This week’s extract is from In Her Shoes: Women of the Eighth by Erin Darcy. It is available from New Island, where €1 from each sale is donated to Women’s Aid.
I’ve wavered about writing something for the campaign for ages now. The current wave of #MeToo allegations, the Belfast rape trial and the debate surrounding the referendum have brought up some very difficult memories. But if I’m ever going to tell my story, it should be now.
I come from an abusive family. There was violence, both physical and sexual, as well as emotional abuse. There was hardly ever any peace or safety at home. At the age of 12 I went to my first ever school disco in my new secondary school. Some of my friends went outside to smoke. I went with them to try it. An older boy from 5th year started chatting to me. I was really flattered by his attention and his interest in me. I was very concerned with wanting to be one of the cool kids, and wanted to seem much more worldly than I was. My friends went back inside and I stayed outside talking to him.
Before I knew it he was kissing me. I didn’t have much time to process what was happening, but I thought it was OK. I was delighted that this guy liked me, but I had no idea what was really happening. Next thing he’s pushing me onto the ground with all his weight. I protested as I didn’t want to lie down. I didn’t want to get my cool disco clothes wrecked and dirty. He used his strength and raped me right there in the trees opposite the school hall. I asked him to stop. I was crying. It hurt a lot and seemed to go on forever. When he was finished he got up off me and asked me if I wanted a cigarette. I didn’t, so we both pulled our clothes back on and went back inside to the disco. I went into the toilet to check my clothes. I wanted to leave, but my mam wasn’t due to collect me for an hour. I wiped away my tear stained make-up, fixed my hair and went back into the disco and danced with my friends until it was finished. He stayed for a while, but ignored me once we came back inside. I was dying with shame. I told nobody. They could never find out. It was all clearly my fault, I knew that, so I just pretended it hadn’t happened.
I kept pretending for the next six weeks. Sometimes I saw my rapist on the bus to school. He never acknowledged me. I pretended none of this was happening. I totally dissociated from reality. Even when I started throwing up in the mornings. Even when I kept falling asleep every time I sat down. Even when my breasts started to really hurt. Even when I went off certain foods that suddenly started to turn my stomach. My mother worked out that I was pregnant. I denied it, but she knew. She blamed me, just as I knew she would. I couldn’t face any of it. I came very close to taking my own life. There were horrified whispered conversations with my granny. My younger brother wanted to know what was going on, but nobody told him. A day after my 13th birthday my mother brought me to Liverpool by boat to have an abortion. We couldn’t afford this trip, she told me several times. My overwhelming feeling during the trip was shame. There was absolutely no way I could bring a baby into the world. I was much too messed up and unstable. I knew I couldn’t bring a child up, but especially in the abusive home I came from. I also knew I couldn’t give birth and hand my child over to anybody else. I wouldn’t survive it.
I was much younger than the other girls in the clinic. I wanted everyone to think I was older. I think even the staff in the clinic were shocked by my age. Nobody ever suggested contacting the authorities, or pursuing an investigation. Those things simply weren’t considered. Everyone’s attitude was to say as little as possible. Me included. I just felt shame and despair. The procedure itself was painful. I remember feeling relief that I wouldn’t be bringing a life into the world to be hurt and abused. The trip home was endless. The sea was very rough, and I vomited for a lot of the journey. I kept throwing up my painkillers.
The following Monday I went back into school and carried on pretending none of it had happened. What a lonely journey.
These events remained buried for a very long time. In my forties I went to therapy and spoke about what happened for the first time. It’s a long road of recovery for survivors of rape or abuse, but there is hope. Hope starts when we share our stories with someone who won’t judge us or shame us.
My thoughts on the referendum: I’m sick and tired of women being ashamed. I’m sick and tired of the secrecy and hypocrisy. Having to travel to England plays a big part in this shame and secrecy. Ireland exports us, because this country has a hard time dealing with reality. Babies should be wanted, and mothers should be willing. Any girl or woman who does not feel able to be an adequate parent, for any reason, should be able to make a decision whether to continue her pregnancy or not. There is nothing evil about ending a pregnancy if the conditions for the baby are not ideal. This goes for the much-wanted pregnancies that will have catastrophic outcomes also. As one of the ‘hard cases’ I feel very strongly that all women should be given choices. No woman should be judged or shamed for making the best choice for herself and the potential life she is carrying. And, finally, suicidal children should not be forced to travel to another country to end a pregnancy. Child rape happens more than we like to acknowledge. Do we really want a society that would force a child to carry on an unwanted pregnancy?