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Ireland is rife with sexual assault; and we need to talk about it

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by Ellie McCarthy.

Trigger Warning: sexual assault

I have a friend who is afraid to go to her local shop because her attacker works there. I have a friend that is scared to go back to college because her attacker goes there. I have a friend who moved schools because of what happened her. I have a friend who was telling me a “funny sex story” she had and after telling me, she realised it was assault.

A friend and I reconnected because she went through something traumatising and did not know who to turn to.  I have all these friends, and I am one of these friends. We must stop walking on eggshells when we aren’t the ones who did anything wrong.

I have always been told not to dwell on the past. But when the past does not let you sleep and makes you afraid to leave the house, then it is hard not to. Before my assault, I viewed life through rose-tinted glasses. I knew no one that had been assaulted at that time. It was only something that I had seen in movies. It was not until my rose-tinted glasses were removed forcibly and without my consent that I realised the harsh realities of what life had to offer.

After my assault, I went through the five stages of grief.

  1. Denial; It did not happen. I am reading into it too much. It is not a big deal.
  2. Anger; How dare he do that. How dare I let him get away with it. How dare the world be a place designed to hurt women.
  3. Bargaining; What if I did not go out that night? If only I went to the guards sooner.
  4. Depression; How can life ever be okay again after this? what is the point? I am damaged.
  5. Acceptance; It happened, and it does not define me. I will not let this get the better of me. I will do everything I can to recover.

Its only in the past few weeks of women sharing their stories that I realised I had been the victim to more than one assault.

The first time, I remember being 13 years old and someone groping my bottom. I was waiting in line to go to a disco. After that, I never went to another disco again.  No matter the extent of the attack, assault is assault. It has been over two years since my pleas of “no” and “stop” were last ignored. I think about it every day and unfortunately, I know it will be right there in the back of my mind, forever. I have many stories to tell and unfortunately so many women do too.

Being a victim of sexual assault is a life sentence for the victim and usually not for the perpetrator. Most survivors will never get justice for what happened and have to somehow be okay with that. This is while also preparing for if it to potentially happen again, because at some point it probably will.

So how can this be stopped? There is no 12-step programme to take. There is nothing to ensure that it will ever stop. But a good way to start is by ending the stigma surrounding it. “Sure, you must have done something to make him believe you wanted it.” It is harmful sentences like these which feed into the victim-blaming ideology. Women are never to blame. Even now, I am afraid that when people read this that they won’t believe me, and some probably won’t. People are all for you speaking your truth, as long as they agree with it.

Before I was assaulted, I always remembered thinking, “Yeah I’d fight them off and go to the guards if it ever happened.”

I never understood how people did not report assault until it happened me. You quickly realise the system is set up to defend the predators and not protect the victims. I did those things and neither worked. What I have learned in these past few years is that no-one truly understands what it is like unless they have been through it. So, I hope in a way that no-one does.

If by the end of reading this, you feel somewhat offended then you need to step back and look at yourself. Because if you are, then you are part of the problem.  If anything, you should feel angry that this is just how life is for women.

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