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Friday 29 September 2023 Dublin: 14°C
Sexual abuse 'Did I consent? I was just a little girl, but yes, I let it happen'
This is the story of a woman who did speak up about her abuse. But she wasn’t believed.

AT A TIME when women are asking to be believed when they disclose sexual harassment, rape and abuse, we hear from a woman who did speak up – and wasn’t believed. While her identity is known to, it is withheld here for legal reasons.

She recalls her journey through Ireland’s justice system as an alleged child sexual abuse victim – from braving the Garda station to realising ‘not guilty does not mean innocent’. 

My testimony was just of lifted nightdresses under musty duvet covers. My words described how in a small house with thin walls, I learned to stay quiet while he put his fingers inside me.

I learned, as a three- or four-year-old, how to masturbate someone years older than I was. As I got older, my head was pushed downwards to perform oral sex and I was eventually penetrated by his penis.

I also learned how to zone out until it was all over, to pretend I was asleep in the hope he would decide not to wake me. And I let it happen. I did what I was told. I didn’t scream or tell anyone. I just let it happen.

I felt guilty

People noticed I didn’t like him sometimes, but I tried to hide my feeling of disgust towards him and turned them in towards myself. I felt ashamed, guilty, angry at myself. I had let it happen, after all.

I didn’t run down to the Garda station one day. I disclosed what happened to my sister many times. I sent a message to my other brothers to warn them not to leave their children alone with him. There were family meetings, where it was decided to keep it within the family. My sister said they would deal with it and I trusted her.

I don’t know why my siblings were so against telling anyone outside the family. Maybe they were fearful of a scandal affecting their careers, of their reputations being ruined. Maybe they were so ashamed that their brother raped their little sister that they didn’t want anyone to know.

My siblings haven’t spoken to me since

When I heard that he was volunteering with children, I knew I had to do something myself and it was then I went to the Gardaí.

My brother was arrested and my siblings have not spoken to me since.

I was told that the DPP were careful about taking cases of historical sexual abuse, because they are notoriously hard to prove. Against the odds, we were given a date for court.

The actual process of going to court was horrific. Every ugly detail and minor indiscretion was used to discredit me. My dysfunctional family dynamic, drunken nights out, text messages and WhatsApps, school and medical records, counselling notes, the family photo album was paraded in front of 12 strangers. It is an ugly, ugly fight.

I had to tell a room full of strangers, with my own father scowling at me, my deepest, grossest secrets. Disgusting details I had tried to forget, that kept haunting me.

“I let it happen”

“Did I consent to this?”

“I was just a little girl, but yes, I let it happen.” I just felt empty, exposed and raw.

When the judge summed up all the evidence. There was no DNA, no CCTV, no witnesses for these unspeakable acts. He instructed them to deliberate. They did so; they returned a verdict of not guilty.

I was stunned because I am so sure of his guilt. I thought the truth would mean justice. It was unfair. It was unjust. It was wrong.

Justice is not always served

I’ve learned so much from this whole ordeal. I am almost proud of myself. I’ve learned that justice is not always served. I’ve learned that the bad guys sometimes win. I’ve learned that not guilty does not mean innocent.

But the most the most important thing I’ve learned that you must talk about it to be able to heal. My biggest fear for over 20 years was that someone would find out what happened; now, I’ve learned that the more I speak about it, the lighter I feel. The shame and guilt that burdened me for as long as I can remember is now off my shoulders. I have done everything in my power to protect any other potential victim.

So if anyone is burdened with something similar, just tell someone. If they don’t listen, tell someone else. And if they don’t listen, tell someone else. Keep telling someone until you are heard.

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