Charles Flanagan, TD.
Minister for Justice and Equality
Department of Justice and Equality
51 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2
RE: Count Me In! Survivors of Sexual Abuse Standing Together for Change
My name is Joyce Kavanagh and I am writing to you as part of the ‘Count Me In! Survivors of Sexual Abuse Standing Together for Change’, campaign.
I wish to begin by thanking you for getting behind the recent referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment. Regardless of your personal views I really appreciate how the politicians respected and backed public opinion. Many Tds and Politicians felt that through listening to individual stories they were brought on a journey and that hearing the ‘hard stories’ helped all political parties understand how real people’s lives were affected by the amendment.
I am supporting this campaign because after many years contributing to this cause by offering support to other victims, visiting groups, doing interviews on TV and radio, nothing has changed. Myself and my sisters were among the first people to take a case of childhood sexual abuse to court in this country. Although it was in 1990, we have witnessed very little change in the way the subject is viewed or understood, and it still remains too uncomfortable to talk about. We took part in a documentary in 1992 highlighting this subject and its affects, we then went on to write a book ‘Click, Click’ in 2011 and more recently we self-published our second book ‘Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse.’ Following each contribution, we in our naivety believed this country would wake up to the reality that this crime is a huge issue in this country today, not only in the past.
Following the recent referendum many politicians stated that they were swayed by listening to the real stories from women and this, for some, influenced their votes. We are hoping that if you are in possession of all the information around this crime and its impacts you will understand the urgency and why we need to all work together and be motivated to put in place the resources needed to address this very serious issue. We need to do the right thing for the victims of this crime in Ireland.
I am hoping that by sharing my story you will have a deeper understanding of the issues I face daily. Armed with this information I hope you feel in a better position to support bringing about the necessary changes to address this problem. Ireland is being provided with the opportunity to again demonstrate that we listen to our citizens and take the necessary action.
Hopefully me sharing my story will bring you on another journey.
I grew up in Ballyfermot in the early 1960’s, as part of a large family of ten. It was an era where adults were not questioned, and children were expected to stay quiet. You may remember the saying ‘children should be seen and not heard’, it was our mantra growing up.
There were four girls in the family and each of us was raped by our father from age four right up to our late teens. I suppose it could be compared to being a member of a cult as we were completely brainwashed and subservient. I was literally a sex slave for all of my childhood. I did not have the ability to think for myself as I took my father’s word as gospel. I neither shared or discussed our secret and I believed what he told me when he said that I was the only one he was doing this to. Awful as it was, it became my norm. The contradiction was that the home where I was abused was also the only place I felt safe. The outside world was too daunting. I could never keep up with the demands outside the home as all my energy went into surviving.
I have spent many years and a lot of money in my attempt to heal from this atrocity and I have definitely reached a place in my life where I am no longer defined by my past. As difficult as it was, healing from the physical side of the abuse was more reachable for me. However, the psychological damage is not so easy as even now I have days where I struggle with the aftermath of my abuse.
Although I continue to help other victims I silently question if it is possible to heal when it is your very core that has been so damaged. The struggle is as long as life itself. I cannot discover who I was as I never really was. I missed out on the opportunity to develop like a normal child and I have spent all my adult life trying to develop a me that I am happy with.
One of the methods I used as a child to survive, (although I was not aware of it at the time) was to disassociate from my body. I did this through focusing on a spot on the wall or ceiling and it allowed me to escape into my mind. It allowed me to deny that it was my father doing this to me thus allowing me to hold onto my dad in my everyday life. As I spent 17 years perfecting this method of escape, in my adult life I still struggle to turn that off. I can remain totally detached from my body even now. As a matter of fact, that is easier for me than actually connecting with my body.
This disconnection does not remove the pain and even now I am capable of starving myself for days without even being aware I am hungry or upset. It usually takes my family to draw it to my attention and then I have to work really hard to do what should come naturally. I could go on and on with other ailments I continue to suffer with and all of them are the effects of childhood sexual abuse. I just want to provide a deeper understanding of how this crime effects its victims in bitesize pieces so hopefully you won’t find it too overwhelming. I am not filled with hate for sex offenders as I believe if they do not receive treatment this story will continue through further generations
I hope that after reading my story you have gained a better understanding of how difficult it is to live with the impacts of sexual abuse. The difficulty in gaining access to appropriate services that are both affordable and local only makes matters worse.
We will be asking for the following changes to be implemented by our legislators to ensure that the issues surrounding abuse are being tackled from all perspectives:
- Guidelines to ensure consistency in sentencing of all sex offenders.
- When sentencing, no consideration should be given to sex offenders for age, health or their standing in the community;
- It is highly offensive for victims to sit in court and listen to statements like, their abuser is an up-standing person in the community, or too old to be of any harm or too sick to be incarcerated.
- In cases of adult sexual offenders, entire suspended sentences should never be a consideration.
- This has happened on many occasions based on an assumption by the sitting Judge that the offender is too old or sick to be a danger to the community. The fact is pedophiles do not retire.
- If sentencing is to run concurrently the amount of charges must be considered and the sentence must be lengthened adequately to ensure justice is served;
- In my case my father received 7 x 7-year sentences to run concurrently. Now while I didn’t expect him to have to serve 50 years that was the sentence. Then to hear he was to serve 5 when remission was taken into account was like a kick in the teeth.
- Incentives for offenders including remission and or temporary release should to be linked to the offenders’ participation and engagement in an evidenced based treatment programme;
- Time is prison is supposed to be about rehabilitation so regardless of the time spent there it seems pointless not to have to undergo some form of healing or treatment programme. Anything other than that is simply kicking the problem down the road. Offenders will end up back on the street and remain a danger to the community.
- Treatment to be available to offenders both in prison and following their release, this will support their reintroduction into society and reduce the risk of reoffending;
- I am aware that many pedophiles have not acted on their sexual desires. However, they must remain silent or be ostracized by all. They should be free to speak out and get help. Let’s face the facts, where would they go?
- Provide specialised training for all those who come into contact with or are required to support victims of abuse (Judicial, Garda and frontline workers).
- Although there are exceptions to the rules many of the victims we speak to have had really bad experiences when disclosing about their abuse. Victims of abuse take responsibility for what happened to them. Speaking about it can feel more like a confession than a reporting of a crime. The taking of their statement must be handled sensitively and by properly trained gardai. The system currently often causes more damage by mishandling a situation. Appropriate training could prevent this.
- Expert witness to be called in all sexual abuse cases to ensure court understands victim behavior.
- Though not many sexual abuse cases make it to court, the case is often lost due to lack of understanding of how the victims has been impacted and their behavior, thinking and response can appear inappropriate if the impacts are not known. Understanding how the victim has been altered by the experience would make a huge difference in these cases.
- Provide free services for those who need support.
- Whilst attending the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, I literally worked to pay for counselling. This is not viable for many victims and needs to be addressed immediately. The fee should be subsidized by the state.
- Provide adequate funding to Rape Crisis Centres, One in Four and CARI not only to eliminate waiting lists but also fund the much-needed expansion of their services. DRCC have a waiting list of at least nine months for people to access their services. CARI have over 100 children on their waiting lists. One in Four are also struggling to meet the needs presented to them due to lack of funding.
- Funding the already struggling services will support them to reach more victims and eliminate their waiting list.
- Fund a second SAVI report so that accurate information is made available to assist the much-needed strategic planning, development and implementation of services for victims, their families and offenders.
- It is essential that we have the correct figures if the current services have to plan ahead. A plan needs to be in place for services to be available countrywide and the up to date information is needed for this to happen. Ignoring the problem does not make it go away
As my representative, I would be grateful if you would raise these issues at the earliest opportunity in the Dail and bring it to the attention of An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
I thank you for giving consideration to this issue and I look forward to hearing from you.