My brothers raped me
In our follow-up to last week’s analysis of familial sexual abuse, Áine Ryan talks to one Mayo woman who has survived the sordid secrets of incest. Here, Patricia* tells how her older brothers abused her and her sisters.
I WAS in sixth class and don’t remember exactly the first time it happened. Two of my older brothers, John and Patrick, were involved and they sexually abused me and my older and younger sisters, Siobhán and Sinéad, for a number of years.
With hindsight, I really didn’t know what was happening.
It all started with John, my oldest brother, abusing Siobhán. Then I was brought into it. We would have to do striptease while he watched and masturbated in front of us. He used to make us strip off all our clothes and wear net curtains. John was 12 years older than me. In fact, both my brothers would have been finished secondary school when the nightmare started. We were from a big family in rural Mayo and my parents always seemed to be busy on our farm.
Patrick used to have full sex with me and I remember when I had my period he would have anal sex. He was very cute about not getting me pregnant too. I remember being totally disengaged and lying on my stomach reading an Enid Blyton book while he raped me. I would become totally absorbed in the story of the book. On the other hand, John used to have sex with my older sister while making me watch. He always wanted me to watch, and would ask me what I was thinking and was I getting excited. He sometimes stopped and fondled me in some way.
I remember hearing the footsteps at night in the corridor and hoping they wouldn’t stop outside our bedroom. I clearly recall how I got more and more frightened by those footsteps even though he [John] was having sex with my sister, I never knew how he would involve me what else he might order me to do. On one occasion he masturbated both of us together saying whoever got the most excited would ‘get a prize’. Whereas with Patrick, the younger one, I always knew what was going to happen – it was straightforward sex and so it was over quickly – and he was gone.
IT IS now over 30 years since it all happened and still, Siobhán, my older sister, has never admitted it happened. It all came out in the open a few years ago when Sinéad brought it up at a family gathering after John started boasting about how he was such a good father. Everyone denied it had happened and so she phoned me in a distraught state and I denied it all too.
“No, I don’t know what you are talking about,” I insisted on the phone.
But as I was talking to her I was literally sliding to the floor and when my husband came home, two hours later, I was still there, curled up in a ball, bawling crying. He thought I’d had a heart attack.
We talked through the night. He was so supportive and loving and I could never have come through this without him. So the following day I phoned Sinéad and confirmed that everything she had said was right. I finally said it out loud to a member of my family, another victim: “We were raped and sexually abused by our older brothers.”
That was the most difficult phone call of my life. It was very emotional for both of us. It was even more upsetting because we both talked about how we saw it happening to each other.
It was after that conversation when the real guilt and shame kicked in. It was as if it had been buried somewhere safe until that moment. How could we have let it happen? Why didn’t we stop it? Was it all our faults?
About a year later I was driving home from work one day when a victim of familial sex abuse came on radio and began to tell her story. I had to stop the car and pull into the side of the road. I couldn’t stop crying. When I calmed down a little, I rang Mayo Rape Crisis Centre and they took me as an emergency appointment. I had counselling with them for three years every week.
There is no doubt that they gave me my life back.
BUT first I had to deal with the anger. I was very angry with my parents. I was very angry with my other brothers who I felt could have stopped it. And I was very angry with myself. I felt if I had talked about the abuse, revealed what was happening to me and my older sister, I could have saved Sinéad from it. I felt that if I had been more cooperative – given more – to my abusing brothers, she would have escaped.
Ironically, I still feel the family blames me because I backed up my sister’s claims. What upsets me most is that they still accept my brothers. I wasn’t invited to family gatherings any more. It was as if I had done something wrong and not them. For a while it remained ‘the family elephant in the room’ but it has mellowed a bit since the death of my father.
After I got married and had my own children I became obsessed with protecting them. I am still very vigilant, particularly of my daughters. If I hear a noise on the corridor at night I am immediately alert. Not surprising really, is it?
IF ANYBODY reading my story is a victim of, or knows of, familial sexual abuse, find the courage to tell somebody you trust and get the help you need. I think, as a country, people now associate sexual abuse with clerical abuse. I remember being jealous of the victims of clerical abuse – after the various reports were published – because they got to tell their stories and their abusers were ‘outed’.
Like in the much-published Fiona Doyle case, with familial sexual abuse, you must take on the abuser and often your family as well.
But remember there is always hope and family abuse does not have to become cross-generational. My eldest brother claimed he was abused by our grandfather. But he could have got help and support. I got help and I am a good parent. Mayo Rape Crisis Centre and other agencies are there to provide professional and emotional support.
If you are being abused, you can break the cycle. You can get help and no longer be a victim but become a survivor.”
(*All names and details of those involved in this distressing story have been changed to protect the identity of the woman and the other family members referred to in the article.)