A TEENAGER in the 1960s, Seán (not his real name) became the target of a sexual predator but kept the ensuing trauma entirely to himself for well over 30 years.
Although he kept it hidden, the pain still bubbled up throughout his life, leading to depression and what he calls “unhealthy relationships in the past” with drink, gambling and drugs. Only recently has he found support through the Rape Crisis Centre in Ennis, which he feels can finally help to free him from the effects of his experience.
Coming to The Clare Champion offices last Friday to talk about his devastating teenage experience was very hard for him but he did it to show other people that there is help available to deal with their pain.
“I’m sweating now just talking to you about it, even though I’m glad to talk about it. I know, on one level, that I haven’t done anything wrong and I haven’t anything to be ashamed of. But just walking in here, my heart was beating fast.”
Now in his sixties, he was firstly groomed and then drugged before the rape. “When I was about 15, I was going to school and we all had part-time jobs. If we had a bit of money on a Friday, we’d go to a café after school. We met these fellas, they seemed nice enough. A while later, they had a party in a house, there were loads of us there, a lot of us were teenagers, not all of us. I went in, I’d gone there on my pushbike, I arrived there and your man offered me a drink. I took the drink and, within a minute or two, it was like the world started spinning and my legs gave way.”
With his voice quavering and speech occasionally faltering, he recalls the incident that followed.
“He went in underneath my arm, to support me, with someone else on the other side. Now, this party was full of my mates. I couldn’t speak, the world was spinning, and my legs had gone but I was totally aware of everything that was going on. He said ‘we’ll go and lay him down in here’. They brought me into a bedroom, he told the other fella he’d look after me, they laid me down, the other fella went and he locked the door. I could hear my mates outside that door but I couldn’t speak and I couldn’t do anything. And he pulled down my trousers and he raped me. As I said, I was aware of everything that went on, but I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t speak and I couldn’t do anything.”
The men who he and his friends had befriended at the café, one of which was the rapist, were aged in their thirties.
Seán doesn’t remember parts of the night but he does recall leaving the party. “I hear that it’s quite common that you get blank times when something like that happens but, next thing, I’m out of the house, getting back on the pushbike and all I can remember is that my arse was so f**king sore, I couldn’t sit down. I couldn’t sit on the seat. I went home and I’ve wondered since, why didn’t I do something about it? Why didn’t I tell my mum? I was doing martial arts at the time, why didn’t I go and kick his head in? Why didn’t I go to the police? There was a lot of shame involved because it wasn’t talked about, but it is more now. When people think about rape, they think about women but it happens to men too. There’s a kind of silence about it and the more men who talk about it…the easier it makes it for the next person, whether it’s a man or a woman, the next person who has been through something like that. I carried this for years and I never talked about it.”
Silence and Post-Traumatic Stress
The ’60s ended, the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s all passed by and Seán kept his pain entirely to himself. It was only in more recent years, following a car crash, in which he was almost killed, that he first told anyone.
At the time, it was apparent to those tasked with his care that he was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), although they didn’t have the whole story.
“They sent in a psychiatrist to talk to me, this was about a month after and I was on mountains of drugs, painkillers, sleeping tablets, anti-depressants, a whole cocktail of stuff. It wasn’t making any difference, I was constantly having panic attacks. I couldn’t sleep but, if I did, I’d have nightmares and wake up covered in sweat and panting.
“The psychiatrist said you’ve got PTSD and not only have you got PTSD but I’m a specialist in it and you’ve got it as bad as anyone I’ve ever seen.”
Shortly after he began therapy, it became apparent that the PTSD was more deeply rooted and not just down to the car crash, as horrendous as that had been.
“I had a whole load of sessions with a psychologist in town (Ennis) and, at some point, she was asking me about my life and I told her about this thing. She said here’s the story Seán, you think you’ve had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder since that accident but you’ve had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder almost all your life.”
Some time later, he began to engage with the Rape Crisis Centre, an organisation he admired but hadn’t realised had the potential to help him to heal. “I was doing this fundraiser for them, which I really wanted to do, but somehow I had cut off my personal thing about it. Just while I was doing it, I talked to one of the women involved in it and she said you, like anyone else, can always lift the phone. So I rang the helpline and I started getting counselling.”
The help they offer is just what he needs to finally move on, he earnestly believes. “I don’t know if I’ll have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for the rest of my life, if there’s any way out of this. But if there is, it involves me laying my cards on the table and getting professional help.”
He praises the sensitivity of the workers he has dealt with at the Rape Crisis Centre. “They have to take you back to what happened but the way they do it…They must have a lot of training, because they’re very, very sensitive. At every point, they try to leave you in charge of the process. If it gets too much for you that’s okay, they say let’s leave it at that for today, so you have a certain amount of control over the process. They are very, very sensitive and very, very supportive.”
Going through the process of rehabilitating himself is not easy, but it is essential. “I’ve got to tell you,
it’s really scary. On one level, it’s easier for me to try and push it to one side, try and forget it, try and get on with my life. But I know, because I know myself well enough, that I have to bite the bullet. I can’t go on living with this shit going on with me.
“If there is some way out of this by having the help of somebody who is professionally trained to deal with this stuff, I just have to take it, although it’s scary. It’s not easy at all, it’s really painful, there’s a lot of tears, a lot of pain. It’s a hard thing to do but it needs doing.”
Seán really wants to use his own experience to show men with severe pain bottled up inside them, that there is a better path available. “This is such a valuable service and there are so many people who have been affected in one way or another. For myself, I’m just really keen about getting men to talk about what’s going on with them. There’s so many men that are carrying all kinds of mad shit that has happened to them in their lives. They think that because they’re men, they have to be rough, tough, macho and bottle up their feelings. There are so many people dying of suicide, about 80% of them are men, so many people with addictions and all kinds of stuff like this. It’s really good to talk.”
People with PTSD generally try to avoid situations that remind them of the original trauma and, because of this, they may seem to others to be acting strangely.
Seán knows that he has a few habits that are related to the incident and he is rattled by sudden noises or unexpected arrivals into a room.
At The Champion offices last Friday, he sat facing the door and said that he wouldn’t be comfortable otherwise. “You would never see me sitting with my back to the door. I don’t know what’s going to come in and I don’t do surprises. I’m trying to control the room but, really, we have very little control in our daily lives.”
It is perhaps unsurprising, given his experience, that he is often suspicious of people. “You’d be questioning yourself all the time and wondering if people have ulterior motives in all kinds of situations.”
While he found it very difficult to recount his story last week, Seán believes it is important that such dark experiences get brought out into the light.
“With all kinds of mental health stuff as well, the more we talk, the more we allow other people to talk about it. People might ask themselves ‘what about me? I’m carrying all this shit’. A lot of people think nobody would possibly understand and if I told other people, they would judge me and they would think I was this and I was that. But the more it gets talked about, the better it is for the whole society.”
He says it is important that everyone, particularly those who have been abused, realise that responsibility “stands squarely, firmly and completely” with the abuser, rather than the innocent victim.
The Rape Crisis Centre say that there is a demand for much more counselling in Ennis but the resources are not available to provide it. It irritates Seán that such a vital service does not have what it needs to help people.
“This work is so important, why is it not being properly funded? The effects of having traumatised people all over the place, you can’t put a price on that.” It is important to Seán that people know that the Rape Crisis Centre is a service for everyone, both women and men. On a personal level he says that after almost half a century of suffering, he really wants to move on. “It’s about time I let it go now,” he says, with hope in his voice.
The Rape Crisis Centre can be contacted on 1800 311 511.
I’ll Never Forget That Party
I’ll never forget that party
Here you are
Have a drink
Everything blurry and weird
Legs giving way
Friends trying to help
Carried me to that bed
I’ll look after him
Go back to the party
I heard him lock the door
Shoes belt trousers pants
Rolled onto my front
Something’s very wrong
Too blurry and weird
To cry out for help
Hours later At dawn
I cycled home
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