Paula Kavanagh, Author at The Kavanagh Sisters Skip to content

Author: Paula Kavanagh

The Importance of Sex Education in Schools

A Bill to prevent schools from using their religious ethos to avoid teaching fact-based and responsible sex relationships education to their pupils, is currently at the second stage of debating before the Dáil.  The Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill is designed to prevent denominational schools teaching sex education based on their own views of sexuality and intimacy. This Bill was developed to ensure that all students regardless of their religious backgrounds are provided with an understanding about consent, contraception, abortion, sexuality and gender issues in a non-bias, objective manner. If successful, this Bill will further sever the grip the church once held over family life in Ireland.

Practice what you Preach

One does not have to look too hard to see that while the catholic church where preaching the virtues of chastity, abstinence and celibacy, they themselves, where in large numbers following a different set of rules. Not only have we seen several priests in relationships with members of their congregation, ignoring their own promise of celibacy, but more alarming is the large percentage of priests engaging in the rape and sexual abuse of countless numbers of innocent children.

When I was young the catholic church had a lot of power over our daily lives.  Irish people trusted the church completely and considered them above reproach.  We respected priests and believed they acted as god’s representatives here on earth. For most Irish families it was considered an honour to have a priest in the family. Whatever the priest advised us to do, was done without question. They owned our hospitals and schools, giving them control over our medical care and our education.  This provided the church with the power to rule over every aspect of the general populations lives.

Sex is a Sin

The church intruded self-righteously into every aspect of Irish citizens development with special attention to their sex lives.  They preached that sex was only for procreation, even if married, it was not intended to be enjoyed.  They taught that masturbation was sinful and that your body was something to be ashamed of.

The scars from this form of thinking are still being felt today.  They managed to destroy so many lives through their teachings around sexuality. They made us believe that God apparently didn’t mind us having sex, but we certainly shouldn’t want or enjoy it.

We believed and trusted them. They set us up.  We couldn’t win.  We were destined to live a guilt-ridden existence for feeling something we are hardwired to feel.  It is a perfectly normal human reaction to feel sexual desire.  Even animals have that.  It ensures that life goes on and we don’t become extinct.

Exposed

In recent years, so many sexual abuse crimes committed by members of the church have come to light. It seems that every week there is yet another priest or bishop in the media accused of either committing or covering up sexual abuse against a child. It is incredible to me that it is taking us so long as a nation to break free of the churches misleading guidance and utter brainwashing around our sexuality but most importantly our children’s sexuality.

Conditioning

There are many well-meaning parents out there who are still under the church’s influence, conditioned to believe that early sex education for our children is not a good thing.  The belief is held that teaching children about their bodies and sex will destroy their innocence. That the child’s happiness will somehow be compromised.  Can they not see that the people who initiated this opinion had their own agenda and did not love our children as we do?

I was groomed from birth leading up to full penetrative sexual intercourse at age four. I am not unusual in terms of the age the grooming process can begin. For me there was huge confusion surrounding my abuse because I did not know what sex was and I was never told that no one should touch my private parts. Sex was not something that was ever openly discussed either at home or in school. I had no opportunity to understand what was happening to me.  Because I didn’t know what sex was, I hadn’t the language or understanding to describe even to myself what was happening. This is what we need to consider when we talk about teaching sex education in schools.  Everyone thinks it will never happen to their children, because they would know, they would spot an abuser and stop them getting near their child.  Everyone thinks that, but that’s not the way it works.

Things could have been different

If I had been told in school, through the media or at home that sexual abuse happens, and that if anyone touches your privates or makes you do anything you don’t want to do, it is wrong and that I could tell someone who would help it stop.  If I had been told that if this happens to you, you did nothing wrong and it is not ok, no matter who it is abusing you, my life could have been so different. There is nothing wrong with age appropriate sex education.  It doesn’t damage the child, it protects them.  Ignorance does not equal innocence.

Change is Needed

We have a job ahead of us to attempt to undo the damage to our own sexuality and body shaming which was imposed on us by the catholic church’s teachings so the sooner we get started the better. We need to do this for several reasons, (1) you cannot give what you do not have, and we won’t be able to help the next generation develop a healthy approach to their sexuality if we don’t heal our own wounds first. (2) We need to act now because the church has lost control and the younger generation need some guidance in this area of their lives.  We need to replace the lessons we learned with promoting a positive body image and healthy self-esteem.  We also need to teach a guiltfree approach to accepting themselves for being sexual beings.  Can you imagine?

As the numbers of young suicides continue to grow, it is important that we do not leave our young turning to the internet for answers.  They will be no better off than we were if their education takes place alone in front of a screen. With such easy access to porn we can be sure using this option can only lead to further confusion, self-hatred and pain.  We need to build up our children.  Provide them with the tools they need to navigate this new world we find ourselves in.  Times are changing, and we need to educate ourselves before we do any more damage to our children.

We need to encourage emotional wellbeing in our sons and daughters.  Teach them how to communicate, talk about their feelings.  These life skills will help them work through their issues. Introduce meditation and yoga in the early stages of school, promoting good mental health and a healthy body image.  We need to recognise the gaps that are occurring in our children’s lives and address them.

We will all pay the price of not taking the appropriate actions.  We already are.

June Kavanagh -14th June 2018

Let’s Tell Our Stories of Abuse

I have spent the best part of my life holding onto this huge secret and if I’m to be completely honest I am not sure if I would have ever spoken out, if it wasn’t forced on me.  When my father abused a grandniece, her bravery along with her mother’s drive is what forced the truth to finally come out.  Before I spoke about the abuse I believed it was over and couldn’t see why visiting something that happened when I was a child would help anyone. In my mind I had no visible scars, so why make a big deal about it.

The Danger of Keeping the Secret

Back then, I didn’t realise that my secrecy around the abuse I suffered had shaped who I became in the world. I was left with feelings of anxiety, defensiveness, depression, self-loathing and self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviours. In my eyes it was easier to deny what happened than to destroy the myth of a life I had created. I had built up an image of a large, happy close family that couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Whether or not you consciously keep something secret, the keeping and maintaining the secrecy, uses a lot of energy.  I had to eventually face up to my past and make the decision that my energy would be better spent on healing my pain.

I was a mess inside and nothing I did changed that. The anxiety of holding on to the lie was eating me alive. I was trapped in my mind and doing more damage to myself than the abuse ever could.

Time to Speak Out!

With our current Count Me In! Campaign I know a lot of you will be scared at the very thought of sharing your story. However, the campaign does not require you to share details unless you are comfortable doing so.  It also does not require you to go public with your story. No one, other than the politicians will either see or read what you have written and even then, you can make it clear you do not want your name to go public.

This is about you taking your power back. You are in control of this process. You make the decisions on how much you tell, to whom, and what they are allowed to use.

More importantly, it is not your shame or guilt to hold, you have held yourself responsible for far to long. It is now time to place the responsibility for what happened on the person/persons responsible.

Reasons for Telling Your Story

Victims of Abuse

For victims of abuse telling your story as part of a larger group of survivors will be more powerful. Some victims making the brave decision to report their abuse have had an extremely negative and distressing experience with the judicial system. So, we want to encourage you to share your experience so that politicians will understand real people stories making it more difficult for them to ignore our demands. You can mention that you are supporting this campaign because you are a member of a group or that you are alone with this pain.

Within your letter you could include any or all of the following:

  • I feel so bad for something I didn’t do, and I am tired of holding the pain simply because this country refuses to acknowledge the truth.
  • I am unable to access or pay for the necessary supports that would improve my life. Include examples of just how difficult it has been for you to get and pay for support.
  • As a result of being abused I suffer with depression, CPTSD, anger management, disassociation etc.  You can focus on one or more issues.
  • I am still unable to let family and friends know about my past because I am afraid of what they will say, or how they will act towards me.
  • You could talk about relationships and how they get impacted by your experience of abuse.

Family Members of Victims of Abuse

This campaign offers an opportunity for all family members and friends of abuse victims to be involved, we can highlight the fact that support is needed for supporters as we are aware it is not only victims of abuse that suffer.

Family members often feel they do not have the right to ask for help as they were not the ones raped or abused. But that is simply not true. No one escapes the impacts of this crime. It is important that family members access supports to help them understand what they are dealing with and how it is affecting them personally.

Within your letter you could include any or all of the following:

  • You could talk about who you are providing support to and how that affects you emotionally, physical and mentally.
  • If your sibling was abused by a parent how are you dealing with that.
  • If it was your parent who suffered abuse how has that affected you. Their experience of abuse will most definitely have impacted on their parenting.

Secondary Victims of Abuse

There are many secondary victims out there and it is really important that they see this campaign as an opportunity for them to use their voice.  There are family members, mothers of abused and mother of abusers.  Although we are aware there are always exceptions to the rules we are also aware that there is a large number of innocent mothers out there with nowhere to turn.

My mother could not grasp the idea that she was also a victim. She believed she had no right to look for support. This belief was easy for her to maintain as it was supported by societal behaviours and the media.  Everyone focused on her rather than my father, the abuser. She like other non-abusing parents have the added burden of being judged by the world. We would love to have them onboard with us. They could make a substantial contribution to this whole area and bring a deeper understanding for everyone of us.

What a non-abusing parent could include in their letter

  • The reason I am joining this campaign is my child abused someone when he/she was only (add age) old and a child him/herself.
  • Following all the help received we find ourselves ostracised in our community and within our family.  This is borne out of the complete lack of understanding about abuse and the many types of abuse there is. Instead people seem too quick to label my child as a paedophile.
  • Discuss what if any type of support was offered to you the parent.
  • Discuss how other family members have been impacted by the abuse.
  • Talk about how you have personally been impacted by your child’s behaviour.

Telling Your Story Helps Everyone

I am under no illusion that speaking about the abuse you suffered will be easy. Sexual abuse continues to be a subject few can handle, most avoid, and everyone is stuck as to how to respond when someone discloses to them.

For me, it wasn’t until I spoke out about the abuse that I experienced the power of keeping the secret diminishing.  It allowed me to face the negative effects the abuse had on me, most of them I was unaware of.  It also allowed me to see how my silence was protecting the abuser and not me.

I am sure my older children would have no problem describing the pain they experienced in their life due to my smothering them. I believed that my job was to protect them from everything.  I know now I deprived them of their freedom and instilled fear in them.  I also know they witnessed me wanting to end my own life and how really difficult that was for them.

My children, like all children, took responsibility for what was happening around them and probably believed they were lacking in whatever was needed to make me want to be here.  I feel sick about that, but I cannot take it back. I have done everything in my power to reassure them that my thoughts had nothing to do with them. Open and honest conversations is what helped us all to heal.  Telling your story is the only way to rid yourself and those around you or the pain you are carrying.

Speaking out might not be the cure, but let’s face, it if we don’t begin speaking about it how can we expect the world to wake up.  Take comfort in the fact there are so many of us out there.  Discussing sexual abuse can feel awkward, scary and I have no doubt at times it can feel like you are confessing rather than disclosing the facts of a crime.  If it was any other crime we would have no problem telling everyone, we must examine why that is.

The main reason for not telling about abuse is the deep belief that all victims of this crime hold about personal guilt and responsibility for what was done to them. On a logical level we know this is bullshit. However, we are not dealing with logic here what we are dealing with is the embedded belief planted by the abuser.  Speaking out about our abuse can and will create change in the silence that surrounds this crime.  The more of us that speak out, the more difficult it will be to be ignored.

Speaking out will help you shed the shame that is not yours to begin with. It will support and inspire others to do the same.  If our speaking out helps even one victim it is a good thing, it will help them understand they are not alone and there is no need to live in isolation.

Sexual abuse flourishes in secrecy and silence, but together we are growing stronger. Speaking out will help us change the myths held around sexual crimes by society. Myths such as, ‘it’s only really bad sex’, ‘it happened so long ago, why don’t you just move on with your life’, there is nothing to be gained by revisiting the past’.  Remember your words have power, the power to bring about change on a scale that we cannot even imagine. We have an opportunity to finally bring this generational cycle of abuse to an end.

I am asking you to become part of the force that finally puts an end to abuse and send a very strong message that this crime is no longer acceptable. It can be so empowering to transform your experience of abuse into something positive.

The is a great quote by a comedian called Hannah Godsby that sums up what we as survivors of abuse are.

“There is nothing more powerful than a broken woman that has rebuilt herself”

Joyce Kavanagh- 24th June 2018

Father’s Day – A Survivors Guide

For some the approaching Father’s Day is a happy occasion and one where the opportunity to demonstrate how much our fathers mean to us, is a cause to celebrate. For others this can be a very emotional and difficult time and be a reminder of a father that has passed away or was never present to begin with.

Those of us who have suffered abuse at the hands of our father, will not welcome this celebration. This time of the year can be highly triggering and unsettling. Even when you feel you have dealt with your abuse and moved on, the media bombarding us with messages of what we could and should be feeling, can make it seem that our abuser still has control over our emotions.

Absent Fathers

The absence of a father on Father’s Day can bring up feelings of loss, hurt, anger and resentment. A father’s love is supposed to be special and as much as you may want to, you cannot replace the love he should have given to you.

Don’t waste your time with questioning what your life would have been if he was a different man. A father who nurtured and cared for you, protected you from those that would hurt you. I wasted a lot of years mourning the father I never had. I’d find myself day-dreaming of how our relationship should have been and longed for a father like those I watched in the movies. The father who would move mountains to help me, the father who didn’t judge, one that I could count on to help me no matter what trouble I landed myself in.

Unrealistic Images of Fathers

Even today on TV and movies, fathers are painted as being strong, funny, comforting and protective. This is not reflective of my experience and only reminds me of the lack in my life and the longing I had growing up.  The media will never acknowledge that this day can be fraught with pain and trauma for many women.  Father’s Day is about making money for the retailers, nothing more.

Secondary Victims

If you father was your abuser and is no longer living but you have not disclosed your abuse to other family members, the day will still be difficult as they are likely to reminisce about their positive experience and the good times they had. Remember all siblings experience will be unique to them, try not to take it personal.

If you are a mother of an abused child, who was abused by your partner, you may also struggle at this time of the year. Feelings of guilt, responsibility, anger and hurt will rise to the surface. Be mindful not to direct these feeling inwards, they belong with the abuser.

Mothers of abusers are also likely to find this time extremely difficult as they struggle to see what they could have done differently. They may ask questions like; how could I have stopped the abuse? How could I have helped my child to not hurt another a child? Why didn’t I see something? Why did they do this?

Confusion and pain can make this time of the year impossible to ignore. Remind yourself you are innocent and feeling anything other than that is not helping. Understanding how difficult it is for you to leave guilt where it belongs can allow you to understand and support your child as they try to do the same.

Tips for Minding Yourself

  • It is important that you mind yourself at this time. Acknowledging what you are feeling is important and will help you manage the difficult days ahead. Don’t be afraid to share your feelings with those you trust and allow them to support you.
  • If you do not have anyone in your life that you feel can support you, call a helpline or reach out to a support group. Others with similar experiences are likely to be best placed to support and understand what you are going through.
  • Join a support group (Survivors Side by Side) is a great resource. It is a Closed group on face-book so you will feel safe sharing with others.
  • Don’t feel guilty or be guilted by other family members to join in celebrations and if you don’t wish to discuss your reasons with them don’t feel pressurised to do so.
  • Writing can help you gain access to your pain and help you to move past the anger that may arise.  So, take some time to yourself and write how your life has changed positively without your father.
  • Celebrate those fathers that you respect and admire. We all know someone that we feel is doing a good job.
  • Finally, it is important to acknowledge that against all odds you have turned into an amazing woman, doing the best you can with what you know at any given time.

Moving Forward

Today I barely acknowledge Father’s Day and am grateful not to have the stress of buying gifts and pretending everything is normal.  This came with time for me and I can honestly say it is because I no longer carry around the burden of hating and despising my father.  Letting him go meant he no longer had space in my thoughts and I was free to live my life at last

Pain can be overwhelming but may be disguised under the umbrella of anger.  Each time you remember something your father 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.

You are the one in control, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. Make a choice to turn this day into a positive experience. Go wild, try something new, you just might surprise yourself.

Joyce – 15th June 2018

A Deeper Understanding of Childhood Sexual Abuse is Needed!

You cannot change something if you are unaware of its existence. Awareness of a negative situation, attitude or belief is the first step towards making positive changes.  Our intention is and always has been to help improve the lives of victims of sexual abuse.  To achieve this, we need to help people understand this crime.

Is there a difference between the way men and women view sex and sexual abuse?  Is this difference a contributing factor preventing the necessary supports and laws being put in place to tackle sexual crimes?  Could it be down to a complete lack of understanding of the magnitude of damage that sexual abuse causes for its victims and how the ripple effect impacts us all?

How Bad Does It Have to Get?

We have given this issue a lot of thought and remain completely lost as to why no one other than victims of this crime, seem to realise the necessity and urgency around putting the appropriate laws and supports in place. What can we do to change this? The sheer numbers involved in this crime is horrifying enough, add to that, the fact that it is a worldwide issue.  This should be enough motivation for world leaders to act.  They don’t, and we need to find out why.

It’s like the housing crisis.  We all think the situation is unforgivable and shouldn’t be happening. But there it is, families are suffering, and our leaders do nothing.  What needs to happen for things to change?  How do we help those in positions of power to see, that like the housing crisis immediate action is required? Unless something is done around improving how we currently view and treat sexual abuse crimes, we will all suffer the consequences.

Need for Understanding

We understand that sexual abuse is a very difficult and complex issue. We also know that it requires a willingness to listen to a subject that most would prefer to ignore. But further understanding is needed. Sexual abuse is not simply a sexual act which takes place without consent. It is so much more than that.  It is this very misconception that we believe leads to lack of action in addressing and implementing the necessary changes that are badly needed. This lack of understanding we feel is also present in our court rooms, resulting in poor sentencing for those who commit these sexual crimes. If we are to move forward, we must have open and honest discussions with our legislators.

Delving Deeper

We think part of the problem is that sexual intercourse means something completely different to men and women.  For men, it can appear to be simply a pleasurable physical act. Some men can enjoy the act of sexual intercourse with no emotional attachment to the woman they are with. That is not to imply that sexual intercourse has no emotional meaning for men, it can and does mean much more if it is with someone they love.  However, as the male genitalia is external, the very act of penetration can be perceived that the male is in control and dominant.

For most women, there is an emotional connection before sexual intercourse takes place.  For intercourse to take place it also requires the woman to allow someone to enter her body. This can often be interpreted as the women being submissive.  Allowing someone enter your body appears to be much more emotionally significant to a woman than to a man.

This difference in how sexual intercourse is viewed and experienced by men and women is very important when considering poor sentencing for sexual crimes. We feel that in some cases, judges and men in general don’t see rape the same way women do.  If judges or those who serve on a jury feel that the crime of rape is nothing more than a non-consensual sexual act, then they will pass judgement in ignorance of the impacts on the victim.  The judge may feel sorry for the victim, even empathetic towards her, but no apparent acknowledgement or understanding is shown for the long-term damage of sex crimes and this is itself adding to the suffering of the victim.

Lasting Damage

It is difficult to explain the damage caused to a human being who has been sexually abused.  Words seem inadequate and can hardly capture the sheer magnitude of the damage felt. Speaking from our own experience and listening to other survivors we understand that all sexual crimes leave similar scars.

Our experience of childhood abuse left us devastated. The abuse disrupted our development and increased our likelihood of experiencing other sexual assaults.  We all felt substantial distress and displayed a wide range of psychological symptoms, both short- and long-term.  We felt powerless, ashamed and have struggled to trust others in our lives.

Through our learning of how the abuse affected us we feel confident to say that our childhood experience of sexual abuse was so damaging to our psychological development that it can be compared to a virus. The virus spread to our brain and negatively altered every cell, thought and behaviour. Victims themselves can struggle to understand the level of damage caused by the abuse they experienced. Recovery required a complete reprogramming of all thoughts, feelings and beliefs we picked up throughout our life.

In the short-term, collectively, we exhibited regressive behaviours such as bed-wetting, sleep disturbances, eating problems, asthma, behaviour and/or performance problems at school, and unwillingness/inability to participate in social activities.  Long-term we suffered with anxiety, ill health, depression, anger issues, anxiety attacks, insomnia, and self-destructive behaviours such as excessive use of alcohol and cigarettes.

We each experienced fear and anxiety in response to triggers which popped up without warning. These were simple things like smells, sounds, expressions that reminded us of our abuser or something that was said innocently.  We experienced difficulties forming relationships and indulged in inappropriate sex or avoidance of sex altogether.

We felt anger at our abuser and our mother who failed to protect us. Worse still we felt anger at ourselves for not stopping the abuse.  We felt betrayed and powerless.  We often felt stigmatised by the shame and guilt and internalised responsibility for what happened to us.  We were re-victimized as our self-worth was very low and at times, non-existent. Due to the abuse we felt worthless and abnormal and held a distorted view of sex and love, and we all at different stages in our lives felt suicidal.

Why aren’t we Horrified at the Numbers

It is globally recognised that this is the most under reported crime.  Because of that and the outdated statistics, a gross underestimation of the real figures that state that one in four women and one in six men are sexually abused before they reach the age of eighteen.  Based on these figures imagine one in four women and one in six men across all socio-economic backgrounds are living with the previously stated impacts. It is also important to understand that alongside all those victims are the abusers.

All these victims are currently living every day with the damage of their abuse and we are all, without exception, impacted.  Even though victims may not come forward with their abuse for many years or for some never, they are acting, parenting and socialising out of that damaged self every day.

A New Vision

Can you possibly imagine how it would feel to live in a world where this heinous crime was eradicated?  A world where no one ever again had to go through the pain and suffering that goes hand in hand with sexual abuse.  We all have a responsibility to make that a reality. It’s time to ask yourself …. can I do something about this?

The Kavanagh Sisters-14th June 2018

How Do we Fix Our Broken People?

Sexual Abuse is accepted across the world as being the most under-reported crime and here in Ireland we are no different. With our current population and our seriously outdated statistics, we can estimate that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have experienced some form of sexual abuse in their past. That means there are at least 900 thousand citizens currently living with the impacts of abuse.

Now take into account that the abusers are out there too. Based on these figures we also must realise that for every victim there is an abuser. We would all like to think that we would recognise a child abuser if we saw one. That we can pick them out of the crowd based on their creepy look or their odd behaviour. But those stereotypes are simply that, stereotypes. The fact is, child abusers are not monsters, they don’t walk around with signs saying ‘abuser’.  They are able to include themselves in our lives and our children’s lives because we trust them.

An abuser can have many victims but let’s take a conservative figure of an abuser abusing 2 victims, that means there are 4.5 hundred thousand sexual predators living amongst us.

As horrific as these statistics are, we reckon that at best, half of our population are directly impacted by abuse and all of our population, suffer the secondary impacts of abuse victims and perpetrators living within our communities.

Unlocking the Memories

As victims of child sexual abuse, we understand just how difficult it is for victims to open the doors they hid their memories of abuse behind.  However, without unlocking your memories of abuse, those memories will be the fuel that drives you forward or keeps you stuck. Though those memories or emotions can be on an unconscious level, they are most likely the force behind every decision, relationship and dream you have for yourself and those around you. Until you are able to open those doors and look into the dark spaces you will continue to live your life as a victim, which not only affects you but all those around you.

Tell me Why?

Offenders can only continue with their behaviour if they remain in the dark about the impact of their actions on their victims. As a victim myself, I wanted to know why my father did what he did, and I desperately wanted him to understand the damage he did to me and be truly sorry.  It wouldn’t have taken away the pain of what was done but, if I had any chance of understanding the ‘why me?’ element of the abuse, it might have helped me heal a little and find forgiveness for myself sooner.

A Reason to Look?

Why would an abuser look? We need to give them a reason to explore the why and how they do what they do.  Seeing into their dark places will provide them with the answers to the questions they hide from themselves.

How we view rapist, sex offenders and paedophiles as less than human, monster’s or creatures that deserve neither compassion nor understanding serves no one and certainly is not helping to stop their offending.  They, like victims need answers if we are ever to stop abuse.  Simply placing them behind bars is not the answer. Offenders absolutely need to be punished and suffer the consequences for their actions and the lives they have destroyed. Their punishment will allow the victims to feel vindicated, heard and most importantly believed.

Make it Stop

Surly we all want abuse to stop, for suffering from this act to stop. We have no choice but to find solutions to stop abuse, to show those who commit these atrocities that they need to stop. You will never change anything if you do not understand why you do it and what impact you are having on someone’s life.

If that is to happen we have to stop seeing sex offenders as separate to us, but rather people within our communities that are damaged and need repairing. Probably more importantly we need to have support and help available throughout the country to prevent abusers ever getting to the point of action. There has to be a better way as clearly what we are currently doing is not working.

New Measures

Today 6th June 2018 the government announced that it is considering new measures, including electronic tagging, to tighten restrictions on sex offenders after they are released from prison. The tag would be dependent on the risks that sex offenders pose on the community. The released sex offenders will also be required to be finger printed, photographed and register with gardaí within 3 days of their release from jail and provide any change of address.

A New Approach

We must stop with our reactive response and begin by treating the cause and not simply the symptoms.  We don’t even do that adequately enough, the scant service provision and cost of attending therapy along with long waiting lists further inflict pain and suffering on the victims of these crimes.

We must begin by providing balanced solutions that help all those impacted, victims and perpetrators alike. We must stretch ourselves and see past the behaviour that destroys lives and look at the person behind them. Only viewing sexual abuse from one angle will not change the outcomes. The ones committing these crimes are the only ones that can provide the answers that we need. We need to provide treatments that will prevent these heinous crimes occurring in the first place.

 

 “If you keep on doing what you’ve always done,

you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got.”

W.L.Bateman

 

Isn’t it time we fixed all our broken people.

Paula Kavanagh- 6th June 2018

 

Germaine, Germaine, Germaine!

Like most women and men who have experienced rape, we read Germain Greer’s call for punishment for rape to be reduced with anger and disbelief.

Sadly, this is not the first time reduced sentences in rape cases has been an issue, as every day within out court rooms, judges, juries and those that are either defending the accused or prosecuting them fail to understand the complexities of the damage that rape does to its victims.

What makes it even more upsetting is the fact that Germaine herself is a victim of rape which could lend weight to the argument that victims should just ‘get over it’ as though it is a common cold. As this is the type of thinking we are trying to change through education and understanding this crime, she is doing a great disservice to women throughout the world with these words.

Germaine adds insult to injury by saying that rape should be viewed as ‘non-consensual, lazy, careless and insensitive’. This is clearly a woman that has chosen to never explore her own rape and how it has influenced her thoughts and behaviours. Rather than deal with her own ‘stuff’, she is suggesting other rape victims move on and forget it ever happened, with no consideration to what the experience has done to them physically, psychologically and emotionally.

Greer goes on to say “You might want to believe that the penis is a lethal weapon and that all women live in fear of that lethal weapon, well that’s bullshit. It’s not true. We don’t live in terror of the penis … A man can’t kill you with his penis.”

I’m sorry to say that a penis is and has all through history been used against women as a very powerful weapon. We believe that what Greer is saying is very dangerous at a time when we are finally putting women’s issues at the top of the agenda.

We simply don’t understand how a woman who experienced a violent rape can speak about it in this way.

For victims, the effects of rape can be devastating. They feel substantial distress and display a wide range of psychological symptoms, both short- and long-term.  They feel powerless, ashamed, and distrust others. The abuse, if it happens in childhood, disrupts their development and increases the likelihood that they will experience other sexual assaults in the future.

In the short term they can exhibit regressive behaviours such as, sleep disturbances, eating problems, behaviour and/or performance problems at school/work and unwillingness to participate in social activities.

Long term they can suffer with anxiety, self-destructive behaviours such as alcoholism or drug abuse, anxiety attacks, and insomnia.

Victims feel fear and anxiety in response to triggers which pop up without warning. These triggers can be simply things like smells, expressions that remind them of the rapist or something that is said innocently.  They can experience difficulties in forming relationships and can either indulge in inappropriate sex or avoid sex altogether.

They can feel anger at the rapist and those around them who failed to protect them. But even worse still they can direct anger at themselves for not stopping the rape as it took place.  They feel betrayed and powerless and often feel stigmatised by the shame, guilt and take on the responsibility for what happened to them.

They are now likely to have a higher rate of being revictimized as their self-worth is either low or non-existent. Due to the rape they feel worthless and abnormal and hold a distorted view of sex, and without intervention they can become suicidal.

We believe if this was known and understood by the masses we would have a better chance of making appropriate changes to how sexual abuse is viewed and dealt with.

Thank you, Germaine, for making the argument for the importance of dealing with your ‘STUFF’.

The Kavanagh Sisters -31st May 2018

Consistent Sentencing for Sexual Perpetrators

The call for mandatory life sentencing for anyone that is found guilty of a sexual crime was put to the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charles Flanagan, TD, on the Claire Byrne Live show on RTE on the 31st April,2018. He responded by saying “I’m not a fan of mandatory sentencing, it’s been proven in the past that it hasn’t achieved what it’s been designed to do as a deterrent. He then stated that he was looking into setting up yet another committee that we fear will again 1. Take too long to set up and 2. Nothing will get done as a result. This is a disappointing and unfortunately typical response from our government representatives.

When you read the horrifying statistics around the reporting of these crimes and how few cases make it to court we must ask what we can do differently. Back in September 2017 the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre stated in their submission to the Policing Authority that less than 10% of those who are victims of sexual offences will report it.  And of those who do report, the attrition rate between report and prosecution is one of the highest of those studied in Europe.

The submission went on to say that in three out of four cases, victim and perpetrator are known to each other including those who have suffered abuse as children.  The relationship that victims have to their abuser is a major factor in why victims struggle to come forward and report the abuse. Add to that, the horrendous treatment victims experience in court, the ridiculous sentences perpetrators receive, and it is surprising we even have 10% coming forward.

In a report published by the Irish Times research, which analysed every rape offence conviction in the Central Criminal Court between 2013 and 2015, they showed that the vast majority, 70 per cent, of offenders received a partially suspended sentence. This is so offensive to victims and unacceptable to those that have shown the courage to come forward.

Examples of this injustice are that on the 18th April, 2018 in the Dublin District Criminal Court Judge Nolan handed down a 5 year sentence with 3 years suspended to Karl Walsh who plead guilty to sexually abusing his five year old cousin over a course of six years

Again, on the 24th of April, 2018 is was reported that a priest that had a previous conviction for sexual abuse received an 18 month fully suspended sentence after pleading guilty to all charges, by Judge Óonnabháin in Cork Circuit Court stating “Given his age and the level of his rehabilitation, I see no point or purpose in imprisoning him at this stage”.

What is a victim of rape or sexual abuse, or indeed any member of the general public to conclude from these sentences?  What message do they receive?  It is this pathetic sentencing and the constant reduction in those already poor sentences, that causes so many victims to lose all faith in the legal system and rethink if they should even bother coming forward and putting themselves through the ordeal of reporting their abuse/rape.

We also ask why a perpetrator gets an automatic reduction in their sentence if they plead guilty. If we have to look at each case individually then this assumption that victims in all situations do not want their day in court is misleading and unfair. If you put your hand up and say ‘yes I raped that child’ how does that automatically mean you should get a lesser punishment for the lifetime damage you have done to your victim.

We must also look at the bigger picture when it comes to mandatory sentencing as it will not be appropriate in all cases.  Sexual crimes occur on a spectrum of abuse, anything from a person exposing themselves to a child to the serial rapist. It will never be a one solution suits all situation.

Also, a mandatory life sentence of 15 years for sexual predators on its own is not the answer and will not change the epidemic of sexual abuse in Ireland. We believe that if the mandatory life sentence was linked to compulsory treatment programmes it would go some way to making a difference and move us towards a justice system that is actively trying to rehabilitate not merely punish. Without treatment programmes, we may be simply kicking the problem further down the road which does nothing to address the issue. However, if the abuser simply attends treatment and does not engage or fully participate then they should risk the possibility of losing privileges and any chance of early release.

We also need to have a much wider discussion around the entire justice/legal system and how it appears completely ill equipped to deal with crimes of a sexual nature. In a recent article published in the Irish Independent on 28th April, 2018, Ms Justice Ní Raifeartaigh said the Supreme Court has said that rape offending should be punished with an immediate and substantial custodial sentence but that there was no information about sentencing in past cases. She went on to say “One judge’s substantial could be four years, and another’s could be 14 years. It’s somewhat bizarre that an area that is so sensitive has so little in the way of guidance for a trial judge.

Lack of justice for victims of abuse has been demonstrated on an almost daily basis calling for a complete overhaul of a system that still looks at defending and prosecuting sexual crimes in the same manner as other crimes.

Each year the DPP get to decide which cases they will bring to court, and those decisions are understandably based on what they believe are winnable cases.  It is utterly bazaar that barristers and lawyers do not have to undergo specialised training around sexual crimes. If you do not fully understand for example that the effects of childhood sexual abuse and just how the damage can last a lifetime, how could you possibly argue a case in front of a judge and jury (who also has no training in this field).

Those arguing on behalf of the victim have a responsibility to become fully informed of the psychological damage that sexual abuse causes its victims. It is abhorrent that they do not insist on this training as a matter of course. Unfortunately, we live in a country where accountability for poor or disastrous decision that impact people’s lives is never addressed.

We challenge anyone who works with, supports or comes in contact with victims of sexual abuse on a professional basis to read our books ‘Click, Click’ and ‘Why go back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse if you really wish to be informed about the lifelong damage that sexual abuse causes to its victims.

We must ensure that the victims at the centre of all these cases are provided with the best possible support/treatment. People are waking up and demanding long overdue change to way sexual crimes are managed and responded to.  It’s time we spoke up and said no more.

The Kavanagh Sisters

Is 2018 Really the Year of the Woman?

There is hardly a day goes by without a new or historic case of child sexual abuse hitting the headlines along with considerable coverage of the #timesup and #metoo campaigns, you would probably think that the answer to that question above is yes.

The Right to Speak Up

This year marks the centenary of those brave women who fought and finally won the right for women to vote. Oprah Winfrey’s powerful acceptance speech for the Cecil B. Demille award at the Golden Globes, 2018 was inspirational as she announced that the ‘Time was up’ for abusers with particular reference to powerful and brutal abusive men. She went on to commend all of the brave women who came forth and told their story.  Mentioning celebrities speaking out about their abuse has ignited and bolstered women everywhere to finally come forward and speak out. All of this would appear to suggest that 2018 will be a year when women finally take control of their lives and careers.

Is it a Cause for Celebration?

This all sounds very positive and encouraging. However, just because women are speaking out and finally telling their stories of abuse does not necessarily make it a cause for celebration.

As survivors of sexual abuse, we understand the level of courage it takes to simply type the words ‘Me Too’ or join campaigns like #timesup. Our concern is what happens when they do?  For many women their secret has been hidden or buried for many years and now they can’t go back.

Do we have the resources to deal with the number of victims emerging through these campaigns?  What happens to them after they speak out? Where do they go with their pain, confusion and hurt?

No Political Interest

There is no evidence of our politicians showing any great concern or interest in this issue.  Once again, we appear to be waiting for men in positions of power to do the right thing.  What is holding them back?  How can they not see the value in putting in place the necessary resources?  What has to happen in order to acknowledge that this issue will not go away and requires men to become part of the solution and not the problem.

Something has to give, and things will only get worse if the current stance of turning a blind eye to the underfunded, overburdened minimal services that currently struggle to meet the demands placed upon them. Services like the Rape Crisis Centre, One in Four and The CARI Foundation, currently have long waiting lists and their CEO, s have to spend an inordinate amount of their precious time fundraising just to stay open.  It would appear that in Ireland the stance has been taken that it isn’t really anything to do with us and that it is an American celebrity issue.

Taking Responsibility

Although we didn’t have the back up of such campaigns when we were prosecuting our father, we do know the turmoil in our lives when we spoke up and tried to deal with the sheer devastation that came with it.  The memories came flooding back quicker than we could process and for most of the time it felt like we had been hit by a truck.

We who encourage victims to speak out must share the responsibility to provide these brave women with the answers, support and help they so badly need. We also must be mindful not to place undue pressure on women who may not yet be ready to speak out. Waiving anonymity may be a step too far for some and we must honour everyone’s process.  Sexual abuse may be in the media much more than ever, but headlines die as quick as they arise.  Unless there is a celebrity involved the story doesn’t even last 24 hours.

If a victim is lucky enough to receive justice through the courts, what then?  The offender may be placed in prison for a few years, which also seems to depend on the mood of the judge on the day.  The sheer lack of understanding around the impacts of this crime not only on the victim but their families, communities and society are demonstrated all too frequently through grossly inappropriate sentencing.

There remains no pressure on the judicial system to educate themselves on the impacts on its victims and although we can appreciate that all cases are not the same, are we to simply look on as injustice continues through the courts sentencing procedures.  Have we no recourse?  Have we no rights? It would appear that judges are accountable to no one.  Why are they not listening to the people they are there to serve?

We are aware there are many treatment programs available to perpetrators, but none appear to be mandatory.  How can that work? How can things ever be different or produce better outcomes for the public.

These are just some of the real concerns we have around the current outpouring of pain in the world. Particularly on this little isle of ours. We are sure we are not alone when we urge everyone to get on board and do whatever you can do to ensure that women’s pain does not become sound bites and that it does in fact become the year of the woman.  It is time for change……

The Kavanagh Sisters – 23rd April 2018

Child Abuse and PTSD

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

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

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

What is PTSD?

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

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

PTSD can develop in children if the following conditions exist:

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

PTSD is grouped by the following types of symptoms:

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

These symptoms show up in the following ways.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paula-8th April 2018

Child Abuse and Anxiety/Panic Attacks

Anxiety and panic attacks have been linked to childhood trauma, but it is by no means the only cause. Panic attacks can occur due to number of conditions including social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug use, depression, and a number of medical problems. They can either be triggered or occur unexpectedly. However, children that experience trauma are more likely to have increased anxiety and depressive behaviours which they can endure well into adulthood, making those adults less capable to cope with stress.

Myself and Joyce have both suffered from panic attacks, and although, for Joyce, they are a thing of the past, I unfortunately on occasion still struggle with them.  I hope this blog will help others who also suffer with these awful attacks to gain a deeper understanding of the fear that surrounds them. It is important that you know that you are not crazy, and you can manage them with awareness and support.

Joyce

I began to suffer from panic attacks and anxiety for months following the birth of my first child.  No matter how hard I tried I simply couldn’t shake it.  I tried to keep busy with the baby, but whenever I put him down for his nap I was afraid to even look in his direction. I was sure he was going to sit up and talk to me, even though he was only weeks old.  I believed I was going mad and because my thoughts were so crazy, I felt I couldn’t share them with anyone.

Whenever I tried to relax I felt a tingling feeling in my feet and within seconds it would travel throughout my body. It was such a frightening feeling that I often insisted on Mam calling an ambulance.  I was convinced I was dying and that everyone knew but they wouldn’t tell me. This anxiety lasted for months. I was terrified to leave the house for fear I would die alone.

I was consumed with fear and unable to sleep. Regardless of the assurance I got from the doctor, a specialist and a psychiatrist. I still believed I was dying. The anticipation of what could happen was enough to ensure that I remained on edge. Night after night I would sit downstairs with mam rocking myself back and forth to comfort myself.

One night when I was so exhausted I lay in bed and the tingling began, I was so tired I gave in, I looked up to heaven and said ‘f… it if I am going to die, do it now’ It worked, the tingling stopped, and I fell into a deep sleep. It was only when I surrendered to my fear that it stopped, and I never suffered from panic attacks again.

Paula

I have thought about writing a blog on this subject for some time now but, I hesitated for fear that simply writing about it, would bring on an attack.

I experienced my first anxiety attack when I broke my leg.   That forced confinement brought to the surface feelings of helplessness and dependency. However, I didn’t really understand what was happening and over time I became more and more anxious.  I believe it was this recurrence of anxiety that resulted in my first panic attack.

My panic attacks come out of the blue, my lips begin to feel strange and because I had bell’s palsy in the past, I am instantly afraid it’s happening again. This is followed by a tingling sensation running through body. My heart starts to thump, and I feel breathless, fear builds up rapidly and takes control of my thoughts. The feelings that I’m about to die or have a stroke feeds into the fear. My imagination runs wild and I can see myself ending up alone or locked in a madhouse. I am aware that this is crazy, but I feel powerless to stop it.

I consider myself a rational and logical person and I can tell the difference between imagination and reality quite easily. However, when I am in the middle of a panic attack nothing can tell me that what I am feeling is not real. I am absolutely convinced that at best, I am going to have a stroke, or more likely I am about to die.

What scares me most is the place I felt safest is no longer available to me. I am most comfortable in my head and it is also where I retreat to when I’m stressed or worried. My fear around having an attack can make it difficult to focus on my work and this causes more stress. It becomes a vicious circle.

It is the actual fear and anticipation of an attack that drives my anxiety.  I am sure that I have even brought on an attack by focusing on the fear. However, lately I have tried meditations and mental exercises to talk myself down and they are working for me while I work on uncovering the underlying cause of the attacks.

This may sound strange, but I am grateful for the panic attacks because they have forced me out of my head and into the moment. I have always found when I’m stressed or worried I get ill or have physical pain.  The panic attacks are just another way to look at what is going on in the background. I believe they will stop when I understand what they are trying to tell me.

Childhood Trauma

For those of us who have experienced trauma as children it is most likely that the triggers to panic attacks have their roots in the past. It is also likely that the fear is subconscious. Fear is only powerful when we do not know its origins, it loses its power if we understand where it comes from.  Exploring childhood trauma with a professional can uncover the root cause behind the fear that drives panic attacks.

In the meantime, if you understand what is happening inside your body when having an attack, it may help to stop it before it gets going. I read somewhere that it only takes three minutes for adrenaline to fill your body and cause a panic attack. That also means that you will have three minutes to stop the adrenaline before the attack takes hold. To stop an attack, you must interrupt the messages of fear going to your brain.

During my last attack, I tried the steps below and it did stop the attack before it got hold. It didn’t remove the fear but at least I wasn’t controlled by it.  I am aware that, it’s both the anticipation of the attack and the thoughts during the attack that do the most harm.

Following these steps was most helpful to me:

  1. Try to relax, I know how difficult this is, but it is the first step that will allow you to stop the messages going to the brain telling you that you are in danger and prevent the release of any more adrenaline.
  2. Focus on your breath, breathe in and out to a count of 7, then 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Make the breaths as deep as you can, this can be very difficult, but it really will help so persevere.
  3. Think of a place, person, or thing that you associate with being calm and relaxed.
  4. Scream in your head ‘I’m fine’ ‘I am ok’ ‘Nothing bad is going to happen’ the louder you can scream the better.
  5. Repeat your own positive messages to counter what you normally say during an attack. The point is to stop you repeating the negative fear filled messages that make the attack worse and last longer.
  6. When the attack has passed write a list of everything you fear in this moment, it is necessary to dissect these fears.  You may discover the similarities in your present and your past fears.  Understanding your fear removes its power.

This takes time and practice, but I found it helped me.  Once you can deal with the symptom’s you will be free to begin to focus on the underlying cause.  You need to know that a panic attack will not kill you. Use them to understand yourself and you will come out the other end stronger.

Paula – 28th March 2018

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