Paula Kavanagh, Author at The Kavanagh Sisters Skip to content

Author: Paula Kavanagh

Victims of Sexual Abuse in Positions of Power

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 by our now Presidential Candidate Gemma O’Doherty, a multi-award-winning Irish investigative journalist, in which she wrote 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.

Gemma wrote about the sexual abuse that occurred during the 1960s and 1970s and 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 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, fear, 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 victims 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 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 others motivation and resent 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, using their own filter which is influenced by their own negative life experience. The fear is that the energy they put into avoiding being triggered emotionally, can ensure they will evade 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 underfunding 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.

 

Paula – 24th August 2018

Sexual Abuse has No Gender Preference

We claim to be experts only when speaking about our own experience of abuse, but because we are women who were abused by a man, we tend to speak in general about female victims and male perpetrators.  However, it is important to note, that we do not intend to exclude male victims of sexual abuse when we do this.

GENDER INEQUALITY

I have always felt strongly about gender inequality.  Not just because it’s so unfair but because it’s a major contributing factor in all sexual abuse crimes. However, there is one female attribute that tips the scales a little in our favour that I am very grateful for. That is, the ability to discuss our feelings.

I’ve often thought that at some point in history, powerful men foolishly overlooked this feminine attribute.  They must have viewed it as non-threatening or they would have put a stop to or curtailed it in some way.  Instead throughout the ages men have smugly demeaned women’s emotional intelligence through labelling it as either ‘women’s talk’, ‘women just being neurotic’, ‘nagging’ or simply women engaging in gossip’. They appeared to believe that women sharing their feelings held no value whatsoever and often prided themselves on not possessing this female trait.

Boy where they wrong. Without our ability to discuss and explore our feelings, the issues around sexual abuse would never have come to light and we wouldn’t have learned about the levels of harm it has left in its wake.  Talking about how we feel is probably the most important tool we have to get us out of this mess, and let’s face it, it is one hell of a mess.

CHANGE OF HEART

The first time I heard that boys were being sexually abused, I was genuinely shocked.  I never expected it and It added another dimension to this crime I hadn’t expected.   It was a lot for me to take in.

The realisation that boys too where being sexually abused was probably the beginning of my change in attitude towards men.  I had to consider them going through what I’d been through.  It wasn’t easy, and I wasn’t very willing.  I hated and resented men for so long because all my suffering had been at the hands of a man. Seeing men as victims opened my heart and gave me a lot to think about.

When cases started to emerge in the media of women who were also sexually abusing young girls and boys, I felt so confused.  I didn’t want to believe it and still don’t, but it is the truth. I had to accept that this crime was far more complex than I had originally thought, and also, that it was not gender specific.

WORK TO BE DONE

There is an awful lot of work still to be done as every day more and more sexual abuse is being uncovered.  The media is now saturated with stories of sexual abuse and we believe we are still only touching the tip of the iceberg.  We must focus on healing the courageous victims that are speaking out while continuing to encourage further male and female victims of sexual abuse to come forward and heal.

Female victims have the advantage because of their capacity to share how they feel.  We need to make it safe for men to do the same. These men may be our husbands, sons, fathers or brothers.  We all need each other and there are many reasons why we have a duty to help men deal with their abuse. Firstly, we need to support and have compassion for those men who were actively discouraged against discussing their feelings, because we understand its importance in recovery. Men were always taught that sharing feelings was a weakness. If we do not help them to communicate and talk about how they feel, we will continue to see men remain trapped in their pain. Men who stay stuck in pain and hurt are destined to develop negative thinking patterns and behaviours that impact those around them.

They may become aggressive and act out their anger because it is one emotion that has always been considered acceptable for men.

Secondly, it is the right thing to do. If we want real equality, it goes both ways.  We need to keep our hearts open.  Our society will remain negatively impacted if even one person doesn’t receive the help they deserve.

It is fair to say that there are both victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse in all walks of life here in Ireland, working at all levels in our society, infiltrating, influencing and manipulating all our institutions.  We simply have no way to measure the effect this is having on our way of life. We need to consider how our lives are and will continue to be impacted and shaped by this fact with the understanding that perpetrators and victims who have not received any help or support may be responsible for making decisions every day that affects our lives.  It would be unreasonable to expect favourable or positive outcomes from damaged people.

CHALLENGE EVERYTHING, WE HAVE BEEN TAUGHT

Men and women need to challenge what they were taught about their gender. What where you told was a man or a woman’s role?  Do you agree with it? what makes a man, a man, or a woman, a woman? Just what qualities, behaviours, attributes or feelings were assigned to each gender.  What as a woman or a man where you told you should be aiming for in life. Ask yourself is it now what you want?

We must make it acceptable for men to express their vulnerabilities, share their fears and thoughts with us and their male friends. Ensure men that they will be gaining something, not losing.  We could all be better at seeing the sharing of pain as an act of bravery not one of weakness. The old saying that ‘real men don’t cry’ has to be eliminated from deep in our consciousness.   Men must also get on board and acknowledge women’s emotional intelligence and do their part to ensure equality.

REALLY NOT IMPORTANT

I have reached a point in my life where I realise I will never understand why or how one person can sexually abuse another, and it doesn’t really matter.  What does it matter if it’s a girl or a boy, a man or a woman, sexual abuse is always wrong and has no gender preference. It is time to understand that sharing our experiences and emotions without shame or concern of judgement is the only way forward for all of us.

June – 20th August 2018

Are we Ready to Face the Truth?

With the pending visit to Ireland of Pope Francis in August, it may be a good opportunity for us all to re-examine our religious beliefs and look at how Irish society has been formed and influenced by the Church. It may also be right to realise that even if the church don’t admit and take responsibility for the many children in Ireland who suffered sexual abuse, we all need to acknowledge that due to their oppression and dominance their teachings created the environment that enabled child sexual abuse to grow to levels we are still not even touching the sides of.

Body Shame

I recently joined a Zumba dance class and although it was very enjoyable, I couldn’t help but notice the vast difference between the instructor and the Irish women present.  The instructor looked so free and comfortable with her body while the Irish women looked stiff and prohibited whenever the movements could be perceived any way sexual in nature.

It is so long since I had taken part in anything like this that I was more than a little shocked at how self-conscious I was about how I looked doing these movements.  I thought it must be a cultural thing, my body is never going to be able to gyrate like that.

Later when I returned home and thought about it, I realised that yes it was cultural.  I had been taught a long time ago that my body and all its sexual functions were shameful. I was taught by a system that set me up as a sexual target, to be used and abused.

The Dominance of the Church

The system I refer to is the catholic church which aligned themselves with the government. Together they took up the mantle of oppression after English colonisation ended.  The Irish nation were still recovering and seeking hope for a brighter future.  The church promised heaven if you followed the commandments and Irish people were hurting, poor and with little or no education and so followed like sheep to the slaughter house. The church took advantage of Ireland’s time of need and instead of providing leadership, the church, together with the government took control over everyone.

Keepers of Our Souls

When I was a child, the church was responsible for our moral conduct and the keepers of our souls.  Everyone believed they had a direct line to God and so whatever they said must be true.

In my opinion, the church did the ground work and prepared all of us, albeit unintentionally, to be sexually abused.  The sermons in the pulpit sent out the message that sex was a bad thing unless you were married, it was not meant to be enjoyed but rather it was meant purely for procreation purposes.

In case that message wasn’t strong enough the church prohibited contraception to ensure no one had autonomy over their own bodies or the opportunity to have a free and healthy sex life that they themselves could control.  And according to the church, masturbation was also bad.  This sent out the clear message that your body was something to be ashamed of.

Intentionally or not, this left everyone feeling ashamed and overly self-critical of their bodies. They became frightened of any sexual drive, and like the forbidden fruit, this led to an unhealthy interest in sex.  What is, and should have always been a perfectly natural and healthy part of the human experience was deliberately destroyed and used as a weapon of control against lay people.

How to Control the Masses

The church set the tone for how women were to be viewed and treated.  They dominated women’s lives completely and seemed to take a special interest in controlling their sexuality.   In 1944 the church opposed the introduction of Tampons, claiming they might arouse women.

The mother and child scheme in 1950 was also opposed by the church which would have provided mothers and their children up to age 16 free health care. Up to then the church dictated on a woman’s ability to reproduce and feared that this scheme would open the door to contraception and abortion. As they owned and ruled over the hospitals and schools, they held a lot of power. However, it wasn’t till 1985 when women fought together, that the church finally lost their battle to stop women accessing contraception.

For the longest time a woman couldn’t refuse to have sex with her husband. If a couple were having problems in their relationship, the husband went to see the priest who would then inform the woman, that she should honour her ‘wifely duties’.  This sent a clear and powerful message to everyone that men were superior, and women were nothing but their property, to do with as they pleased.

How Education was Manipulated

To maintain their control the church needed to keep everyone subservient and ignorant. Education was and remains a powerful tool to keep the masses under control.

For women education was considered a waste of time and money. Women had a role to play that did not require them to think for themselves, they were only ever going to run a home and raise a family.

For men in the 1960’s the church made it a mortal sin to even attend Trinity College and regarded it as an unsafe environment for “the fateful.” This was endorsed by the Vatican and if you wanted to go to trinity, you had to get special dispensation from the pope, a letter of tolerance. This ban was in fact not lifted until 1971.

State & Church Rule Together

The government ruled on the few aspects of women’s lives that the church couldn’t reach. Everywhere in society women were given the strong message that men’s need’s and lives were more important than theirs.

Men were given all the control in and outside the home. In 1973-Married women had to leave their jobs in the civil service, as it was considered that they were occupying jobs that men should be holding. A woman had to get signed permission from their husband to collect children’s allowance. A woman couldn’t earn the same rate for a job as a man, she couldn’t even order a pint unless she had a man with her and even then, she was asked to pour it into two half pint glasses and sit in the snug out of sight.

As you had to be a homeowner woman were excluded from sitting on a jury. If a woman was being beaten by her husband, she had to put up with it as she was not allowed to apply for a barring order against her husband.

The list goes on and on.

Our History Influences our Present & Future

It is not about placing blame and responsibility on the state and church for the past. It is however, about acknowledging the reality of what happened here in Ireland, with particular reference to women.  Examining how the church’s actions alongside the governments support created an environment for sexual crimes to happen is necessary. Understanding that not only did they breed a cultural of acceptance of women being objects, but throughout history when an attitude exists where anyone feels more entitled, valuable or important than another person or group of people, appalling, sometimes unthinkable things happen.

No one is ‘less than’ anyone else. That is the Ireland we are striving for. The beliefs held and culture of non-accountability that allows child sexual abuse to continue has to stop. I firmly believe that the time is right, and it can happen when we all stand together and say ‘enough is enough.’

You cannot stifle human nature or the human spirit.

June Kavanagh – 6th 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

Paedophiles – Monsters or Humans?

Paedophilia is a psychiatric disorder in which an adult or older adolescent experiences a primary or exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children. It is also important that we understand that there are a certain percentage of paedophiles in the world today that have never acted on their sexual urges toward children and never intend to.

 

Evoking Reactions.

What do you think of when you hear the word “paedophile”? Do you think of a person?

I don’t. I don’t even think of a human being when I hear that word. The media’s portrayal of paedophiles as monsters generates and supports fear. This portrayal can prevent us from seeing them as actual human beings. We have labelled them, categorised them and no longer think of them as human.  All we see is an unforgivable and heinous sexual act against an innocent child from a creature we feel doesn’t deserve to live.

We have identified the problem. We acknowledge it exists but we want to distance ourselves from having to deal with the issue any further. It is too upsetting for us. We have done exactly the same thing with people who use drugs, de-humanised them, label them as “scum” and again for our own protection we distance ourselves. It is a fear based reaction, cultivated by media and taken on as fact by the general populous.  I am guilty of buying in to this thinking myself but I also recognise it serves no one.

 

General Consensus

There are not many issues that are easy to get a consensus on.  Paedophiles however, evoke such deep feelings of anger, rage, hatred and intense disgust the world over.  We don’t feel we should question or challenge anyone for voicing such feelings.  The reason being, we all feel the acting out of their sexual urges with children is unforgiveable so when we hear of vengeance being exacted against a paedophile, most of us would find it difficult to judge the taking of revenge.

In contrast to all of that, we must consider that victims usually know their abuser and are often related to them. Part of the difficulty in dealing with this crime is that now we have to marry this “monster” that is portrayed culturally with this “person” we may or may not have felt love for at one time.

It’s definitely a head wrecker but demonstrates that paedophiles are indeed someone’s Son, daughter, mother, father, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, or neighbour etc………… human beings.

 

Let me tell you a story.

Below is an excerpt from Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse.’ The purpose of sharing this excerpt is simply to encourage an open mind, an open heart and open dialogue around the very emotive issue of Paedophilia.

(excerpt)

Imagine someone knocking at your door and informing you that your daughter or son has been raped.  

Your heart is broken as you listen to the details of what they went through, and who it was that raped him/her.  Imagine the range of emotions you are experiencing.  How do you feel about the abuser? What would you like to see happen to them? How do you feel they should be treated? Would you like to see them physically harmed in any way?

 Now imagine someone knocking on your door and informing you that your son or daughter has abused a child.

Your heart is broken as you listen to the details of what they put the child through. Imagine the range of emotions you are experiencing except wouldn’t you now want to know why? Why did my child behave in such a way? What is going on for my child? How can I help my child?”

 (excerpt)

 Without considering anyone in particular…can you imagine the life you would have if you were a paedophile?  I cannot imagine how I would feel to find out that one of my children had been raped.  Having gone through it myself and knowing the pain and suffering ahead of them it would break my heart. But I would far rather hear they were raped than hear that they had raped someone.

 

 Not Going Anywhere.

Unfortunately, this is one problem that is not going away on its own.  Even the awareness of how one is viewed and treated if it is known that you are a pedophile doesn’t deter sexual predators. This should inform any right-minded person that this issue requires a higher level of education and understanding from us.  No one would risk being vilified and gaining the label of sex offender if it was simply a matter of choice.

On Friday 29th of December 2017, The Guardian Newspaper reported that there are an “Estimated 20,000 British men interested in sexually abusing children. Within the article they quoted Police Chief Simon Bailey who said that “even thousands more detectives would not be enough to bring every offender to justice”. 

Another probably more alarming aspect of abuse gaining momentum is the fact that women are also sexual predators.  This is something that is even harder for us to comprehend but again quoting The Guardian Newspaper when covering the story of a nursery school worker Vanessa George who pled guilty to sexually abusing young children they reported alarming figures on women found to be sex offenders. In the article as far back as 4th October 2009, they reported that Up to 64,000 women in UK ‘are child-sex offenders’.

Finding Balance

Although I am very happy with victims finding their voice and having the courage to tell their story.  It is very important to recognise that every case is different with a unique back story which needs to be considered on an individual basis.  I absolutely hold the view Matt Damon expressed during an interview with ABC News where he stated “There’s a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right. “Both of those behaviours need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated, right?”  Matt Damon received a lot of criticism for what he said because it was taken out of content.

I personally witnessed an entire family lives being destroyed because of one family members actions that were wrong and harmful to a child. In this case the person was young and sexually curious.  He inappropriately touched someone a lot younger than himself and yes, his actions were wrong and yes, he should have to suffer the consequences of his actions.  But I do not believe he should receive the same punishment as an adult sex offender or serial rapist. He cannot be seen in the same light as someone like my father for example.

 

Dangerous Labelling

Fear and lack of understanding ensures that someone like the young man above is automatically labelled as a sexual predator.  The impact on the physical, mental and emotional health of the entire family when his actions came to light is still ongoing.  When friends and family heard about his actions they distanced themselves from the entire family ostracising them and sending the message that they should all feel shame for what had occurred.

Everything is a process and to be horrified and filled with anger and rage because of the actions of a paedophile is a perfectly normal first response. I want to be clear that I am not for one second suggesting that these thoughts are in any way wrong or that you should deny them. I am suggesting that until we can manage to get past this stage of response we can never hope to create change.

 

Changing the Outcomes

It took me forever to arrive at my current belief that in order for real change to occur in this world we need to change how we currently view sexual predators and paedophiles. We need to be willing to provide help for sexual offenders.  We need to recognise that they have a problem/sickness/addiction/compulsion? and find our own humanity and offer a helping hand.  No one else is going to do it for us we each have a role to play.

If my sisters and I can arrive at this place after a lifetime of suffering the impacts of being victims of this crime, then I believe we all can do it.  I thank god, I am no longer carrying all that hatred and anger that was only hurting me.

Thank God, more and more people are speaking out about their abuse which greatly decreases the chances of people going to the grave holding on to all of the guilt and shame that was never theirs.  We have a unique opportunity for healing to occur on a global scale if we but have the will.

I am still afraid of paedophiles and the harm they can do. I still don’t understand how anyone could harm a child let alone sexually. I have managed to forgive my own Father but that doesn’t mean I would welcome him with open arms into my life.  I forgave for me not for him. I can now see how desperately we all need to find a way to do the same.  From forgiveness the next obvious step is to help find a way to eradicate this scourge from all our lives.

People fear what they do not understand but the good news is change is happening.  Part of the reason we are so excited about our new book Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse.’ is our belief that the knowledge that is held within the pages provided such comfort for us and we regretted not finding it sooner.  We are completely confident that it would have saved us years of self-hatred.  We believe it will do the same for our readers.

 

*Within this blog, when I mention paedophiles I am talking about any sexual predators who has sexually abused children.

June – 3rd January 2018

Does Childhood Sexual Abuse Change Who You Are Forever?

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 who have experienced sexual abuse or childhood trauma, it can often feel like it can never be overcome.

Even when you think that you’d doing ‘okay’ and getting on with things a major event can throw you completely to such an extent that you feel like your life is falling apart. Well, that’s just 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 unfixable.

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 was still not able to feel or cry at emotional events unless I was completely pissed….of course.

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 victims 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 inhibit connections between different parts of the brain. It helped me to understand the many conditions and disorders that can develop as a direct result of CSA and even showed me how childhood trauma can 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 CSA.  I made so many connections to my own life and how I had long suffered from many physical ailments in the form of pain. I had at one point accepted as just 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 impaired structure and functioning of cells in the developing brain of victims of CSA 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 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.

Overexposure to trauma in childhood is found to inhibit the development of the prefrontal cortex, which controls the intensity of our emotions, modulates feelings of fear which is necessary for impulse control. It helps us behave rationally and think logically and 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 areas like the pleasure and reward centre of the brain that controls how we regulate emotions and moods, form attachments, and 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 overdependency on alcohol to allow me to engage with others.

Knowledge is Power

So what difference does having this information make to a survivor of CSA? I can honestly say that this information has changed my life. Understanding how my brains development has been impacted allows 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 make 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, is the best way to rid yourself of 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

Survivors Guide to Christmas

Happy families seem to be everywhere during the festive period and pictures of the idyllic family Christmas can trigger feelings of inadequacy for those that have become estranged from their family for whatever reason. Victims of sexual abuse often feel that portrayals of ‘normal’ family life highlights the closeness that they often lack.

Christmas time can be overwhelmingly social.  We can live for it or dread it. Society tells us that Christmas is when we sit around the tree passing presents with every member of our family.

The truth is, that many of us for different reasons, don’t have family or close friends to spend Christmas with. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, and only highlights our lack of friends and family which we can often see as a failure on our part.

For some, Christmas is not a time of celebration, but a time we hate. Society tells us that to be alone is sad and there is a societal belief that no one should be alone at Christmas.

When we are alone we are faced with our self and our thoughts. This can be used to your advantage and is the most crucial time to truly ‘Mind Yourself’.  Many survivors of sexual abuse may have lost their families due to disclosure.  They may feel self-doubt questioning themselves and the choices they made.  Memories can be crushing, and everything around seems to act as a trigger. Don’t spend your time being bitter about the way things are instead make plans to change the things you are not happy about.

It is crucial to put a lot of effort into minding yourself at this time of year.  Remember regardless of what you may feel about Christmas, it is only one day and it will pass quickly. This alone time can be put to your advantage as their will be no distractions to stop you pampering yourself or finally getting to do something for yourself that you have been putting off.

Tips for Minding Yourself

Loneliness can trigger repressed emotions that can be countered by being mindful. Breathe deeply and truly connect with your inner child. Spoil the child in you by doing something that your child would consider a reward. Write a list of possible rewards you can give yourself prior to Christmas and ensure you have all you need to provide the reward on the day.

Connect

Survivors Side by Side is a support group on facebook.  They are currently in the process of setting up a buddy system which could support you if you need it on the day.  Connect with them and identify the supports available.

Make a list of anyone you feel can truly support you and let them know in advance you may need to connect with them on the day

Writing

Writing is a powerful tool and can help purge you of negative thoughts.

  • Treat yourself to a gratitude journal and list the things you are grateful for; no one’s life is perfect but we all have things we are grateful for.
  • List your achievements you will be amazed when you take the time to note your achievements just how many you come up with and it helps you realise just how you have grown and how much of your past you have worked through
  • List three things you have done for other people in the last 24 hours. Don’t look for monumental answers, making someone a cup of tea, listening to someone when they are upset are just some examples.  This may help you realise just how much you do for others, the little things are what we all remember and appreciate. It is also helpful in making you realise your own goodness.

Reading

Reading can be a powerful tool to take you out of yourself.  Reading an inspiring story can transform you and help eliminate negative thoughts.

  • Put a nice book aside for over the Christmas period and relax in front of the fire or in bed and enjoy.

Pamper Yourself

Do something nice for yourself that you normally put off

  • Have a long soak in the bath.
  • Cook yourself a nice meal
  • Wrap up warm and go for nice long walk
  • Watch a nice movie

Volunteer

There are many organisations that would truly appreciate your help on Christmas day.  Helping those less fortunate can put things into perspective for you and hopefully will remind you that things are not so bad

Reach Out

There are many support groups online you can reach out to if you feel the need.  Allowing yourself to ask for support is a sign of strength not weakness.

Finally I offer the following quote by A.A. Milne to all those survivors that may doubt themselves

Joyce-December 20th 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

Why Ending Celibacy for Priests is not the answer to ending child sexual abuse

This week the media have been reporting on the commissioned report in Australia that investigated an epidemic of child abuse dating back decades. The commission identified 4,444 victims of abuse most of those suspected of abuse were Catholic priests and religious brothers.

The commission has urged the Australia’s Roman Catholic leadership to press Rome to end mandatory celibacy for priests.

My feeling on this are that again governments and the media do not understand the nature of abusers or the crime of abuse itself. Priests being celibate is not the problem or the driving force behind individuals who carry out childhood abuse.

According to Dr Elly Hanson, clinical psychologist and advisor to CEOP, “most child abusers are not only sexually interested in children. Children are often targeted for sexual abuse simply because they are usually more vulnerable than adults.”

Just why some men abuse children is the question that everyone wants answers to.  Unfortunately, it is such a complex issue with no simple answers to. I also believe that governments want to label and categorise the people who commit these crime without ever putting any strategy in place to prevent and treat those who do commit these horrendous crimes.

There are in fact no simple answers as to why someone commits child abuse because when you are dealing with people, we are all different and different circumstances result in different outcomes.  However, there are some common threads when investigating those who have committed abuse and some priests can be identified with sharing some but not all of the traits of those who abuse children.

For example, some research found that about half of the men who sexually abused children were in a stable relationship with many abusers continuing to maintain a sexual relationship with their partners so priests who are celibate are not any more likely to abuse than other men;

Some hold positions of power and influence within their communities. They can in fact have suffered abuse of some form when they were children and as a result seek to find feelings of power and control over others and their sexual interest in the child is second to the need for control and power over the child. Again, priests being celibate will not make any difference to this driving force.

Despite what many people think, most sexual abuse of children is carried out by someone they know, including relatives and family friends. When looking at the statistics on child abuse you will see that over 90% of sexually abused children were abused by someone they knew with 80% of preparators being a parent. So again, celibacy for priest is not the big issues here.

I am not for one-minute minimising the damage the catholic institutions have done and continue to do to our children. But looking in the wrong direction only avoids actually putting in place measures that will address the underlying causes of abuse and help support the millions of victims across the globe.

The issues of child abuse needs more than soundbites and shocking headiness. We need real discussions and commitment to services that victims need to help them recover. We also need real discussions and services to help those who abuse and a culture that allows for those individuals who have inappropriate desires to come forward and receive treatment.

Paula, 16th December 2017

Getting it Right- to Report or Not to Report

In an article published in the Irish Times on Monday December 11th 2017, Helen Buckley spoke about the many reasons why Children’s First Legislation -Mandatory Reporting of child abuse will put children at greater risk.

She said that the perverse consequences of this legislation may indeed outweigh its benefits due to the current under resourcing of social workers and their lack of availability to address any increase in reporting.

I would just like to give a different perspective on the need for mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse and why I believe it is at very least an important step in the right direction.

Although Tusla is greatly under resourced and this government and those who went before them fail to protect children. Doing nothing is not the answer. Waiting for yet another report or more evidence that children are in danger is simply scandalous.

Not having adequate reporting structures in place and not providing training for all those working and or caring for children to be able to identify a child at risk is just not good enough. Leaving individuals with the question of ‘who and should I report my suspicions to’? is not going to help anyone.

Knowing that the system that is in place can not handle its current workload is beyond reprehensibly. But it is still not a good enough reason for leaving individuals who suspect and in some cases, know that a child is at risk say nothing to no one only continues to encourage a culture of no accountability.

When I was 7 years old my father raped me so badly that I developed a prolapsed womb and when, at my mother’s instance my parents brought me to hospital to be examined, the doctor that carried out the examination did not report it, he did nothing.

When my sister Joyce told our family doctor when she was 16 that my father was abusing her he did not report it, he did nothing.

When my sister June told a priest in confession what my father was doing to her, he did not report it and again did nothing.

I am not saying that mandatory reporting would have resulted in stopping my father but what I am saying is that at the very lease it would have created a chain of accountability that could be followed and traced back and those individuals that did nothing could be held to account.

Mandatory reporting alone will certainly not solve the many problems of child abuse. Inadequate training provision and lack of political will all need to be challenged. We all have an equal responsibility to report suspected child abuse. We should not require reporting child abuse to be mandatory but unfortunately, we do. The fear of getting it wrong, along with a culture that still exists of minding your own business and not interfering in your neighbours life is not a strong argument for not reporting your suspicions. The risk of getting it wrong is outweighed by the benefits of saving even one child from a life of suffering.

Governments fail time and time again to understand the importance of properly resourcing those agencies that take care of our most vulnerable. The cost of not doing so is a price we all pay. If the cost to society of not providing adequate services to children and all victims of abuse were truly understood, then funding those services would never even be questioned. Mandatory reporting is such a small step to help children, but at lease it is a step.

Paula, December 14th 2017

 

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