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Martin Vernon. Photograph by Eugene McCafferty on 07/12/2020

Letting a light shine for fellow survivors of rape

“MY NAME is Martin Vernon and I’m a survivor of rape.” The words that the Ennis man spoke on RTÉ radio last month have had a huge resonance. Since the programme, Martin has had contact from all over the world, as well as many donations to a fundraiser he has organised for Rape Crisis Midwest. They have supported him in coming to terms with an attack he suffered more than 50 years ago. This year, the organisation is facing a sharp drop in funds and a steep rise in demand.

At 15, Martin was groomed by two older men. He was invited to a party where he was drugged and raped. “It’s affected my life very badly in lots of ways that I’m sure are directly related,” he says.  Martin attempted twice to commit suicide and, in the past, had issues with gambling and alcohol. He likens the decades since the brutal attack to carrying around a sack of rocks. While he gave an in-depth interview, anonymously to The Champion two years ago, he has taken the decision to go public with the publication of his name and photograph. He feels he is speaking out for the thousands of others who may never do so.

“There’s an awful lot of confusion, pain, embarrassment, shame, all sorts of stuff that goes with sexual violence and I’ve come to realise it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t groom myself. I didn’t drug myself. I didn’t rape myself and I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.”

In 2003, Martin experienced another trauma. “I was in a high speed collision with a boy racer who was on the wrong side of the road, trying to overtake two cars and I was very lucky to survive it.”

It left him with crippling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He received the help of Clare Mental Health Services, where he talked for the first time to a psychologist about the rape. “I didn’t speak about it again for another 15 years. I spent seven years taking an absolute mountain of prescription drugs and I think I was addicted… Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a very serious condition and I had it very badly. I still have it to a certain extent and some of the symptoms are panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmare and depression. For a long time, I couldn’t go out and couldn’t be in a room with more than one person.”

Martin was registered as disabled and began writing to help with his recovery. He now writes poetry and a nurse encouraged him to meditate. Both of these things have been helpful as coping mechanisms, he believes.

Martin was approached to fundraise for Rape Crisis Midwest, which he agreed to do without connecting it with his own experience. “I was doing a bucket collection on the street and a woman came up to me and said, ‘I’m putting money in the bucket because it happened to me. And I just found myself looking at her and thinking, ‘Oh God, it happened to me too’… I had to think long and hard and steel myself to pick up the phone. Eventually, I rang the helpline and it was definitely one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.”

Still in counselling, Martin is determined to give something back to those who supported him. He has posted his recent interview with Drivetime’s John Cooke and another with Raidió Corca Baiscin on the Facebook page for Rape Crisis Midwest and is inviting donations. “I couldn’t recommend the service more highly and it’s part of the reason that I chose to speak out, because they are in serious difficulty at the moment… They’re not funded enough… and to me, it’s a scandal. I happen to think it’s an essential and life-changing service for so many people and it should be fully funded by central government.”

Martin is also committed to breaking taboos about sexual violence and about male rape in particular. “I think generally when people think about rape, they think rape is something that happens to women and I have to tell you that it happens to men too. I think men are even less likely to talk about it because of the way men are brought up to be problem-solvers and not to show their emotions and feelings. I have people coming up to me in the street now to say, ‘This happened to me,’ and pressing money into my hand and thanking me.”

Martin was one of those who started a sharing group for men in Ennis called Men Talking Man to Man. He describes it as a safe space to express feelings and emotions. “Being heard without judgement or criticism is incredibly powerful,” he says.

Decades after the trauma of rape, Martin is still coming to terms with it. “It doesn’t have the hold on me that it did before. It hasn’t gone away, it still affects me, but much less.” He is also very aware of others who may never be able to disclose their own ordeals. “Whether people have been carrying this for 70 years, or whether it happened yesterday, there is help out there for them. I really would recommend the service to somebody who feels that they need it. The people at Rape Crisis are very highly trained and sensitive.

“By breaking the silence around it, I’m speaking out for other people. After hearing my interview, someone sent me this wonderful quotation from Nelson Mandela: ‘As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.’ I hope I’m speaking for people who aren’t able to and shining a light for them in some way.”

Rape Crisis Midwest can be contacted on 1800-311511 or by emailing info@rapecrisis.ie. Anyone wishing to donate to Martin’s fundraiser should search for Rape Crisis Midwest on Facebook and click on the Fundraisers option.

 

I’ll Never Forget That Party

 

By Martin Vernon

 

I’ll never forget that party

Young teenagers

Innocent laughter

Here you are

Have a drink

Something wrong

Everything blurry and weird

Legs giving way

Friends trying to help

Carried me to that bed

Don’t worry

I’ll look after him

Go back to the party

I heard him lock the door

Click….CLICK

Shoes belt trousers pants

Rolled onto my front

Something’s very wrong

The pain

Too young

Too scared

Too embarrassed

Too confused

Too blurry and weird

To cry out for help

Hours later At dawn

I cycled home

Standing up

Too much pain

To sit on the saddle

 

And now years later

A half-life lifetime later

But never too late

I have finally found the courage

To cry out for help

I have opened that door

And thanks to the Rape Crisis Centre

I have told my story

I have been heard

I was still a child

Just a boy

I was groomed drugged and raped

I now know that it wasn’t my fault

How the trauma kept me silent

How the blame lies only with the rapist

The shame I have carried is lifting

I now have a future

But I’ll never forget that party

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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