The ‘before’ and the ‘after’ outcomes of a sexual attack

On a personal level, I’m finding reports relating to the shocking scale of sexual violence being perpetrated against women across this country to be extremely disturbing. I mention this on foot of last week’s court ruling whereby a jury found three men guilty of raping a teenager. A fourth was found guilty of sexual assault, and a fifth pleaded guilty to the rape prior to the trial beginning.

  My reference to finding the reports extremely disturbing are representative of my own feelings, (as a survivor of rape), and I’m not for one moment suggesting that anyone who has experienced a sexual attack or a level of sexual abuse should be, or would be, equally disturbed. I’m simply trying to provide an insight into how the details of this latest incident have impacted on me.

  Known as the Midlands rape trial, this horrific crime made headlines across the country. It occurred in the small hours of a dark December morning, two days after Christmas Day of 2016. Following what was probably a great St Stephen’s night out in Tullamore, County Offaly, a then 17-year-old – separated from her pals – made what she herself describes as a ‘stupid and snap decision’ to get into a car containing five men.  Rather than assisting this young woman, the men instead took advantage of her appeal for help, thus rendering upon her an experience so horrific and so depraved it will possibly serve to change the entire course of her adult life and her future.

  Described by Noeline Blackwell, CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, as “the stuff of nightmares” – and she is perfectly correct – the case took over five agonising years to come to trial, rendering this young lady’s happy night out with friends to become consigned to a tragic story of ‘before and after’.

  ‘Before’ she was a happy-go-lucky, carefree, easy-going teenager with her entire life ahead of her. ‘After’ she asked for that lift and this gang of savages took her request to mean she wanted something she didn’t. ‘After’ she begged them to stop and they wouldn’t, forcing themselves on her anyway. ‘After’ she probably spends her days trying to stifle the emotional pain. You get my drift.

  But let me tell you readers, the nightmares of which Ms. Blackwell speaks don’t just occur when a survivor tries to sleep. They can occur at any time. Feelings of vulnerability, distress, anxiety, fear – and yes, even feelings of guilt and shame – can occur in the fruit and veg aisle of a supermarket. They can occur in a chair at the hair salon, or when the scent of a certain aftershave wafts by. They can even occur, (in my experience), nearly 20 years later in a crowded room when an acquaintance gets blind drunk, sidles up close to you, and maliciously mentions ‘the incident’, making you relive it over and over again.

  Yes folks, survivors will tell you there’s always an individual who insists on justifying the rapist’s actions. There’s always someone who, because they’re in denial, will lay the blame firmly at the victim’s door. In this young lady’s case, that denier appears to be the father of one of the perpetrators who, in an attempt (I’d imagine) to try shift the blame from his son, alleged he ‘saw a girl in the car and didn’t see her trying to get out’. If ever there was a classic example of using someone’s behaviour to victim-blame them, that comment has got to be it! Why? Because for me, it serves as a way of eviscerating this young lady for having the temerity to go out that night, to consume alcohol, to have fun, to become separated from her pals  and to place her trust in a gang, who, rather than see her safely home, raped and abused her.

  This type of ignorant, ‘ah but did it really happen?’ attitude is shockingly common and re-traumatising for survivors who need to be heard, who need to be believed and who need to have actions taken that reflect the gravity of their traumatic experiences. This young lady was in no way complicit, nor did her actions to ask for a lift or her alleged failure to try to get out of the car provoke this gang of perverts to rape and sexually assault her.

   I have no doubt in my mind that everyone who truly knows and loves this beautiful young lady – this survivor – will be able to pinpoint that rape as being the exact second she folded in on herself and stopped laughing, stopped making jokes, stopped going out.  Indeed, I imagine that because she barely considers herself to be the same ‘before’ person, she may now, almost six years on in the ‘after’ have changed her physical appearance and her overall outlook on life.

  It took enormous strength for her to report this crime, and while what happened to her may have changed the direction her life took, (what happened to me changed mine), I hope she manages to find some solace in knowing that by sharing her experience, other survivors will become able to share theirs.

  This young lady needs to realise she is still very much ‘herself’. Her personhood very much matters, and she alone, (not her rapists) has the power to define her future. Whatever and however this crime perpetrated against her has affected her, she is not just a survivor, she remains, in the ‘after’, to be exactly the same beautiful soul her family and friends loved, adored and respected in the ‘before’. I wish her peace.

Our government’s dysfunctionality comes right from the top!

When will this Government figure it out? When will they learn from past mistakes? First we had the bickering, eye-poking and hair-pulling regarding the way in which judges are appointed following the Séamus Woulfe controversy.

  We also had the Katherine Zappone ‘Merriongate’ farce regarding her UN special envoy role, with terms like ‘makey-uppy’ and ‘cronyism’ trending on social meeja!

  Oh, and who could forget the ‘top civil servant’  Robert (the man who gets things done) Watt’s scandalous fourth salary hike at a time when we, the hoi polloi, are being forced to make choices between eating or heating, effectively worrying more about paying bills than catching Covid!

  Now we have the backlash around outgoing chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan’s ‘secondment’ to Trinity College and the contention regarding taxpayers’ money being used to fund his annual €187k salary, as he, er, how did the sales pitch go…oh yeah…expands his ‘breadth of public health knowledge in the country’.

  Given all of the above, (and these are only the fizz-ups we’ve heard about), it’s now abundantly clear to me that this government’s dysfunctionality comes right from the top! If FF/FG/the GP continue to disrespect us as valuable voters, and repeatedly fail to deliver the high standards expected of them, (I mean they’re not even providing us with the bare basics, are they?), then we need to tell them slán with immediate effect!

Would you allow your kid to take responsibility for their own education?

Take responsibility for your own learning, identify your strengths and weaknesses and set out your own plan that focuses on your specific skills…said no parent to their child ever!!! Why? Because it’s ridiculous for any parent to think they can trust that eight-year-old who shares a piece of re-chewed toffee with a kid with a cough – during a pandemic – who picks their nose and wipes it on their shirt sleeve to be in charge of their own learning!

  I nearly choked on my coffee when I heard a mother and her son being interviewed on Ireland AM regarding the so-called ‘learning without limits’ strategy at a Sudbury School in the southwest of the country!

  Basically, (and I stand corrected), this method of teaching involves a number of students ranging from ages 5 to 18 mixing together in a no curriculum, no homework, no rules system run by, wait for it…staff in a ‘mentoring role’. These ‘mentors’ don’t ‘necessarily have to have a teaching degree,’ but they’ll allow your darlings to ‘self-direct’! Bless.

  Seriously? Have some parents deluded themselves into believing that ‘alternative’ learning initiatives – which are not recognised by the Department of Education – are going to fully academically prepare their kids for life?

  I’m all for teaching/encouraging kids to become independent, to participate in family decisions and to make their own choices regarding their lifestyle and their future etc., but aren’t these directives best delivered using a structured and loving educational approach as opposed to what appears to be a free-for-all, scatter-brained-hippy-dippy, quixotic and edutopian perspective?