“There is this old belief that the monster hides in the shadow at the end of the alley way, but in reality they can be anywhere, and hurt you in anyway.”
“How would you describe yourself?” I ask her. “What words come to mind?”
She spoons sugar in to her tea and stirs. “I’m probably very irrational. Funny sometimes, quite intelligent, I think. Quite ordinary really. There’s nothing extraordinary or unordinary about me.”
“Why have you spoken to me today?”
“If they are anything like me, then they would blame themselves.” Lola (not her real name) embodies the attitude of some who are victims of sexual assault. “That took a long time for me to shake. Even five years later I still have days I think like that.”
“I never told anyone.” Lola says. “I felt ashamed. I went to the doctor the next day and told her I had lost my virginity, and I that needed the morning-after pill.” She takes a large breath. “And that’s when she asked me if I had been sexually assaulted. I remember there was a big gap in time where no one said anything. That’s then I told her no, I hadn’t. That’s probably one of my biggest regrets to this day.”
Many victims of sexual assault do not report their crimes, sometimes out of fear that they will not be believed, or even that telling anyone will not do any good. For some, like Lola, the fear becomes regret.
Superintendent John Ferris, who leads the Garda sexual assault division, recommends that those who experience sexual assault should “firstly seek medical advice”. Secondly, he says, victims should “contact the gardaí, report the matter to gardaí or report it to the Rape Crisis Centre, one of those people – but most definitely to report it. It’s part of the therapy of getting over these traumas: the fact of keeping it a secret it doesn’t aid recovery.”
Sexual assault has become a hot topic for many media outlets across the globe. The gang rape and murder of Delhi intern Jyoti Singh Pandey sparked global outrage, and she has since become a symbol of the need for public support of rape victims.
“I hate seeing the term ‘alleged rape’. I see it all the time, in newspapers, online,” Lola says. “The media are very careful, and sometimes I think it alienates people from coming forward. It’s alleged right, not a fact, it’s my word and to you this could possibly be made up. But this is my reality, you know? When I see ‘alleged’ I see ‘but could be lying’.”
The issue with reporting sexual assault, or even all crimes, is that it is technically an alleged crime until it is gone through the court system and provide otherwise. There is of course an awareness, especially in the media, as to how words can impact readers. Sexual assault is such a sensitive matter that the word ‘alleged’ might seem derogatory at times.
The term ‘rape culture’ is growing more and more prevalent. The main concern is the trend of ‘victim blaming’. In 2013, the Rape Crisis Centre in Ireland surveyed 571 sexual abuse victims who went to the Garda. Of that 571, 57% who filed the complaint with gardaí felt as though they were treated with sensitivity; 29% felt that they received neutral treatment; and the remaining 14% felt as though gardaí treated them in an insensitive manner.
This means as many as 80 victims felt that they were treated insensitively in 2013.
Lola took a moment to compose herself, and described her ordeal. “I was very drunk. I said no but that was about all I was able to do. At that time the definition of rape was widely seen as a fully conscious refusal, that could have even got violent. So I brushed this away as my fault. Next time don’t get so drunk, I would say to myself.” Even now Lola seemed a bit defeated with this statement, as though the words were a physical weight on her shoulders.
The Criminal Law (Rape) Amendment Act 1990 states that the person “guilty of rape under section 4 shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for life”. The Criminal Law (Rape) Act 1981 defines rape: “he has unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman who at the time of the intercourse does not consent to it” or “at that time he knows that she does not consent to the intercourse or he is reckless as to whether she does or does not consent to it”.
For Lola the gardaí were never involved. To this day only a couple of her closest friends and her boyfriend know. It took Lola a few years to tell anyone at all. “I didn’t want to upset my mum. She would have taken this the hardest. I never spoke about it, I had my mourning period, I thought I was okay. My logic was this: if I get upset about it, let it ruin my life, then he has won.
“And I didn’t want him to win, so I chose to brush it under the carpet.”
Advice from Lola
Support is available all around Ireland for those who have experienced sexual assault of any kind or degree. The Rape Crisis Centre has a hotline open 24 hours a day, and can provide help and information.
Lola wants to use her experience to help others. “I want to tell people to get help. I think admitting it took place and then working from that would have been the healthiest thing to do. And I know I sound like a hypocrite, but don’t hide it, it’s not healthy. My own mother doesn’t know this about me, and sometimes all I want to do is tell her now. Just remember you are strong, this is just one event in your life, don’t let it ruin your future.”
– Natasha Reis