At times the whole area of sexual abuse is very difficult to work in…as a group of people we have been deeply wounded and our trust wholly betrayed. So often all we can see in any relationship is further betrayal, further abuse and hurt. We are deeply suspicious of the motives of those who claim to want to help us, often with good reason, but lets face it, we are often deeply suspicious of everyone…including others who have themselves been abused.
This means that we can sometimes attack first and ask questions later, sometimes, in an attempt to protect ourselves we can hurt others. Just because we have been victims, just because we are survivors doesn’t mean we cant get things wrong, be unreasonable or even, at times, abusive ourselves. I know I have certainly hurt others, attacked them, pushed them away and blamed them unfairly for what I perceived to be true…that perception was sometimes based more on past experience of abuse than on the reality of the situation I was then dealing with. I was so frightened, so suspicious and so expected to be hurt that I didn’t question what has happening and my responses to it, I didn’t check it out, I didn’t try to engage with the other, I simply blamed them and then either attacked them or ran.
It seems to me that as a community, survivors are inclined to do that to each other. I have seen it both in the UK and now in Ireland. We establish hierarchies based on perceived scales of abuse, often dismissing others because their abuse experience, in our opinion, was less “serious” than ours. We deny the depth of their pain, their trauma and attack them for taking away our spotlight, our territory. It’s so sad and so despairing to see. The truth for me is that no one has a monopoly on pain and suffering, no one can say that their abuse was worse than someone else’s…and why would they want to anyway? What difference does it make to my experience to know that someone else abuse was either less or more serious in some way? If I fall down the stairs and break my arm and you fall down behind me and break both arms does my one broken arm hurt less because you now have two broken…or does your two hurt any more because I only broke one? My pain is my pain, yours is yours and we may well share much in our individual experiences. Equally there will be significant differences. Lets support each other in the exploration of and recovery from those experiences. Lets move this issue forward together. We won’t always agree, we won’t always get along, but let’s talk and see where we get. Let’s put our efforts together regardless of whom we were abused by, where we were abused and how we were abused. We have all had to endure suffering in isolation for so long. Its time to end that for once and for all.
The ONLY reason that we have seen any change in Irish society in relation to sexual abuse is because those who were subject to that abuse spoke out. It has only been because of the courage and strength of the many people who have broken silence in Ireland over the past 15 years that anything has changed. It started with the Brendan Smith case, then the victims of institutional abuse told their horrific stories and Ireland was shamed into action. In many ways little has happened and the response has been inadequate. The voices of individuals like Christine Buckley, John Kelly, Paddy Doyle and many others have forced Ireland to face its past. Groups like Right of Place, SOCA, The Aislinn Centre and many others have battled long and hard. Many people who thought this was the beginning of the end to their suffering have been failed. Many have died as they waited for justice and others will die before there is any real response, any real justice.
If we are to see real change, real progress we must work together to achieve it. We must be part of the solution…not just because we have a right to but also because we have so much to offer. We can achieve much together, but only if we can find ways to work together. The first step has to be a commitment to that relationship. It has to begin with respecting each other, with recognising that we are all likely to get it wrong sometimes and that if we do, that doesn’t make us abusive or corrupt, it makes us human. In the past week I have received e-mails from people who have spoken of pretty unpleasant rumours and untruths about people who are attempting to find some way through this mess. Accusations of corruption, deceit and betrayal have been levelled at individuals who have sought to find a way to work through their own experiences by being part of the solution. Perhaps a better way to deal with such concerns would be to engage with those with whom we disagree. By talking, by expressing our concerns we can then inform what’s happening rather than simply heckling from the sidelines.
I do not always agree with everything that other survivors say, at times I feel that we can be pretty abusive to each other, at times I feel that the approach that others have taken has added to the problem rather than sought to resolve it. That, however, is only my opinion and I may well be wrong. In fact I am certain that in some ways I am. What I am prepared to be however is wrong. I am prepared to talk things over and to be informed and have my opinions changed by talking with others with differing views. Actually I believe that this is essential. I believe that if I cannot engage in dialogue with others I will fail to understand the broader picture, I will remain ignorant and closed to new awareness and new understanding.
My hope for this coming year is that the Survivor community in Ireland can come together more fully and support and inform each other in our work. It will be tragic if we end up fighting each other rather then the system that so failed each and every one of us.