A Surge of Pain

Image result for woman in labour

 

I’ve written before about language, birth, and women survivors of child sexual abuse. I’ve mentioned how words matter, and certain words are very upsetting for those of us with a history of child sexual abuse.

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of sitting with a pregnant woman and her husband. As a survivor herself of child sexual abuse and multiple rapes in her teens (sadly, revictimisation is a phenomenon that is not uncommon), she’s doing all she can to prepare herself for her impending birth. Part of that preparation included having a chat with me. We spoke about language and how words matter in labour. She used the word ‘surges’ and I had a reaction to it that I didn’t quite understand. Until now.

 

‘Surges’ is a word that is used to describe uterine contractions in labour. It was popularised by Ina May Gaskin and adopted by many in the birth community in the past few decades. It is deemed more ‘positive’ than using ‘contractions’, and sold as a reframing of the pain of labour, and it’s never sat comfortably with me. Here’s why:

As abused women, we had our experiences – our lived, physical, experiences – ‘reframed’ by our abusers. They would touch us and say things like ‘That’s nice, isn’t it?’, ‘You like that, don’t you?’, ‘I would never hurt you,’ etc.  Their words were incongruent with our experiences and that – in and of itself – is damaging and needs work to undo. Telling abused women that calling contractions by another name will make them a more positive experience isn’t helpful. For the vast majority of women, labour hurts. That’s the bald truth of it. The extent to which it hurts, and how we deal with the pain, is individual. Personally, viewing labour pain as ‘pain with a purpose’ helped me. It wasn’t like a migraine (migraines are more painful), where pain doesn’t produce anything except more pain for at least 24 hours.

I think that midwives and doulas working with women who have a history of abuse might want to discuss the merit of using ‘surges’ instead of ‘contractions’ with their clients. Then, the women themselves should use the word that suits them best;that they are most comfortable with.

Labour hurts, and it doesn’t do women who have experienced abuse any good to tell them otherwise. What is helpful is talking about how to get through the pain, how to be present for it, and how the best thing about labour is that it ends. And that it ends with a baby in your arms. The wonderful woman I met with earlier this week also made the point that there is a difference between ‘pain’ and ‘harm’. As abuse survivors, we associate pain in our bodies with (often long-term) harm, yet the pain of contractions is not harmful, and reminding ourselves of that can be hugely helpful in getting through it while still remaining present, grounded, and participative in our own labours.

Not Consent – Exhibition

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Today, the third of the sixteen days of activism to combat violence against women and girls, I’d like to draw your attention to an exhibition that is taking place from tomorrow (Wednesday, 28th) until Sunday (December 2nd).

Called ‘Not Consent’ – as a direct reference to the recent rape trial in Cork where a pair of knickers similar to those worn by the victim (not, as was reported, her actual underwear, because the Gardaí were unable to find them) were shown to the jury with the clear message that there is a certain type of clothing that intimates that a woman wants to have sex with anyone, anywhere.

Victims of sexual abuse are sick of the victim blaming, which is a huge part of the rape culture within which we operate in this country. We are fed up of being told that what we do (or don’t) wear contributes to our being assaulted. We reject, categorically, any and all such suggestion. To that end, Ruth Maxwell, Priscilla Grainger, Shaneda Daly, and myself, are organising an event to highlight that women and men are assaulted regardless of what they are wearing. Clothes don’t rape people. Rapists rape people.

Please, if you can, pop along to Street 66 from 6pm tomorrow. Further details of the event are here.

It Takes A Village (To Abuse A Child)

It takes a village

CONTENT WARNING: Child Sexual Abuse, Incest, Incompetent Agencies, Child Neglect

In much the same way as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse a child, as well. It takes adults in positions of trust and authority to turn a blind eye. It takes people who have concerns not to voice those concerns. It takes family members who have a feeling something is wrong to do nothing about those concerns. It takes professionals who know based on information they are presented with, and privilege to have, to do nothing with this information. It takes people who know the child is not lying to intimidate, and (attempt to) silence that child. Even when that child becomes an adult (as is the case for many adult survivors of child sexual abuse).

For me, my family was the first site of abuse: I was sexually abused by my father, Christy Talbot, and my two elder brothers, Nigel Talbot and Cormac Talbot.  Sexual abuse was a part of my life in the home from the time I was three until I was 19.  I was sexually assaulted (up to, and including oral, anal, digital, and vaginal rape), by one or other – sometimes more than one – of these males up to five days/nights a week when they were living under the same roof as I.

With apologies to Tolstoy, each dysfunctional family is dysfunctional in its own way, but a  hallmark of all dysfunctional families is that it is static. A static family dynamic means that in order to ‘protect’ and preserve the family norms, each member must resume the role assigned to them when the family is together.  To people who were not raised in toxic, dangerously dysfunctional, abusive families, this may seem bizarre, but collusion is very important to the family members who so collude because it means:

  • They don’t have to confront their own part in the abuse – for example, my mother does not have to deal with the fact that she took, and continues to take, the side of the abusers (my father and brothers) over the side of the abused (me)
  • No confrontation of their own possible abuse – I was not the only one in the family who was sexually abused, although my abuse was the most severe. If they refuse to admit that I was abused, then my abused siblings don’t have to deal with the fact that they were, too. Their ideas of who they are remains unchallenged because they are not confronting all of their own realities and histories
  • They don’t need to seek help for their own psychological disorders / mental health difficulties. By continuing to deny that they were were abused, that they abused, and / or that they facilitated abuse means my siblings and extended family members do not have to work on their own healing. This is hard, ugly, work and not everyone is able to – or wants to – commit to it. 
  • Their childish view of people as binary – ‘good’ or ‘bad’ remains unconfronted – casting people as either heroes or villains, rather than looking at their complexities, allows my family to cast themselves as ‘heroes’ and me as a ‘villain’. They think that, because there are so many of them, and only one of me, they must be right, and I must be wrong. But – remember Galileo?!
  • Appearances are kept up – for narcissists (like my mother), this is hugely important. When all that matters is what other people think, cruelty to your own children is an acceptable trade-off to keep up appearances. Their health and well-being can easily be sacrificed on the altar of public opinion, if the opinion will view you favourably.

Collusion within the family was aided by collusion on the part of clergy, medics, social workers, and the psychiatrist I was sent to in St Louise’s Unit in Our Lady’s Hospital in Crumlin. As you can see from this document there were a whole slew of people having meetings about me – but none of them (save Imelda Ryan) ever actually met me. Highlights from this ‘Case Conference Report’ make the following observations: 

  • This is a very disturbed Family who need (sic) help – That help was never provided.
  • They are all under enormous strain, and playing very dangerous games – This is not elaborated on, and there is no indication what the ‘dangerous games’ were, or why the vulnerable children (of which I was one) were removed. 
  • The Gardaí will have to be involved – to try to maintain a control over the family – the Gardaí were never involved until I went to them as an adult. 
  • Joint interview to be arranged – Rosemary being present to obtain an objective sense of the situation – Rosemary was, apparently my social worker. I never met her. 

 

Mind you,  according to her LinkedIn profile, Rosemary is still in practice. Maybe I should contact her and ask her if she’s actually learnt how to do her job in the intervening years.  

 

Imelda Ryan – who is so incompetent and ignorant with regard to the effects of child sexual abuse, and how it presents that she is a real danger to children – was appointed to TUSLA’s National Review Panel. (I’ll have more to say about her and it at a later stage.) 

 

Given that child sexual abuse is endemic in Irish society, those of us who value children and want what’s best for them need to step up and speak out. Every child is the responsibility of every adult. Children are not (just) our future. They are our present – they are their own future. We, as adults, need to treat them as the precious beings they are and be the village they need to support them, to nourish them, to ensure that they are provided with what they need to thrive and reach their potential. Ignoring their pain, colluding to keep them in sites of abuse is a far cry from being that village. 

 

Uninvited Women

The Uninvited Women.png

Today – International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – marked the publication of the first edition of the Uninvited Women Journal. I was thrilled to have a piece in it, which is reproduced below. The other contributions were written by inspiring women from diverse backgrounds and cultures. I encourage you to follow the link above, and read their stories.

VICTIM BLAMING, SHAME, AND MALE ENTITLEMENT: HOW THEY CONTRIBUTE TO A RAPE CULTURE IN IRELAND.

Like any culture, rape culture is a collection of elements. Three of these elements are victim blaming, male entitlement, and shame. The latter foisted on the shoulders of the victim, not the perpetrator. Victim blaming occurs when individuals blame elements of the victim’s behaviour to hold the victim at least partially responsible for their own assaults. It is often maintained by strong religious ideology. Shame, as an emotion, is socially constructed, and intertwined with disgust: The origins of disgust can be traced back to when our cave sisters and brothers rejected toxic foods because they triggered a sense of disgust. As human beings became more sophisticated, we projected our sense of disgust at certain actions and behaviours onto the actors of those actions and behaviours – creating shame within them.

Shame, then, has become linked to the idea of ‘normality’ and ‘acceptability’. I believe we need a cultural sea of change so that the disgust we feel at crimes of sexual violence is directed towards the perpetrators, rather than their victims.

Male Entitlement. Entitlement is an unhealthy personality trait that can lead to greed, aggression, a lack of forgiveness, hostility, and deceit. This sense of entitlement may lead individuals to believe that they deserve sex when they want it, without considering the wants and needs of the other person. When entitled individuals do not receive what they want, they may become hostile or violent: Higher rates of self-reported sexual aggression have been found among college males who also reported a higher sense of entitlement.

THE IRISH CONTEXT

I have three words that explain – to a large extent – how victim blaming, shame, and male entitlement manifest in an Irish context. Those three words are Roman, Catholic, and Church. The rise in religiosity in Ireland can be traced back to what the colonising English called ‘The Famine’, and the Irish refer to as An Gorta Mór 1 , when English parliamentary commissions indicated that the ‘civilising of Irish society depended on giving more power to the Catholic Church’.

1 ‘THE GREAT HUNGER’

The population of Ireland was thirded by starvation and emigration as a result of An Gorta Mór. Those who remained developed strategies to ward off similar catastrophes. These included religion, education, and culture, which the Roman Catholic Church took ownership of. I think it’s safe to say that there is a strong religious ideology in Ireland. Regular mass attendance is down, but people still do their hatching, matching, and dispatching in churches; and most children are still forced through three sacraments before they start secondary school.

Shame itself is constructed in Irish society with reference to Roman Catholicism. But there’s also a peculiar Irish complexion to shame that doesn’t cast equally on men and women. Women’s bodies are policed, their actions, educations, and possibilities, are mediated by peculiarly Irish social norms. Catholic notions of sexual morality proved to be especially oppressive for Irish women, who were told their bodies were shameful – but, apart from that, they were not discussed. It was not uncommon in 1950s Ireland for women to marry without basic reproductive knowledge.

Male entitlement in Irish culture is underpinned by our patriarchal, hierarchical, paternalistic norms, which favour men. Economics, social policy, and law, all reflect, and are reinforced by, dominant ideologies, constructed by men. The structures they underpin are patriarchal. Sometimes, these structures have with a paternal gloss to intimate a protection of women and children, but which undermines, and limits, women’s agency. Women are only considered in their proximity to, and relationships with, men; and our differences are seen as aberrations from a male norm.

 

Silence is Fools’ Gold

fools-gold

I’m still thinking about the Safe World Summit that I attended last week. More than thinking, I’m processing. The two days were definitely more than the sum of their parts.

After my last post a number of people contacted me to ask why I hadn’t told Nigel’s wife and Cormac’s wife that they were married to rapists. The truth is, that I did. The truth is, that they know. The truth is, that they don’t care. The truth is, that (cliché of clichés!) my brothers married their mother: They married women who would be compliant, who would put their husbands ahead of all others including their own children. They married women who would be more concerned about what the neighbours would say than with providing protection to their children. They married women who would keep their secrets.

Back in 2010, I told Cormac’s wife, Orna, that Nigel had sexually abused me. I was building up to full disclosure, telling her about her brother-in-law before telling her about her husband (whose abuse was more sadistic, and went on for longer). She had no difficulty in believing me. She even went as far as to say that it ‘made sense’. When, however, she found out that Cormac – her own husband – had also raped me for years, and that I was suing both of them, she sided with the abusers, instead of the abused.

The truth is, that while they have no difficulty with the fact that they have married misogynistic rapists, they have a difficulty with the rest of the world knowing. As long as the information was kept within the family – as long as I observed that peculiar Irish form of omerta – they were happy enough. When I started to speak out publicly, however, when I started legal civil proceedings against the brothers who had raped me, their tune changed. Bear in mind, that Anita and Orna had not spoken to each other since December of 2004.  Yet, when I started talking more and more publicly, about the abuse I had suffered at their husbands’ hands, these women rekindled their relationship and united to fight the truth.

 

Think about that for a second: Two women, married to two men, each of whom has had two children for these men, bonded over the fact that their husbands had raped the same child.  Two women who would rather live with two men who have no remorse for their abusive behaviour, than leave them. You’d have to ask yourself why.  Both men are wealthy. Both women signed pre-nuptial agreements. I don’t think that’s the only reason, though, I think there’s more to it than that.

 

I’ve written this post on foot of a challenge issued by Insia Dariwala at the Safe World Summit last week. She told us that each of us – by being silent – is complicit in the continued sexual abuse of children. This statement made me very uneasy. What was I doing to maintain the silence? What was I doing to contribute to allowing other children to be abused in the ways I had been abused? Insia Dariwala’s challenge, then, was to break our silence.

 

I have risen to that challenge. I will continue to do so.

Safe World?

***CONTENT WARNING: GRAPHIC ACCOUNT OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE; RAPE; SPOUSAL ABUSE.***

 

I am in the Mansion House in Dublin, on the second day of the Safe World Summit, organised by Safe Ireland.  I’m not going to lie, there have been moments that have been difficult to bear witness to. There have been moments where I have inhaled sharply, but – for the most part – there have been moments that have inspired and motivated me.

 

After years of speaking out, years of listening to other survivors, and holding the space for them, I am still struck by the similarities between my experiences, and theirs. To be honest, I identify more as a victim/survivor/victor with regard to sexual abuse, than I do with domestic violence. I am aware that the domestic violence I suffered at the hands of my ex-husbands was enabled – in part – by the the abuse I suffered at the hands of my father, and my two elder brothers – Christy, Nigel, and Cormac Talbot.

 

I suppose it’s no surprise that the night before last, sleep was evasive. I suppose it’s no surprise that that entire day, I’d had flashback after flashback after flashback. The intrusive memories crowded into my brain. I spent the day – and most of the evening – with my mind and my body re-experiencing the abuse perpetrated on my body by Nigel an Cormac Talbot – my two elder brothers.

 

I felt, again, Nigel slobbering over my teenaged breasts. My body felt his breath, his grasping hands, his copious saliva running over my bare, exposed, goosepimpled flesh. Later, my body and mind would remind me of other occasions when my brothers sexually assaulted, and raped me. I felt these experiences as if they were happening again, in that moment – in those moments. I remind myself of stories where amputees detail having pain in the missing limb.

 

I re-experienced being eight or nine years old, and lying in bed, reading my book (I was always reading, as a child – I loved it more than anything else I did) and Nigel came in, pulled up my nightdress, and down my knickers. I was so used to my brothers entering my room – entering me – that I didn’t even put my book down. I disengaged so much, disassociated completely. I was reading my book, I was in my book. I was in my book more than I was in my body. I remember turning a page at one point, and glancing down to see him nipping his lower lip, a look of concentration on his face,  while using his fingers to spread my labia before thrusting his fingers inside me.

 

Clashing with this memory was another; of my other brother, Cormac Talbot. As one memory left my body, the other replaced it. This was a memory of Cormac, with his bony fingers inside me, nothing gentle about his touch, his ragged fingernails scraping my tender, internal, flesh. Repeatedly, hour after hour, my body and mind were re-traumatised by these memories and others: Memories of Cormac using a torn piece of a black rubbish sack as a crude type of condom, while he decided to rape me. Memories of Cormac, anally raping me as form of ‘contraception’. My sphincter muscles tightened, repeatedly, involuntarily, as my body remembered the pressure on my anus as his erect penis breached it. For a full waking day, these memories possessed me – and I use that word very particularly to evoke the image of being possessed by evil. Because I was.

 

For my entire childhood, I was so dis-empowered by my family, and the patriarchal culture in which that family operate(s) that I was trained to expect nothing else. I was told I deserved nothing better. Most recently, I was told I deserved nothing better by my ‘mother’ Phil (Johnson) Talbot.  I last spoke to her in November of 2016 and I recently referred to the record of that conversation to be sure that my memory of it was not flawed (reader, it was not).

 

During that conversation (which I will describe in greater detail in another post), she eventually said – her voice dripping with the cloying martyr tone she has perfected over 70 years –

‘Well, if it’s an apology ye’re lookin’ fer, I’m sorry – okay?’

I wasn’t going to get her off that easily.

‘What are you sorry for?’ I asked.

‘I’m sorry I wasn’t a perfect mother,’ her retort was spat in anger at my audacity to challenge her so calmly.

I made no response. She continued in the same tone.

‘And I’m sorry you didn’t have the childhood you think you deserved.’

Think about that for a second. Think about my ‘mother’ unable to contain her anger that I would dare think I was entitled not to be raped by her husband, and her precious sons during my childhood. More worryingly, however, was her refusal to tell their wives the truth. ‘It’s not my place,’ she repeated four or five times when I challenged her on aiding and abetting her rapist sons to abuse her grandchildren with impunity.

 

She disgusts me – they all do – but I recognise that they are part of the patriarchy. They are products of the patriarchy. They are complicit elements of the patriarchy. I also recognise, however, that I am the biggest the threat to them and, in a way, to the patriarchy itself. Because I am a fearless truth-teller. And I will not stop.

I will not be stopped.

#Stand4Truth

Truth

Today, I will be in the Garden of Remembrance, at a rally organised by Colm O’Gorman (Executive Director of Amnesty International, survivor of clerical abuse and rape, and the boy who sued the pope). We’ll be standing with thousands of other people in solidarity with those who were abused – physically, sexually, and emotionally – by the Roman Catholic Church.

This week’s visit by the pope has been hugely painful for many thousands of people on this island. People are finding themselves hurt, upset, and triggered all over again. Even as someone who was never sexually abused by a member of the Roman Catholic Church – although members of the church concealed that they knew my two elder brothers (Nigel Talbot and Cormac Talbot) were sexually abusing me – I have found details of the continued abuse of people by the Roman Catholic Church upsetting. I have heard from many survivors of clerical abuse how difficult and traumatic these weeks have been for them. I want them to know that I bear witness to their pain, I acknowledge it, I believe them.

I am going to the Garden of Remembrance today because it’s important to honour the truth of those who have suffered. It is important to honour the pain of those who have suffered – and to recognise the origins of that pain; the Roman Catholic Church and the Irish society that stood by in silence and allowed the rape and abuse of young children to take place.

I am going to the Garden of Remembrance today to honour the memories of those who can’t make it: Those who were murdered by the Roman Catholic Church; those who were sold by the Roman Catholic Church; those who had their bones broken by the Roman Catholic Church; those who had their spirits broken by the Roman Catholic Church; those for whom being there would be too emotionally difficult; those who died by suicide,  who are in addiction, who are homeless, who are in psychiatric units on account of the trauma visited on them by the Roman Catholic Church.

 

I am going to the Garden of Remembrance today because it’s the least I can do.