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 June 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 we really appreciate how the politicians respected and backed public opinion. Many of you felt that through listening to individual stories you 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 I feel very passionately that the crime of childhood sexual abuse and all sexual crimes against girls and women stem from a cultural paradigm of male misogyny and male supremacy. This is doing so much harm to our country.
These are changing times we are living in and I am hopeful, given our recent achievements around the LGBT marriage and repeal of the eight referendums that Ireland could be world leaders in tackling a crime no one else appears ready or able to deal with. I believe that once politicians are in possession of all the information around this crime and its impacts, they 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 was groomed from birth and raped from the age of four up until my late teens by my father on an almost daily basis. I had to keep this a secret, which resulted in a very lonely childhood. I felt I couldn’t let anyone get too close. I couldn’t cope with any form of attention as it threatened my ability to keep my secret, so I tended to feel most comfortable blending in to the background. I spent a lot of time feeling confused and I found school to be a terrifying experience. I now understand that I used every ounce of energy to simply survive each day which meant there was nothing left for anything else.
Trust was very difficult for me. This sounds like an obvious impact given the fact that it was my father that abused me, but not only did I have trouble trusting others, I couldn’t even trust myself. I often thought that if my own father could do this to me there must be something fundamentally wrong with me.
I didn’t understand What was happening to me and I hadn’t got the language or understanding to explain what I was feeling as I was so young and by the time I was old enough to know what was happening I thought I was part of the problem. I was conditioned and brainwashed to be exactly what he wanted me to be. I was institutionalized and sheltered. This resulted in me always feeling on the outside of everything. I never felt I belonged anywhere but at home where the abuse was happening. Although this sounds wrong. It was familiar, I knew what to expect.
During the rapes, I would focus on a spot on the wall until it was over. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, this was one of the coping mechanisms that got me through the abuse and enabled me to return to whatever activity I was doing before being summoned to be raped. What I was doing while staring at a spot on the wall was getting through an intolerable situation by denying, pushing down and removing myself from the awful reality of the situation. Although this technique worked for me in the moment, all those emotions where not gone. They were merely postponed until my mental and physical health were at breaking point.
When the abuse ended in my late teens, it should have been the beginning of a healing period in my life but instead it was when things got far worse. With the fear removed of the almost daily rapes, I now began to internalize all the impacts of the abuse. As I had no former experience or identity to recall, I had to assume I was bad or at fault in some way. Because of all the psychological damage, disclosing this crime feels more like a confession and is why it can take so long to come forward. There was no one to discuss this with and keeping the secret was a way of life now. I wasn’t even sure If I was a victim. The voice in my head was not my friend. I was so badly damaged in my thinking that I could never reach a place where I didn’t feel bad, dirty or ugly, so I would do the only thing I knew…. Push down my feelings and deny, deny, deny.
I spent my entire life hating myself, feeling responsible and believing that I was bad. I hated my body, I felt dirty and smelly all the time and as I approached puberty I put on a lot of weight to try to remain safe. I rebelled against the powerlessness of it all and became very mouthy. I was so insecure with a mixture of stubborn false pride. These were all the traits I thought would protect me from ever being hurt and felt powerful. I was desperately trying to matter. I was terrified of sex because I was disillusioned with life and I didn’t want to be pregnant. I saw no evidence of women being happy and I saw motherhood as another trap to keep us tied down. I still didn’t let anyone close and so I had one friend growing up and until I met my husband at age 26, never had a real relationship. I brought all my pain and insecurities with me and put my husband through the wringer to prove to me that he loved me. I was desperately lonely when I met my husband and fell madly in love with him. It wasn’t long before we had issues with sex and although I have done a lot of work on myself, sex has and continues to be an issue and has caused untold hardship to our relationship.
It can feel very frustrating when trying to describe how the abuse impacted me and my life and words feel inadequate. Because there are no visible scars on my body and the fact that this crime by its nature has no witnesses, I worry no one really understands the enormity of the impacts of childhood sexual abuse. After years of trying and succeeding in putting the trauma of the being raped by my father behind me, the psychological damage is what causes most of the problems but takes years to even arrive at a place where you can look at these issues. In list form, these are some of the impacts of being abused by my father, self-hatred, poor self-esteem, fear of everything but especially sex, complex PTSD, Stockholm syndrome, social anxiety, huge anger issues, trust issues, depression, anxiety, eating disorder, alcohol abuse, excessive smoking, no confidence, attachment disorder, difficulty making friends, suicidal ideation, extreme loneliness, insomnia, self-conscious in the extreme. I always believed I was stupid, had no confidence, no feeling of self-worth.
Myself and my sisters have written two books, one about our childhood called ‘Click, Click,’ and a second book called ‘Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse’ which is designed to help people overcome the impacts of abuse. We do know how fortunate we are to have helped each other get through the many impacts of this heinous crime. We also know that there are many others not so lucky. This, we believe is a tragedy and is why we are so driven to provide the help we couldn’t access when we were in our worst place. Sexual abuse is unique in so far as the victim takes on responsibility, guilt and shame for a crime they did not commit. I would like to take this opportunity to challenge all politicians to read both our books and then consider if they are doing everything they can to help eradicate or tackle this crime.
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 make 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;
- In cases of adult sexual offenders, entire suspended sentences should never be a consideration.
- If sentencing is to run concurrently the amount of charges must considered and the sentence must be lengthened adequately to ensure justice is served;
- 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;
- 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;
- Provide specialised training for all those who come into contact with or are required to support victims of abuse (Judicial, Garda and frontline workers).
- Expert witness to be called in all sexual abuse cases to ensure court understands victim behavior.
- Provide free services for those who need support.
- 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.
- 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.
As my local 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.