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 Shaneda Daly and I am writing to you as part of the ‘Count Me In! campaign’ (Survivors of Sexual Abuse Standing Together for Change).
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’m supporting this campaign as the time for change needs to happen in relation to people speaking out with no shame about their sexual abuse. The whole campaign for the 8th amendment inspired me and the people who spoke out with their stories on such a sensitive subject were so brave and accepted by many who had never looked at another person’s story. People sat back and listened. I personally know that from speaking out about child abuse that it helps people. In the past 7 years I have spoken to 100s of abuse victims and learned the difficulty it causes in families and the lack of support there is. Months on waiting lists in the services that are available to victim’s. It’s still seen as shameful as victims feel they can’t talk to people about their pain.
I am hoping that by sharing my story you will have a deeper understanding of the issues I face as a result of the abuse I suffered. 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 sexually abused by my father from 4 to 17. My whole childhood was a nightmare. He was physically and mentally abusive also. I lived in constant fear of him. I never had a moment’s peace, as he seemed to be everywhere. He would unlock bathroom doors, be in my bedroom, get me to go on drives with him. In my local town of Shannon many of the tourist spots and places children like to go in adventures are places that I was raped. Even a simple task of going to collect my brother from scouts meant sexual abuse to me.
Everyone in our neighbourhood thought well of my father. Imagine, I went to 6 different primary schools so never had time to get to trust anyone. I finally got to have real friend’s once we settled in Shannon when I was 11. This is also when the abuse stepped and became an every day ordeal. Most days it was at least 3 times. I suffered terrible anxiety as a child as I never had peace in my life. The abuse stopped the day I moved out of home in the middle of the night at 17.
I went on to have my own children and left the abuse in the back of my mind. I had 3 children and life was nice. Until my father sexually assaulted me when I was 26. The effects from this attack brought so much heartache and trauma into my life and it cost me my ten-year relationship.
I went on to meet another man a year and a half later and we had 2 children. Another happy relationship. Until I found out my father had touched my daughters breast when she was 14. This was one of the most traumatic events in my life. Not only had he abused me but now thought he was going to do the same to my daughter. Not a hope. I pressed charges. Finally, my daughter knew why I had stalked her life. She had till that moment just thought I was too strict and at times hated me.
After making my statement it was horrific. My partner tried so hard to be understanding but I had no interest in anything sexual after making my statement.
I was one of the lucky ones whose court case was a year after making my statement. My father was charged with 227 sample charges.100 of rape alone. While the judge gave him 10 years for sexual assault 10 years for indecent assault and 15 years for rape they were all to be concurrent. So he got 15 years ,5 suspended for his guilty plea and he is out this November when he will have served just 7 and a half years. It does not seem very much when you stand back and look at the damage done.
The whole court process was frightening to me as I didn’t understand a word that was being said. That is something I passionately want to change and some kind of process before and during the courts that victims get some kind of information.
So, after my father was sentenced I split with my partner as I was traumatised by the whole experience. I would receive nothing but abuse from most of my mother’s family. Even though my father had pleaded guilty I was the one disowned and verbally and emotionally abused, and my mother still stands by her man. I went on to become so depressed at one stage I could not leave my house for a year and a half. I had to go to court in a custody battle over 2 of my children and sit there while judge stated that he would make no differentials to us as parents as we both loved our children unquestionably but seen as I needed services in the mental health department the children should reside with their father.
This was my breaking point. I would spiral into darkness. I was diagnosed with depression, agoraphobia and panic disorder with anxiety attacks. I withdrew from everyone and my eldest children would see suffering they I hope they will never again experience in their lives.
At some stage 2 years ago, I started to take control of my life and myself some other abuse victims met and the Survivors side by side Facebook page was set up.
It’s an amazing page that we all talk to each other and it’s a lovely safe informative place to come and chat. I’ve personally met a lot of people in person and if anyone is in a bad place I will have text and phone call contact with them.
The most common problem is family rejecting the victim and in more than 50% of people’s stories their mother is standing by the abuser.
I now run a support group in limerick and there is another support group in Kilkenny and one in Thurles ran by 2 other abuse victims and when I get a chance I do one in Dublin. We are looking to expand in different counties in Ireland in the next 2 years.
The other problem that is highlighted is shame. Shame because no one wants to acknowledge that sexual abuse has taken place. I’m a very open person and I share my story all the time. I do it to help others and I tell them there is no need to feel shame as they done nothing wrong.
Irish society needs to change. It has to be acknowledged that 1 million people are affected by abuse in Ireland. It’s now my passion in life to help others have their voice and to try and make difference with things that are wanted and needed by abuse victims.
This campaign is strong, it’s goals are real and it’s time that someone made a difference.
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;
- 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 to reduce the length of sentence, any 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 in to 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 representative, I would be grateful if you would raise these issues at the earliest opportunity in the Dáil 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.