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Category: Blog – July 2018

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

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