain happening.  This new information helped me to understand the many conditions and disorders that can develop as a direct result of childhood sexual abuse and even showed me how childhood trauma can and does, alter our very DNA.

Childhood Sexual Abuse Changes The Body and Brain

I found information about the changes that occur in brain chemistry and development as a result of overexposure to trauma in early childhood. How these changes were then linked to long-lasting physical, emotional and mental effects to victims of childhood sexual abuse.  I made so many connections to my own life and how I had long suffered from many physical ailments and in particular pain. I had accepted this as just part of me. This information allowed me to seek out other forms of treatments to help overcome these physical problems.

I discovered that due to the result of these changes in brain chemistry in the brains of  victims of childhood sexual abuse our thinking, feelings and behaviours can be forever altered.

This information was so important to me. I always knew I was different than other children growing up.  Even then, I saw things differently than my peers. I never related to how they felt or even what they were interested in. I always felt different and weird. Armed with this new information I could see and make a connection to how this lack of development in certain parts of my brain impacted how I was in the world and let myself off the hook for something I had no control over.

Overexposure to trauma in childhood is found to impact the development of  the particular part of the brain that controls the intensity of our emotions and helps moderate feelings of fear which are necessary for impulse control.  It helps us to not overreact to certain situations with anger driven by fear  and be able to be rational and think things through which is  a critical area for learning.

Living With The Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse

This under-development for me showed up as excessive reactions to even the most mundane task. We each wrote about this in ‘Click, Click’   how in school, the levels of anxiety were overwhelming for us. For me it resulting in me soiling myself if any attention was directed at me. Because I was unable to concentrate, learning for me was a nightmare and resulted in me growing up with the belief that I was stupid and incapable of doing anything.

It is also documented that overexposure to trauma can affect your ability to regulate   emotions and moods, to form attachments, and how you respond to drugs.

For me, this lack of development manifested in all sorts of conditions/disorders, anything from social anxiety to attachment disorders, to suffering from depression and an over dependency on alcohol just so I could engage with others.

Knowledge is Power

So what difference does having this information make to a survivor of childhood sexual abuse? I can honestly say that this information has changed my life. Understanding how my brains development has been impacted allowed me to see the damage that was caused by my abuse. It provides me with answers as to why I think, feel, believe or behave in a particular way.  It stops me judging myself so harshly and from hating myself for something that I had no control over.

When we were writing Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse’ we wanted to put all the information that helped us in one place. We all feel that if we had access to this information it would have made such a difference to our healing and the length of time it has taken. Our intention is always to help others by sharing our own experiences, what worked for us and how it impacted our lives.

If you accept that your very DNA has been altered due to your experience of abuse you can also accept that knowledge and understanding of just how that occurred will absolutely allow you to find a new way of being in the world. Taking the challenge to journey into your past is not easy, but in my opinion, it is the only way to rid yourself of the damage caused by your abuse.

If you want a really easy talk on how your DNA is impacted by childhood trauma check out Pediatrician Dr. Nadine Burke Harris who talks about how ‘trauma affects health across a lifetime’ at a TEDMED – 2014

Or read the study carried out by Dr. Vince Felitti at Kaiser and Dr. Bob Anda called the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study

Paula – 29th December 2017

Sex Offenders-Not in My Back Yard

On Monday 18th December 2017 Irish Independent Correspondent Conor Feehan reported how a local community are seeking the eviction of convicted sex offender, Michael Murray from his rented accommodation in South Dublin.

Members of the local community have placed posters of Michael on the lampposts in the area where he lives with the words ‘Warning – Rapist About.’

Murray was jailed in 1996 for raping four women and sexually assaulting two others in south Dublin during a six-day reign of terror in September 1995.

What Should We Do With Sexual Offenders?

As a survivor of sexual abuse, the following opinions might seem strange but it has come about through personal healing and education.

So, what are we to do with those individuals that are convicted of sexual offences. Do we put them on an island and leave them to fend for themselves? Do we take them out and shoot them? Do we castrate them?

If you even look at the headlines and how we describe offenders and their crimes, the language used when talking about them is unhelpful and can even be quite dangerous.

A Sense of Security

Sex offenders registers were first established in the early 1990’s in the US and have since been introduced by multiple jurisdictions as a way to make communities feel safe. They are designed to keep people informed about where convicted sex offenders live within communities.   However, it must be said that sexual crimes are the most underreported crimes across the globe and those that are reported have such a low conviction rate that we must understand that the majority of those who perpetrate sexual crimes are successfully living amongst us having never been convicted of a sexual crime.

We must be very clear that isolating those who are sex offenders can be a very dangerous road to travel.  If we think that we can treat all sex offenders the same and that it is safer to remove them from society without any focus on rehabilitation we are not protecting our children or communities.

Abusers, rapists and child molesters do not look like the monsters portrayed by the media. They are individuals who live in communities. According to Abel and Marrow, 83% of child sexual abuse seems to occur in domestic settings by men who are typically married, religious, holding a good job, well educated, and in positions of trust.  They also point out that 93% of typical abusers have a sexual interest in adults as well as children and as such are unlikely to cause suspicion in our homes or within our communities.

Safe Communities

It is natural to want to live in a community that is safe. Often marginalised groups within society are portrayed in the media as being different and this can cause suspicion and fear of what we do not understand. But it is only when we are willing to become informed about those other groups that we will even begin to find ways of living together.

We need to consider each case on its own merit and recognise that different categories of abuse and abusers require a carefully tailored response to avoid destroying lives unnecessarily.

Sexual Crimes and The Law

I also think that in Ireland, and also across the globe, there is inconsistency in sentencing and often members of the legal system that are charged with dealing with sex offenders are likely to have received little or no education as to the true impacts of such horrendous crimes. This results in mixed messages about what we think and feel about sexual offences and its millions of victims.

However, I also feel we must also temper any punishment with appropriate treatment programmes that will assist those individuals to understand their behaviour and put interventions in place to encourage them to seek professional help prior to committing any crimes and also for those who have abused to prevent them from continuing to abuse, hurt and devastate the lives of their victims.

The Paedophile Voice

When we were researching for our latest book, ‘Why Go Back?’ we spoke to  Todd Nickerson, from Tennessee, who is a non-acting paedophile. He contacted us having read our first book ‘Click, Click.’ We may not agree with all of Todd’s opinions, but we found if encouraging that he was open to reading and educated himself on the damage the actions of those who abuse can cause. Below is a statement that Todd made when trying to explain about who are paedophiles that don’t offend.

Todd said:

Not many of us are willing to share our story, for good reason.  To confess a sexual attraction to children is to lay claim to the most reviled status on the planet, one that effectively ends any chance you have of living a normal life.  Yet, I’m not the monster you think me to be.

I’ve never touched a child sexually in my life and never will, nor do I use child pornography.  But alas, I could never hurt a child.  No matter what, some small part of me still holds out hope that things will go back to normal, or as close to normal as a celibate paedophile with little prospect of a future can get.  Besides, like I said earlier, I just couldn’t allow myself to foist this abomination onto another human being.  

 The following information was drawn from Channel 4’s ‘The Paedophile Next Door’ November 25th 2014

The programme was a radical and controversial documentary which explored a new approach to protecting children and interviewed a non-offending paedophile on camera.

In the programme, they discussed how predatory paedophiles operate at every level within society abusing children with impunity. It states that child abuse had reached epidemic proportions ten years ago and it is only getting worse year on year.  The programme stated that a staggering number of one-quarter of a million known paedophiles exist in Britain.

The more messages we send out to paedophiles about how sick and perverted they are and just how bad a person they are, then the more they are likely to internalise that self-hatred resulting in them acting out the very behaviours we are trying to stop.

Where To Next?

It’s time to open the discussion and encourage frank exchanges about what makes someone sexually abuse another child or adult. We need to acknowledge the devastating impacts that any sexual crime leaves with its victims. We constantly underfund and undervalue the services that do exist to provide those most vulnerable with care and support.  We must be at the very least open to the possibility of funding treatment programmes for offenders.

Focusing all your attention on those very few high profile and know convicted offenders draws all the attention away from the millions of offenders that fly under the radar on a daily basis. Offenders are your brother, father, son, daughter, sister, friend, family relations)

By ‘de-monstering’ offenders we can begin to understand the underlying problem associated with offending and its resulting impacts.

It is time to admit that what we are currently doing is not working.

Paula, 18th December 2018

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