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Why People Continue to Support Donald Trump?

To answer the question about why people, continue to support Donald Trump, you would have to try to put yourself in the mindset of his supporters. Whether we like it or not, he is appealing to a lot of people.  The questions we really should be asking are who is voting for him and why?

Timing

I believe timing is important in terms of Trump being in power at this time in history.  I also believe that Barrack Obama’s term in office ironically contributed to Trumps rise to power. Obama’s presidency was perceived by many to be a “game changer.”  People of colour and marginalised people everywhere raised their hopes, they believed they would finally be represented politically.

Although Obama did a lot of good during his presidency, I am not sure those changes were felt by the underprivileged.  This I believe contributed to a complete sense of hopelessness.

Some might say that Trump was in the right place at the right time.

Racism is another contributing factor in Trumps ability to become the President of America. There is a considerable percentage of racists in America who saw Obama’s presidency as a step too far, so when Trump came along, he was seen as someone that would reclaim control in the White House.

Why Trump?

After Obama, people were unsure what was ahead for them, but knew they didn’t want to return to the ‘status quo’ of politics in America.  Along came Trump, who didn’t speak political jargon, made claims that he was better than all the politicians who have not helped the people. He promised that he cared and could make a brighter future for the squeezed middle classes.

Trump shamelessly promoted himself with passion and arrogantly said he would fight for the people.  As he had a so-called track record of being a self-made millionaire and he convinced a number of people that his experience would ensure he succeeded in making life better for the people of America.

He continually told everyone how he understood their problems and he, unlike others that went before him intended to fix everything that was wrong with America. His claims of being fearless, wealthy and that he couldn’t be bought along with promising that no one could stop him got him votes.  His constant bashing of the media and claims that everyone else was lying (fake news) to the people fed into people’s existing mistrust of all politicians.

Narcissist

Why can’t Trumps supporters see what we see? Trump is a textbook narcissist, incapable of caring about anyone but himself. His decisions are based on his ego and fed by his own insecurities which makes him extremely dangerous.

 

He is happy to claim full credit for everything. He has no awareness and doesn’t realise or care that he is promoting and inciting hatred and racism. He is incapable of understanding that he is creating a highly volatile and abusive culture that took centuries to overcome.  He continues to promote fear and insecurity in his followers. His agenda is completely ego driven. He sees himself as the ultimate power and without a doubt will continue to abuse his position.

His Appeal

Why people voted for Trump may be incomprehensible to many, however, it is not the only country to vote unbelievably for a misogynistic egocentric man. Brazil recently appointed President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right President whose views alongside Trumps would not sit well with most right-minded people.

Why?  is the question we should all be focused on getting an answer to.  Could part of the reason men like this manage to gain so much power be as the result of not providing equal access and opportunities in education for all?

Disillusionment

I believe, what we are witnessing all over the world is a response to inequality.  People are tired of feeling powerless, abused by those who are supposed to represent them. There is growing resentment between the haves and the have nots’ as the gap gets even wider and the realisation that those in power will never do the right thing. People want change and are looking for real leadership. They are sick of being on no one’s priority list.  Seeing daily on social media all they could have but never will.

Social media has provided access to information on the corruption that exists in every corner of our society. This has compounded the hopelessness people already feel. People experience inequality and injustice everywhere they turn along with no hope of a better life for themselves or their family. With poor wages, two tier health system, unaffordable education, unattainable housing, it is getting harder every day to simply survive and it doesn’t seem to matter who comes into power as life for those at the bottom of the ladder doesn’t improve.

Tipping Point

It would appear that we are at a tipping point and the upheaval we are witnessing in the world today, has at its core, inequality. There is a cost to us all when just one person isn’t treated fairly.  What politicians don’t seem to realise is the urgency in addressing the inequality and the repercussions if they don’t.

I believe greed is the cause of a lot of our problems. It has and continues to result in immoral corrupt power-hungry politicians, elitists who are out of touch with the people on the ground, big pharma, who are prepared to poison us to make money and the heads of industry, making it impossible for people to access what should be basic human rights, like decent homes, good healthcare, education childcare and fair wages.

Politicians only see things through their own filter of privilege and education. This seems to prevent them from really understanding the plight of others.  Do they really believe that our homeless children today, are going to grow up well-adjusted contributing, happy productive members of society?

Time for change

The lessons (and there are lessons in every situation) as far as I can gather, is for the world, not just America, to stop tolerating and accepting corrupt self-serving. Politicians. Maybe a place to start is to put all our politicians on a normal working wage. Remove their entitlement to more than one pension and let them wait like us until they do actually retire before they have access to it.  Hold them accountable for their actions and if after an agreed period in the job they do not deliver on promises made have them removed. This would level the playing field. They should have the same access to education, housing, and healthcare as the rest of society. This will help to change how they see the services available to everyone and motivate them to improve them.

Bottom line is, there are real and deadly consequences to inequality. Although I don’t think we can ever rid ourselves of inequality, we should always be striving to.

June Kavanagh – 8th November 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

How Do Judges Get It So Wrong?

As survivors of childhood sexual abuse, we are hurt, disappointed, shocked and insulted at some of the sentences judges hand down every day for crimes of sexual abuse.  It is staggering that any judge could ever completely suspend a sentence in the case of a sexual predator.

Repeat Offender

On the 25th April 2018, Judge Sean O’Donnabhain at Cork Circuit Criminal Court stated when referring to the Priest, John Calanan (aged 79) who had plead guilty to sexually abusing three girls, that his breach of trust had been ‘phenomenal’. He went on to say ‘it was clear that Calanan was a serial offender.  However, his decision when passing a sentence was that there was no point in sending Calanan to prison.  He stated that his sentence was based on Calanan’s age, health and the fact that he was attending Gracewell Clinic (a treatment centre for sexual abusers).

Calanan a repeat offender had previously been sentenced to eight years (three suspended) in July 2012 for attempted rape and indecent assault. In April 2015 Calanan received a three-year sentence (one year suspended) for indecently assaulting a girl. In March of 2018 Calanan again received a two-year sentence for indecently assaulting girl.

If Judge O’Donnabhain had any real understanding of sexual crimes and the people who commit them he would know that paedophiles do not retire.  This continued unfair sentencing serves no one. If the perpetrator avoids paying the price of destroying not only the life of the child but their family, friends, relatives and our communities, how can this be justice.

Perpetrator Focused Systems

To the victims of these crimes, it is apparent that all consideration is directed solely toward the perpetrator and in cases of a sexual nature, this does not result in a just or fair outcome.  Victims should always come first.  The system is simply not equipped to handle sexual crimes and it is time for a complete overhaul. The public perception is that Judges appear to hand out random sentences with no apparent rhyme or reason to them.  Transparency and accountability is called for.  It is unhealthy for any individual to hold the amount of power judges appear to have.

Who can victims turn to when it appears that Judges believe that they know and understand all crimes that come before the courts. To victims, the daily media reports around sentencing of sexual crimes would indicate that is not the case. Judges seem to apply the same rational in sentencing across all crimes. This does not work in crimes of a sexual nature and the continuing issues around judges and all those within the legal profession not receiving mandatory specialised training in this field is no longer acceptable.

Our judicial system appears to allow men to rape with impunity and knowingly or not the system has now become part of the problem. It appears to be yet another insurmountable hurdle for victims of these crimes to overcome.

Shocking lack of Understanding

The Irish times reported on a case on May 3rd, 2018, where we believe a complete miscarriage of justice occurred. Justice Patrick McCarthy at the Dublin Central Criminal Court acquitted a man of 21 counts of anally raping his wheelchair-bound stepdaughter. The victim had been abused between 2003 and 2013 when she was aged between eight and 18.

The jury deliberated for only six hours before returning a verdict of not guilty of all 69 counts. The complete lack of understanding around victim psychology and behaviour led to doubt around the perpetrators guilt.  The victim’s inconsistencies in recalling details of her abuse was referred to as an issue.  If the jury had the benefit of hearing from an expert in the field of abuse who could explain the impacts of trauma on victim’s behaviour and recalling memories, they would at least have been armed with an understanding of why there appeared to be inconsistencies in her account.

The stepfather’s barrister also questioned why the young girl did not disclose to the social workers that visited her home on several occasions over a period of five years. Again, the complete lack of understanding by the jury around how victims of abuse carry the responsibility, shame and guilt for what was done to them and how disclosure of this crime often feels more like a confession that a reporting of a crime they would again at least been in possession of accurate information before deciding on this life changing verdict.

Again, this man was released because of poor education about how trauma impacts the lives of victims.

Recommendations

We do not recommend mandatory sentencing for all sex offenders as we believe that all crimes of a sexual nature require an individual approach.  However, consistency in sentencing is important. The sentence should be linked to mandatory treatment for the offender with all privileges including any time off their sentence for ‘good behaviour’ tied in with their level of participation in treatment programmes.

For sentencing to be consistent the judges need to be mandated to adhere to agreed upon guidelines. We feel there is a real need to consider the following:

  • Non-custodial Sentences: It is unacceptable that judges even consider the complete suspension of a sentence of someone who has committed a crime that will leave its victim with a personal life sentence.
  • Concurrent Sentences: This is not a deterrent. A concurrent sentence sends the message that the perpetrator is only paying for one incident or one crime.
  • Poor/Lenient Sentences: For victims of childhood sexual abuse the crime is tantamount to murder. The grooming process which can take weeks months or even years represents premeditation of a crime. Not to sound too dramatic, but the years that the child experiences sexual abuse on a regular basis is no different psychologically to being held captive and tortured. The experience of rape itself causes lifelong problems with sexuality creating untold damage to marriages or any intimate relations for the life of the victim. How can a judge when sentencing someone who has inflicted all this damage on their victims automatically give them a reduction for so called good behaviour or because they plead guilty?
  • Age of Offender: We hear time and time again that the judge thinks that the plaintive is too old and unlikely to reoffend. This clearly demonstrates the complete lake of understanding of these crimes. It sends a clear message to offenders that if their victims don’t speak up before they reach a certain age they will escape having to pay for their crimes. It is widely accepted and understood that the crime of childhood sexual abuse can take its victims many years to speak out and a lifetime to heal from.  This decision once again lays blame on the shoulders of the victim for not speaking out sooner
  • Position Held by Offender: the perpetrators good standing in the community is of no bearing when it comes to this crime. If those within the legal profession understood the most common profile of perpetrators they would understand that they are likely to be middle class males, hold positions of trust within their communities and family orientated. So, taking an offenders position or standing within their community makes no sense whatsoever.

The Need for Strategic Thinking

We have a history of poor investment in Ireland in not only how we treat victims of sexual crimes, but inappropriate funding of vital specialised services for those victims and their families. This along with failing to track and build detailed statistics that would feed into future service planning and investments makes it easier for the government to bury their heads and continue to underfund the current service providers.

The complete lack of strategic thinking and understanding around the magnitude of these crimes will only continue to ensure that we all pay for this crime as it impacts and shapes all our communities.

This crime is not going away and it’s time to wake up and do the right thing.

 

23rd May 2018 – June

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

The Aftermath of the Belfast Rape Case

I believe timing played a major role in the publics reaction to the Belfast rape trial.  The world has changed a lot in the last six months and for many, the trial represented the straw that broke the camels back.

Shift in Thinking

Rape cases happen every day but because of how this trial was reported on, and the treatment of both the victim and the accused men, this case caused a palpable shift in thinking about casual sex and how consent is given and understood. For many women both north and south of the border it was time to stand up and say enough is enough.

It is also reasonable to say that we only heard about this case because the accused were celebrities in the rugby world.  Although the accused were found not guilty of rape, the public’s reaction following the verdict was understandable and, in my opinion, warranted.

Even though they were found not guilty of rape, they were most definitely guilty of treating a young girl as an object for their own sexual gratification. They demonstrated no understanding of the condition they left the young girl in and showed a complete lack of consideration for her wellbeing. They paid no regard to the fact that the girl they had intimate relations with left their home bloodied, bruised and in tears.  In my opinion this is a disgusting way to behave towards anyone.  The inappropriate texts that emerged during the trial added to how enraged the public felt towards these men.

It is rare that people react so strongly to a rape case, but the Belfast trial provoked an enormous response as it clearly highlighted the plight of the victim.  It must have resonated or affected people personally in order to trigger this level of response.

In my opinion both our drinking culture and our not too distant relationship with the church and its deliberate misrepresentation of what sex and sexuality meant in our lives allowed both men and women to relate to the victim and accused.  There probably is no one, male or female who hasn’t woke up at some time in their past, hung over and not remembering where they were or how they got home.

I find It commendable that people got behind the victim in the Belfast rape trial as she demonstrated such courage while being treated appallingly by the courts. However, it would be even better if everyone could respond to the entire issue of rape and sexual violence in the same way and recognise how personally our lives are impacted by these crimes.  We are in danger of becoming de-sensitised to this crime through the regularity of media reports.   We need to see this crime for the epidemic that it is?

Living in Denial

Knowing that the available statistics around rape and sexual violence is not reflective of the actual numbers of victims living with the impacts of this crime, makes it inconceivable that Northern Ireland was left with no rape crisis centre due to lack of funding.  It speaks volumes about the levels of denial that currently exists around the need for providing resources for these crimes.

We need to understand how victims of sexual crimes are affected if we are ever to realise how these crimes ultimately impact and shape our communities.  When will we see that through not providing adequate supports to both the victims and perpetrators in these cases, we all pay the price?

Some examples of how the effects on victims spill over into all our lives:

  1. Some victims looking for pain relief from their emotional and psychological suffering turn to drink or drugs. These individuals that we often refer to as “druggies” are merely trying to stop the pain they feel. If anything, we should feel compassion for the levels of pain they are trying to avoid.
  2. Some victims get in deeper and deeper and have to turn to crime to support the habit that began because of an inability to cope with their suffering.  They don’t’ feel they are worth anything. The drugs they take to avoid their pain is also preventing them from any positive feelings or hope for a better future.
  3. Violence is often the trade mark of male victims of sexual abuse in an attempt to take back their power and their masculinity.  These victims often end up in prison for committing violent crimes and are likely to be there because they don’t know how to express emotions in a healthy manner as they were neither given the permission or the tools necessary to speak out.
  4. We found during our research for ‘Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse’ that men and women that have experienced abuse and don’t receive treatment for trauma are more likely to develop mental health issues, addictions, eating disorders and have suicidal tendencies.
  5. Marital issues around sex, spills over into discontentment and unhappy marriages. This leads to poor parenting which contributes to the next generation of dysfunctional adults.

These are just some of the ways rape and sexual violence impacts all of us. Although this might seem like an extreme generalisation, it is not even touching the sides of the scale of this problem.

Yet another way we pay for this crime is through our taxes. We pay for this crime through the health sector, judicial system, child and family services, addictions services, and probation services.

Wake Up Call

We need to collectively wake up to the scale of the problem and start taking it seriously. An obvious starting point would be providing the much-needed funding for the current experienced service providers both north and south of the border like the Rape Crisis Centres-One in Four-CARI and Nexus. We need to recognise the vital role these services play in providing advice and support to victims and their families.

The waiting lists for these services are outrageous with Nexus NI currently holding a waiting list of 800 people. I wonder what it will take before the government understand just how short sighted it is not to supply the funding on this end of the problem, knowing that if these individuals cannot access the help they need they will end up costing the state more through the fall out.  The state needs to step up to the plate and start fulfilling their responsibilities.  Victims are tired of being let down with nowhere to turn and trying navigate their pain and suffering while this country constantly demonstrates no consideration or compassion through lack of provision for them.

It is also important that we all understand that we can play a role in calling for change. We have a right to feel outraged and see the current situation as unacceptable. Protesting does have an impact on how we move forward. Everyone needs to do whatever they can, public voices do count.

Moving Forward

In relation to the men at the centre of the Belfast trial I offer the following advice. Give back, find a relatable cause (such as the new development of a rape crisis centre in Belfast) and fund raise or give talks if that’s what is needed to redeem yourselves.

Rightly or wrongly you find yourselves in a very negative position. A position that represents an era of misogyny and male domination that we are rightly moving away from. Your actions now could make a huge positive contribution to that movement.

 

June- 19th 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

No Justice, No Winners!

I felt compelled to write about the Belfast rape case as I am still reeling from the impact of the outcome. I would imagine I’m not alone when I describe a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I think about it. With that said, I would have to admit that right from the beginning of the case when I began to read and hear on social media about the witness who entered the room on what she thought was a “threesome”, I foresaw the possibility of this outcome.

Positive Impact

I would absolutely like to begin by thanking that woman for her bravery and courage. The outcome of the case, although hugely disappointing (to put it mildly) is a landmark moment. This case will probably do far more good in the long run, not only for the girl herself, but for the worldwide movement for equality for women.  She will probably never know how many people support her, believe her, and have been moved to tears, and to action because of her.

While attending a talk in the Liquor Rooms, Wellington Quay, on ‘The Culture of Sexual Harassment’ last night (28th March) Simone George (Consultant Litigator) said that ‘if we had equality there would be no need for conversations around consent, because we would be dealing with equals.’ These bumps in the road are to insure we stay vigilant in our pursuit for gender equality. The truth of the matter is that every man woman and child is part of the problem.   We were born into it, we may not have created it, but we are responsible for changing it.

Who Holds the Power

The issue of inequality between the sexes, patriarchy and male supremacy all sustain the rape culture that cases like this bring into the light. These seemingly acceptable behaviours all stem from cultural norms that go back generations. These systems were designed by men for men, to ensure that men retained all of the power.

The culture we grew up with has been sustained by generations of men with power, dominating and controlling women’s lives from every conceivable angle. As a result, women of every race, creed and culture have internalised our oppression to the point of simply ‘putting up with it’.   Just as slavery once ended, this too must end.

Conditioning

I have to fight against my own conditioning of resenting and hating men for how they treat women.  It is no more their fault than it is mine.  I do not wish to condone the actions of a rapist or diminish rape and its impacts in any way. However, I think it’s is important to acknowledge that the rapist is just as conditioned to see women as ‘less than’ as women are to accept their behaviours.

We must all take a giant step back and recognise that there is a much bigger problem to deal with.  A complete shift in our thinking is required for change to occur.  We are up against a system, a patriarchy like our political, legal, health and education systems that are inept, outdated and not fit for purpose. Gender inequality is just another system put in place a long time ago.

Change is coming

The good news is that we are gaining small incremental changes. There does appear to be a worldwide awakening around these issues.  It is important to remember that and not get despondent when things go wrong, or we don’t get the outcomes we hope and work for.

All these systems must come down.  Piece by piece, bit by bit.  It will not be easy, and it will take time, but we mustn’t give up or take our eye off the ball and lose momentum.

We must start teaching our children in schools and at home in a more holistic way. We need to provide them the tools they need to navigate this world.  Placing mental health at the top of the agenda.  Children should be learning about their bodies as soon as they begin to walk. To quote Noeline Blackwell (CEO, Dublin Rape Crisis Centre) ‘our education systems should be minding our children’s mental, physical and emotional needs.’

We must teach both boys and girls as young as possible about their own bodies. They need to feel in control and have full autonomy when it comes to personal space and boundaries.

There are strong amazing women and men working tirelessly to attain some balance.  We must all do our bit, however small. We can create a better world where men and women are equal if we work together.

 

June- 29th March 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

Raising Awareness of Childhood Sexual Abuse Triggers

When abuse of any description is covered on TV it is usually followed by an announcement that if you have been triggered by the content of the programme call this phone number.  As a victim of childhood sexual abuse, I often heard the term triggers without making the connection to what was happening in my own life.

Those of us who have suffered from flashbacks or strong emotional or physical responses in the most inopportune moments can really struggle to connect the dots.

Because triggers can be from the most innocuous things, it is not uncommon to become flooded by feelings of fear or panic that often appear to come out of the blue and without any warning or connection to anything that is happening at the time.

Add to that that once you get triggered the response felt can last for a second or linger for weeks. This can make it even more difficult for you to understand what the initial cause or trigger for your emotional or physical response was.

When I broke my ankle a few years back I began to have nightly panic attacks. I had an overwhelming feeling that I was going to die in the middle of the night. I really struggled to understand what was happening to me. I went around all day feeling panic and a physical pain in my chest and was constantly dreading the thoughts of bedtime.

I found myself delaying going to bed and only gave in when I was exhausted, even then I’d sit on the top stair for at least ten minutes telling myself that I was fine and had nothing to worry about. This carried on for weeks until I finally understood that I was being triggered by my dependency on my partner to do everything for me. I hated feeling helpless and out of control and all this brought me back to my childhood feelings of not being able to escape when my father came into my room at night to rape me.

What are Triggers? 

A trigger is anything that reminds you of your trauma. They can be extremely personal and can occur at any time. Triggers can be sounds, smells, tastes, touch, the tone in someone voice, hearing a word or phrase, seeing images, videos, an expression or a gesture.  It is likely that you may feel powerless to stop your immediate emotional or physical response to your triggers.

What Happens When you are Triggered?

A trigger can cause a strong or overwhelming emotional or physical response which can occur at any time. A typical response can be anger, rage, uncontrollable crying, physical pain, palpitations or breathlessness.

These triggered responses can transport you back to unconscious or stored memories or experiences of trauma. It is not unusual for you to feel confused or overwhelmed, and you can sometimes feel like you have been hit by a train.

Why are Victims of Abuse Vulnerable to Triggers?

Those of us who have experienced trauma as a child develop a variety of coping mechanisms that allow us to store memories or emotions away from our conscious minds.

When you engage one of your senses connected to your abuse, for instance in my case the sounds of someone eating loudly or crunching food can immediately transport me back to a memory of my father and how much I hated sitting at the table while he shoveled food into his mouth and dribbled its contents down his top.

Understanding just how you store memories can help to understand why these emotional or physical experiences can appear to have no apparent connection to what is happening in your life at the time when they occur.

Understanding Your Coping Mechanisms

I can honestly say I was shocked that something as simple as a broken ankle could throw be back into memories of my abuse.  When we were researching coping mechanisms for our book, ‘Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse’ we discovered how as victims of abuse our memories are often fragmented, with this knowledge things began to fall into place. Understanding that it is not uncommon for emotions and facts to be stored in different parts of the brain helped me make the connections between triggers and emotional responses.

It is for this very reason that I understand the importance of victims understanding all of the many ways abuse impacts your life so that you can take control and save yourself from needless suffering and pain.

What to Do in the Moment?

I know it’s all well and good to say that you don’t have to carry on being triggered when you’re on the other side of the trauma. However, I have found a number of things helped me through the times I struggled the most.

  1. Firstly, talk to someone. Call a support person or friend to say how you are feeling and allow them to help you. It is not a sign of weakness to get help rather a sign of strength. Remember how you feel when you are in a position to help a friend it’s the same for them, so where possible call someone.
  2. Breath, I know how simple this can sound but it really can help. If you can bring your attention to your breath, breathing in for 10 and out for 10 and then reduce it to 9, 8, 7 and so on… it helps to not only distract you from the panic but calms you down and helps you sleep.
  3. Acknowledge your feelings be it upset of angry I know this also sounds easy but crying or getting angry is something I still struggle with. I can tell you that when I do make a conscious effort to express my feelings things improve.
  4. Repeat a Mantra/statement or phrase: By repeating a phrase in your head you distract yourself long enough to calm down and think more rationally. This can be anything like ‘Everything is Ok’ to ‘I am going to be fine’ it is not important what you say just the act of repeating the statement will work to get you out of your head.
  5. Try writing how you are feeling. Writing is a great way to express yourself freely.
  6. Drink water: because the body releases chemicals when you are anxious water can help release toxins and reduce the stress you are feeling.

Triggers for anyone who experienced any type of trauma can be very debilitating and frightening. I feel it is especially true for those of us who experienced childhood sexual abuse. If you understand how your memories work and how to access them, you will be better placed to identify and manage those things that trigger painful memories in the future.

Paula- 4th February 2018

Hidden Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse

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

Survivors Helping Survivors

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

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

Hidden Victims 

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

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

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

A Brothers Pain

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

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

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

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

A Sisters Struggle

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

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

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

A Mothers Innocence

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

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

Supporting Mothers

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

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

Support Systems

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

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

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

Joyce-9th January 2018

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