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When Children at Risk in Ireland (CARI) got in touch with us some months ago and told us their waiting list was currently 5 years long, we were, as you can imagine, horrified. To think, any child who discloses they have been sexually abused are denied immediate help and support, is, and should be, shocking and abhorrent to everyone.  These are children ranging in ages from 3 to 12 years old.

Ireland has a history of failing to protect our children, yet we continue to stand by and watch those in positions of power, demonstrate that they have learnt nothing from the past.  These same officials are seen delivering apologies to victims’ way after the damage is done, followed closely with empty promises that they must not let the same thing happen again.  They have no difficulty finding millions to support war-torn Ukrainians, all the while ignoring the war being waged on innocent children in their own homes.

“How could we not get involved?”

Explaining that early intervention is vital to save a child victim of sexual abuse living a life filled with pain and suffering shouldn’t be necessary.  All we can do is tell you what we feel would have been different for us if organisations like CARI were around and accessible when we were children.  

Back then, they couldn’t have stopped the abuse, but they could have helped us understand its impacts, and why our thoughts, beliefs and behaviours were so damaging to ourselves and those around us as a direct result of the abuse.

One of the most important things we have come to understand as survivors of abuse, are the tools or techniques we used as children to survive the abuse, and the fact that using those techniques didn’t stop when the sexual abuse ended.  In fact, they became more complex and embedded in our personalities.

Because we were still mentally and physically developing, our response to the abuse was instinctual, borne out of fear and altering how we viewed ourselves and the world forever. These changes to our personalities had the potential to destroy us and became the very things that made moving forward almost impossible.

Disassociation is how we avoided feeling the full impacts of being raped. Although we each experienced dissociation, there were some experiences that were unique to each of us. June describes on a few occasions how the trauma was so overwhelming she would leave her body, describing floating over herself looking down on what was happening. Joyce would pick a spot on the wall and focus on that. Paula describes sitting in a darkened room in her mind until the abuse was over.

Disassociation helped us to not spend every waking moment thinking about the abuse. It forced us to live in the present. It wasn’t denial, but a coping mechanism. The past was painful, the future was fearful, so staying present gave us a form of escape from our feelings and protected us from going mad.

Disassociation numbed all our feelings, good and bad. Because the abuse happened around the age of 3-4 and went on for over a decade for each of us, dissociation became a way of being.  After the abuse ended, it was our norm, causing all sorts of relational issues and so, what saved us as children nearly destroyed us as adults.  If someone had explained to us the lasting damage that this particular technique does, and that the danger was over, and it was safe to leg go, how different our lives could have been.

Compartmentalisation describes how we stored the memories of our abuse. Because the levels of trauma involved were so great, the memories seemed to fragment and get stored in different parts of our minds. It was the body’s way of protecting us, sadly later in life this made uncovering the whole truth about what happened to us extremely difficult.  The age we were abused, and the details of the abuse were frustratingly difficult to recall. This is also why victims of abuse make really bad witnesses in court. They may recall only portions of memories and doubt themselves and think they are going mad.

Because we didn’t receive love and support as children and the fact that of our two main caregivers, our mother was emotionally unavailable, and our father sexually abused us, it was a natural progression for each of us to develop problems with making attachments. Attachment disorders developed causing each of us to struggle with trust and we were even unable to trust ourselves. We had no experience of what love looked or felt like and this made relationships very difficult.   There is just no way to avoid issues with sex and sexuality after sexual abuse. We suffered deeply with a lack of self-worth and self-hatred leading to long periods of depression and suicidal ideation.

In our experience, we did more damage with our warped views of ourselves and the world long after the abuse ended. If these thoughts and beliefs had been interrupted or challenged as children, who knows where our lives would have gone. But without support or help this became our truth as adults, the cycle continued to be passed down until we went seeking the answers ourselves.

These are just a few or the many conditions and disorder we developed as a result of being abused as children.  What we needed as children was someone to tell us we were innocent, we did nothing wrong, we were victims, and it was our father that had done wrong.

It is an absolute disgrace that thirty odd years after our case was in the courts we are still fighting for the protection of children. We believe it is imperative that a child who discloses sexual abuse be told how brave they are, that they did nothing wrong, that this should never have happened to them and that they are loved and will be protected.

“We believe it is imperative that a child who discloses sexual abuse be told how brave they are, that they did nothing wrong, that this should never have happened to them and that they are loved and will be protected.”

It is not rocket science. Children shouldn’t have to wait until they have messed up their lives to receive help. A child needs love. If after being abused, a child is left with only their own thoughts and underdeveloped emotional intelligence, there will not be a good outcome. People are so uncomfortable with this topic, and they just want it to go away. “It is not going away until we change how we respond to this crime.”

“It is not going away until we change how we respond to this crime.”

Our government’s response to not protecting children must be challenged. We must speak out if we are to ever see our children heal and grow into healthy, happy adults. They can’t do it without our help, so stand up, speak out, demand better because our children deserve better than this.

The Kavanagh Sisters – August 26th 2022

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