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Niamh Cosgrave

'I knew if I went back into that bedroom, I might not come out of it alive'

Niamh Cosgrave, Hepatitis C campaigner and former politician, has shared her story of a violent attack in her French home.

NIAMH COSGRAVE HEPATITIS C VICTIMS PORTRAIT LANDSCAPE File photo from 2002 of Niamh Cosgrave. Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

A FORMER SENATOR has shared her story of the horrific sexual violence she experienced at her home in a quiet French town, and the lasting effect it had on her.

Niamh Cosgrave is known for casting her anonymity aside and speaking out after she discovered she had been infected with Hepatitis C through a contaminated Anti-D blood product in one of the biggest health scandals in the history of the State.

After her marriage broke down, and she was experiencing the side-effects of the condition, the former Fine Gael politician relocated to a quiet village in France in 2007.

Today she told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke of the night her peaceful new life in Chef-Boutonne was torn apart.

She awoke to tap on her shoulder, and assuming it was her pet Cocker Spaniel, she thought nothing of it.

“I turned around and felt a hand on my head, and my head was pushed down.”

All I could see tracksuit bottoms and a pair of runners, so I automatically assumed this was a child… but then, he made some gestures which led me to believe that yes, I was in serious trouble here.

Niamh tried to stall the man, first asking for a cigarette, and then by asking to go to the bathroom.

“I thought if I go back down into that bedroom, I mightn’t come out of it. I went to run, and he turned around, and he broke my jaw.”

Niamh struggled with the man, fighting to get away, but he dragged her back to her bedroom, and raped her repeatedly.

“At one stage I tried to lean over, because a photo of my children was on the bedside locker, to turn the photo down. I felt they were in the room with me… I felt humiliated and I felt disgusted. I tried to turn that photo down, and he said don’t bother, you’ll never see them again.”

The amount of violence was horrific. I no longer felt any pain, it was like I was looking at a horror film.

“The only thing I could do was pretend to be dead.”

The man eventually left, but Niamh feared he would return. After lying in the bed silently, she dragged herself to a phone and called the police.

The Gendarmerie arrived, sealed off the house and prepared to have Niamh rushed to hospital.

From the minute I arrived at that hospital, and I saw that wonderful gendarme dressed from head to toe in uniform, and he just said ‘Yes, we are going to ask you do some examinations, and we are going to catch that man’,  I felt safe and I felt secure.

Police were soon able to identify the man, who lived locally.

Every resident was warm and welcoming, Niamh said, where doors are left unlocked and people don’t knock – “This is a town where they rear your children with you”.

She said the vast majority were supportive of her, but there were some – including some of her friends and family at home in Ireland – who were led to believe the attack was a sex game gone wrong.

The man is thought to have seen Niamh while she was volunteering with the Red Cross in the town, where she worked at a food bank.

Christian Gladieux had several previous convictions for sexual offences, and he was taken into custody once DNA tests were completed. He admitted the rape but denied the violence.

While Niamh was still recuperate in hospital, this news came through.

They said to me, which I thought was quite touching, we’ll be leaving at 12 o’clock, but we will have to pass by the hospital to bring him before the judge. If you sit out on the balcony, we’ll get the sirens going and you can wave bye-bye to him.

“I thought that was a really, really lovely gesture, because they did that for me, I could hear the sirens, and I knew he was going away.”

Gladieux was sentenced earlier this year to 18 years in prison, plus another ten with an electronic tag, and must check in with police every week.

Even after the attack, Niamh experienced some symptoms such as post-traumatic stress, and had to leave supermarkets twice due to sudden flashbacks, as well as crippling panic attacks.

“I got wonderful help from the Rape Crisis Centre here in Ireland, I rang them,” Niamh said.

“My God, they let me talk, talk talk.”

Irish accent

“The centre, both here and in France, were absolutely fantastic, but the reason I contacted the Rape Crisis Centre in Ireland was I wanted an Irish accent.”

Niamh was finally able to stand up to her attacker during the trial in February:

“I just had to turn around, and point at him, and just look him in the eye and say, ‘The gendarmes lied, they said you didn’t rob anything. You came into my home, you raped me, you beat me up, and you terrorised me, but when you left my home, you walked away with my humanity and my dignity.

That’s when he looked away, and I cannot the describe the immense feeling of power that gave me.

Published 6.54pm

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