Joyce Kavanagh, Author at The Kavanagh Sisters Skip to content

Author: Joyce Kavanagh

Mother’s Day- A Survivors Guide

As Mother’s Day approaches there is no doubt we are all being bombarded by the media with strong messages of what we should be feeling and doing for our mothers. For some this is a happy occasion and one where the opportunity to demonstrate how much our mothers mean to us is clearly celebrated through the giving of sentimental cards, gifts or outings for lunch or dinner.

For others this can be a very emotional and difficult time. This time of the year can serve as a reminder of a mother that has passed away. You could choose to use this as an opportunity to celebrate and focus on how your mother lived her life, share happy memories and remember just why you loved her so much.

If you are lucky enough to be a mother yourself that is a very good reason to celebrate this day.  Remind yourself that against all odds you have become a good mother.  You can acknowledge just how much you willingly sacrifice for your children, the love you feel for them and the joy and happiness they bring to your life.

Lack of Nurturing

The media will never acknowledge that this day can be fraught with pain and trauma for many women.  For those of us whose childhood were filled with abuse, this time of the year can bring up the hurt and pain for a mother’s love you never got to experience.  The day can act as a painful reminder of living without nurturing and support.

If you are a mother that for any number of reasons is no longer living with your children and won’t get to spend this day with them Mother’s Day can be lonely and filled with regret and sadness. If you are a woman who has chosen to not have children, you may feel a failure as society tells women that being a mother is what all women should want.

A mother of a child who has experienced abuse may feel undeserving of their love and find any show of affection or gratitude from them, as painful reminders of what they may see as their failings. Most mothers are victims themselves and we firmly believe that in the majority of cases when there is an abuser in the home there is only one parent and one in control and that is the abuser themselves.

Mothers of an abusers are likely to find this time extremely difficult as they struggle to see what they could have done differently, how could they have stopped the abuse, helped their child. All the while feeling shame and hurt for the child that was abused. The confusion and pain will make this time of the year impossible to ignore.

If your mother was the one who abused you then this will be a particularly difficult time. Because the world sends clear messages that mothers are not capable of hurting their own children, speaking your truth becomes all the more difficult.

Changing this day into something to celebrate will help you with your healing. Gaining a full understanding of abuse and its impacts will help you navigate the emotional turmoil that all mothers feel when abuse enters their lives.

*If you would like more information in our book ‘Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse’ we explore the role of mothers in much more detail.

Finding the Positive

Pain can be overwhelming but may be disguised under the umbrella of anger.  Each time you remember something your mother did or didn’t do can bring your hurt to the surface. In the sharing of these stories we can become locked into the pain of the past and end up giving our power away to the past.

Try use this time to focus on what is working in your life. It is an opportunity to find a more positive meaning to this day.  As this is the year of the woman make the day about you and recognise those women that inspire you to do and be a better version of yourself.

It requires time and effort on your part, but it is worth reclaiming your life and saying no to allowing the past to control your present day. Like Christmas this too is only one day, and it too will pass quickly.

Tips for Minding Yourself

If thinking about Mother’s Day triggers bad memories do something positive with them.  Do not allow the negative feelings to ruin your day.

  • Writing can help you gain access to your pain and help you to move past the anger it may raise.  So, take some time to yourself and write how you are feeling about motherhood and its role in your life.
  • Make a list of all what you feel a mother should be and see how realistic it really is. Is it possible for anyone to be the mother you described?
  • Be prepared to explore your own experience of motherhood. The deeper an understanding you gain, the more compassion you will have for yourself and others in your life.
  • Try celebrating those mothers that you respect and admire. We all know someone that we feel is doing a good job for that is usually how we measure our own abilities.
  • If you are a mother yourself celebrate that.
  • Try sitting with your children and sharing stories about how they were as children. We are all curious about our childhood and how others seen us, so this will be a great way to spend time together.
  • Remember children want to know about you and see you as more than just a mother. Explore your life with them and how it was before you became their mother.
  • If you are brave enough ask they also share things they would like to change about you or things they struggle with. Your relationship can only become more enriched through this experience.
  • Finally, it is important to acknowledge that against all odds you have turned into a great mother, doing the best you can with what you know at any given time.

 Pamper Yourself

  • Allow your children to spoil you.
  • Have a family meal cooked by your children.
  • If you need a break, then go out with friends and have a child free day.
  • Learn how to have fun, as we often forget as adults how to relax.
  • Play a game you remember from your childhood, it may rehash more positive feelings.

Moving On

I do not wish to minimise anyone’s pain on this day I am simply letting you know that you have always got a choice. You can turn what may have been a negative day into a celebration. The choice is yours

Although it is great to be able to share, rehashing negative feelings and sharing bad memories will only ensure this day will always be a painful one for you. It might be time to use your energy to reclaim it for yourself.

11th March 2018 – Joyce

Dear 16-year-old me

Dear Joyce, this may seem strange, but this letter is from the future you.  As hard as that is to believe it is true.  I know you are going through a rough time now, and my wish is that this information may help you.


Firstly, stop all the worrying and self-hatred. I know it has become your norm but make a new habit and realise just how perfect you are. Start eating healthy and when Rose offers you a cigarette say no. You know you don’t like them, and they will not make you any more part of the group than you are right now. No more fasting or starving yourself, you are punishing the wrong person.


You need to understand that dad is not the big brave man you see him as. He is in fact, small, fat and always worried that you will find the strength to say NO or tell on him.  I also know you believe you have no control. I would love to tell you that you can say no, but I also know you have no way of connecting with your inner strength at this moment, that too will come believe me.  In time you will get control and the abuse is coming to an end for you.  Next year you will get your periods and Dad will stop abusing you.

Dad is wrong to do what he is doing to you and your sisters.  It is his shame to carry so leave that with him and focus on your innocence with pride.


After the abuse stops you must be more careful than ever because when he stops with the sexual abuse, you will start to punish yourself and go over all the ‘what if’s’ and ‘why’s’ of your past.  It is essential that you use this space to become more mindful and know that you are completely innocent.  You had nothing to do with the abuse, you held no power and had no choice but to do as you were told. I know that sounds simplistic, but it is the truth you need to hold onto to get through the next few years.

I am so sorry this happened to you, but you need to know you are 100% innocent this is all down to him.  He is sick and needs help but that is not your problem. Don’t be ashamed or afraid that people may find out.  He will suffer a lot more than you and the story will come out eventually.


Boys are no more special than girls. Treat them all with respect and demand respect back.  Boys won’t love you if you let them touch you and sex is not love.

Please believe me when I say none of it matters.  Stress, self-hatred, homework, how stupid you feel, boys and sex.  I am not saying don’t try everything, after all that is where all your learning comes from. Don’t judge yourself harshly. Know you have done the best with the cards you have been dealt, so be proud.

Love yourself

Be proud of yourself as you have been through a lot more than any 16-year-old should ever have to go through. This alone is an indication of your strength.  Don’t worry if you don’t feel that yet, it will come to you.

Spend time building yourself up and get a job outside the home. Be a good friend and don’t be afraid to be honest.  Dad is right about one thing, family is very important and believe it or not your sisters will be your best friends when you are a little older.


Help mum by doing little things that will make her life easier. Have her tea ready when she comes in from work. Tidy up the house so she can sit and relax at the end of the day. Tell her you love her. She is going through a rough time right now.

Mam learned a long time ago that closeness to her children only gives dad a weapon to further control her. She doesn’t know how to reverse that decision. Have real conversations with her and get to know as much as you can about her.  There will come a time when you would give anything to be able to speak with her for although she lives well into her eighties, you will lose her long before then as she develops Alzheimer’s.

What others think

Don’t be overly concerned about what others think of you.  Your gifts are unique to you and you will help a lot of people by being steadfast and honest.  It’s up to you what way you go and remember there is no right or wrong way.  You will have some uncomfortable moments in your life but none of them will kill you and all of them leave good learning for you to build up your strength. Just know you’ll come through it all. All hurt is temporary and is always followed by healing so enjoy the process and don’t get hung up on the outcome.


Stay spiritually connected as angels are always at hand. Speak to them as you would to your friends, cause they are friends and will get you through some dark moments. Worry less, love lots, and don’t be afraid to get hurt or be left alone. Hurt is temporary and being alone is cool. Don’t be concerned it’s not going to happen.

Your future

What if I told you, you made it, and all you wanted you got.

By the age of 21 you will meet your husband and he will give you the family you want.  This relationship won’t last but you get beautiful children from it and your husband will remain a good friend for life.  Like mam you don’t know when or how to stop as you will have six children, two boys and four girls. All of them will know they are loved by you and they will love you in return.

You will have many ups and downs but believe me when I tell you it will all work out and you will be fine.  Please hold onto the knowledge that you are a very special person and no matter what happened to you it will not take away from that.

Trust me when I say that you will not only survive this process but will excel from the lessons in this experience. Keep up the writing as you are good at it and will go on to have two books published later in life. You will go on to help millions of people who have had the same experience.


Relationships after Abuse – a Personal Journey

Many people ask if it is possible to have a relationship after you have been abused and the answer is yes. It does however, depend on you.


I had a rough time building any form of relationships after the sexual abuse. The idea of sex made me cringe at times. Other times I wanted sex so bad it physically hurt.  Either way, no matter what was going on I always felt guilty and ashamed of myself. It was difficult for me as I really didn’t understand how I was feeling or why.  I never really gave credit to the fact the abuse I had suffered as a child had any effect on me. I was convinced when the abuse stopped its effects were over.

I did have a couple of long term relationships, but sex was always an issue for me unless I was drinking.  Because I didn’t connect the dots in relation to my past, I sometimes took it that there was something wrong with me and on the other hand I felt it was normal to not want sex on a regular basis.


When I began therapy I lost all interest in sex. I was getting multiple flash backs daily.  I didn’t even like to be touched, I could not determine if the feelings I had about sex were related to the past or the present. Everything I felt seem to trigger a memory from my abuse. I was consumed by my past and spent a lot of time crying without ever really understanding why.

I devoted myself to my therapy in an effort to identify and understand my feelings. In between sessions, work and my family I was kept busy enough. I was concerned however, that I was incapable of committing to any relationship and did resign myself to the fact I may always be alone. At the time I didn’t really see that as a problem.

When I finished therapy, I didn’t really feel any better about myself. I had learned so much but had no way of connecting it to my present situation.  I laughed a lot with my sisters about being cured and that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

It was only when we wrote our first book that I finally integrated my learning and was able to apply what I knew.  I treated myself with a lot more compassion and really saw my innocence, which up to then I had read as stupidity.  I began to like myself and my own company.

I can’t really put my finger on the moment it happened, but I do know I felt very content with myself.  I didn’t give much thought to a relationship even then, but I know I no longer held any fear around it.

Because of my role in the family I had never been able to reach out for help. I always seen it as my job to mind others. Now I found I could confide in my sisters and express my feelings and together we were able to give and receive support.  It was the first time any of us ever knew what unconditional love was. We were there for each other like never before, we challenged, supported and never judged and there is such comfort in that which led to each of us growing more confident.


It was writing our first book that saved my life. It helped me see things much clearer. I was able to own my life good and bad alike. I saw my innocence and let go of the guilt and shame that was rightfully my father’s.

I am sure I wouldn’t have had so much difficulty with relationships if I had this understanding at the beginning of my journey.  I could have made better choices, embraced my learning and improved my life. Furthermore, I could have entered into relationships where I mattered instead of spending so much time trying to fit in with other’s needs.

Our second book was like the icing on the cake. I was able to see further into what I considered my imperfections and gain a much deeper understanding of myself and my behaviour.

Things are constantly improving in my life and I am under no illusion that I am finished as life is like an onion and all we can do is continuously peel away at the layers.


I am now in a good satisfying relationship and it is good because I have learned to share my thoughts.  I honestly believe communication is the most important element of any relationship. I can be strong and weak but no matter which one I feel on any day it is okay.

So yes, relationships are possible after abuse. To be honest the best relationship you can aim for is the one you have with yourself, after that everything will fall into place.

Young Offenders – What are we to do?

In the Irish Examiner 17th February 2018, Seán Mc Cárthaigh reported that Juveniles committed 45% of sex offences in 2016 and that Juvenile offenders were responsible for almost half of all sexual offences recorded by Gardaí in 2016.

I have to say that when I first heard the statistics on young offenders I was in total shock and disbelief.  Having come from a background of Childhood Sexual Abuse I simply found it impossible to absorb or even consider.  I really didn’t know how to come to terms with this information.  I was baffled to think that young people could be part of what I previously considered the adult arena of crimes of a sexual nature, and yet here we are.  Things are worse that anyone could have imagined.  How did we get here? And what can we do about it?

It was also reported that sexual offences are one of the few crime categories where offending rates by young people are on the rise with an increase of 39% from those figures reported in 2015.

Does no one find it frightening that this report is not on the front page of every newspaper or shown on every news station. Is it because we don’t care?  Maybe it’s because we just don’t want to think about it, or perhaps it is because we do not have any idea what to do with these children.

It is heart breaking to think of a child being sexually abused and the only thing worse than that is discovering it was by another child.  Imagine for one moment getting the news your child is an abuser……. where can you go? ……. who can you tell?… who would help you or your child?  What hopes have you now for your child’s future?


The vast majority of young people who sexually abuse are male. There are said to be two ‘peak’ ages for male sexual offenders to abuse. One being around 14 years and the second being in the mid-to-late 30’s.  Recent Australian figures suggest that 23% of young people who are in treatment for their sexually abusive behaviours are aged 10-12 years and 70% are 15 years or younger.

What should terrify us is that without intervention it is likely these teenagers will adapt to a life of paedophilia by the time they reach adulthood, as most paedophiles begin to act on their sexual desires before they are 18.  However, there is a strong possibility that their lives could be turned around with the proper interventions, saving many children from having the life we had.


There is a possibility that these children who committed rape were victims of abuse themselves. I have heard of so many cases where a sexual predator claims they were abused themselves. To be honest, my first thoughts are usually ‘so what’, so was I and I didn’t sexually abuse anyone.  This must not and cannot be seen as an excuse to carry out the behaviours that will leave its victims with lifelong impacts.

However, there are many factors that can lead to inappropriate sexual behaviour and they all must be investigated and considered.  Making sure that the victims in these cases are supported is our priority. We must then explore how to also help the perpetrators, or we will never stop child abuse.


Although this is the year of the woman, we believe it is also time to consider how men process their emotions and their experience of sexual abuse.  It is not news women process differently than men and this begins at a very young age.  It is also far more common to hear of men acting out their pain in a more physical way.

It is our belief that prisons are filled with men who have committed crimes as a direct result of their experience of childhood abuse.  We need to help victims of abuse regardless of their gender.

I am not trying to excuse nor condone their behaviour in any way. But if it is not addressed I have no doubt we will be dealing with the issue of juvenile sexual abuse for generations to come.


We have a duty to discover where these young offenders learned that sexual assault is okay. We need to understand how and what treatment they need to interrupt their behaviours before it’s too late. Simply locking them up is not stopping the problem just ensuring these children become more damaged and furthermore go on to damage others.

I feel we have a responsibility to look past the behaviour and deeper into the why our young children are acting out. It is time to get serious about changing things around sexual crimes. To do this we need to open up to the possibility that a lot of those that abuse children can be helped. We have to be willing to discover what works and encourage our young children to come forward and seek help prior to acting on their urges.  I firmly believe a lot of these young people can be reached before it is too late. It is our responsibility to do all we can before we lose more children to the impacts of abuse.  When abuse occurs, there are no winners.

Are our families and communities so damaged that we cannot hear the cries for help from our children? Children need nurturing and with the growing pressure on parents to both work to make ends meet and our lack of affordable childcare, more and more children become vulnerable to negative influences.

The crime of children abusing other children is only a symptom, not the cause.  It represents a much broader problem. These children who abuse are growing in numbers and will not go away on their own.  We must consider what needs they have that are not being met and address them, sooner rather than later.


Joyce 19th February 2018

To Catch a Paedophile

I have watched many videos posted on Facebook where a trap is set for a sexual predator.  I am really torn as to how I feel about this and wonder if others feel the same.  Although as a victim of abuse for most of my childhood, I have more reasons than most to want these people caught and stopped in their tracks. I still feel uncomfortable with the way it is being done.

I do not doubt the intentions of the group setting the traps.  They are going above and beyond to protect children, but their methods are something I still struggle with.

What does it say about our justice system when ordinary parents can pin these predators down with a bit of effort and very little resources and, yet the Gardaí are unable to do the same.

As far as I am concerned it highlights the complete lack of will of the government to give sexual crimes the attention they deserve and tackle this issue which is widespread.

Appropriate Platform

I do agree that these incidents should be logged, videoed and handed over to police. I do not however, feel social media is an appropriate forum for this material.  To me it screams vigilantism and incites violence, it also doesn’t consider the impact this action has on the predator’s innocent family members.

In one of these videos the trapped predator was a 19-year-old boy and to be honest this broke my heart.  Although I don’t condone his behaviour, surely there must be a better way to deal with this.  The boy looked really troubled which although I know would go hand in hand with being caught, I read it deeper.  He looked genuinely confused.

Being caught on social media is not an intervention it is a trap. If young predators are not treated correctly a lot more victims will appear before us in the future. Teenagers are already at a difficult stage in their development, if you add to that, confusion over their sexual identity they are most likely already psychologically on overload.   Because the entrapment being posted on social media this child has had all his prospects for any kind of future removed. He will be ridiculed possibly beaten or worse still, killed.  What are we creating? What is the benefit to society of destroying a child instead of reaching out and offering him some help.  It may very well be that we are creating bigger problems which will impact our society well into the future.

Young Offenders

The reality is that for several years there has been a spurt in the amount of young people responsible for sexual abuse.  This is frightening and what does it tell us about our systems of response to sexual abuse in this country.

Could it be that these young people are victims acting out? Or could they be continuing learned behaviour?  It is not right that we just wipe our hands of them? I know if it was my son I would go to the end of the earth to help him understand and change his behaviour.  Ignoring this issue will ensure that we will have to continue to deal with sexual abuse for generations. It is a fact that many adult perpetrators began sexually abusing when they were under the age of 18.  If we could have reached them then, god knows how much pain we could have stopped.

Young people who have never shared their pain are at risk of becoming lifelong predators. Can you remember those teenage years in your own life, the utter confusion that enshrouds you? Now imagine if you also had a sexual interest in younger children how would you express that and to who. It is very understandably a huge obstacle to reaching out to someone for help.

Shame is the most debilitating emotion for anyone never mind a child. The attitude of most people when it comes to perpetrators is to murder, castrate or severely punish them. Where would you turn for help as an adult never mind a child.


What is wrong with this country that our own justice system cannot address this issue appropriately and consistently. It is no wonder people are pushed to take the law into their own hands. While I totally understand the frustration, people have with the law. In these cases where these groups set a trap and then advertise where the person lives, works or socialises. No matter how justified we may feel about taking that action it just doesn’t sit right with me. I imagine if the case ever did make it to trial the perpetrator would get off on the grounds that he has already been tried and convicted on social media. Add to that the fact there are no child victims as decoys are used, nothing will have resulted other than the possibility of destroying innocent family members and the possible harm or death of the perpetrator.

Finding Another Way

When my father was sent to prison for the abuse of his daughters we were all delighted.  However, if we were in a country that decided he deserved the death penalty none of us would have been happy with that.  At the time we felt death would be too easy for him and as death would have meant his suffering ends.  In our eyes living would be a lot more painful for him.

There must be a better way to deal with this problem.  I have no idea what that is, but I feel this action is only further endangering families, parents, past victims and survivors of abuse, and may drive someone to do something life changing.

One suggestion could be to set up a designated task force for sex crimes alone.   The task force should be awarded extra powers to ensure when known predators are caught they immediately are removed from society and placed in a treatment facility or incarcerated so no more children are in danger while they await a court hearing and or sentencing.

It would be more productive to stand together and fight for the rights of our children and demand the government takes this crime seriously with immediate action.

Unfortunately, people tend not to get involved or act until abuse affects their own lives, it pains me that they don’t realise how much it does affect everyone. We strongly believe angry outbursts, addiction and anti-social behaviour are just some of the ways abuse manifests in our society.  For some victims it’s their only tool to express their pain. The ripple effect caused by abuse ultimately contributes directly or indirectly to how our communities function.

Sexual abuse can be hard to think about and harder to discuss, but it’s important to address these issues and educate yourself so you can teach your child what to watch out for. Every discussion on the subject of sexual abuse along with every time you listen – you are protecting your child from sexual abuse.  We  have to find a way to discuss the subject openly if we ever want to eliminate it from our lives.


Joyce- 15th January 2017

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