Fetish shame may hinder cry for help

Campaigners against domestic violence fear that shame over a fetish lifestyle may prevent women in danger from seeking help.

In the wake of the Graham Dwyer trial, Women’s Aid has appealed to women wanting to escape a sexually violent relationship to make contact.

The organisation’s last annual report shows it handled 575 disclosures of sexual violence over a 12-month period, including women who were raped, beaten up for refusing sex, drugged and raped, and forced to carry out humiliating sexual acts.

Such contacts accounted for about 3% of those handled by Women’s Aid but international figures show the number of women who have suffered sexual violence at the hands of a partner or ex-partner is likely to be double that.

A spokeswoman said women often found it hard to disclose what was happening to them, particularly when they had initially been in a consensual sexual relationship.

“Women can feel ‘I don’t have any right to say no’,” said the spokeswoman. There is very much a self-blaming. She feels ‘I’ve consented so far, so how can I say no now?’ Men can use that. They can say ‘you didn’t object last time. You’ve led me on’.

“We need to get the message out that it doesn’t matter what you’ve done before. If you want to say no now and you can’t say no without that causing problems or putting you in danger, then there is no consent and if there’s no consent, that’s abuse.”

The spokeswoman also stressed that Women’s Aid services were completely confidential and non-judgemental. “We’ll listen to her and talk her through her options,” she said. “Wherever she is in her life and whatever she needs right now, we’ll help.

“Our helpline hears from thousands of women and they’re all unique stories so no woman should be worried about telling us hers.”

Dwyer’s victim, Elaine O’Hara, tried to end a previously consensual relationship she had with him, involving bondage and cutting.

Women’s Aid runs a national freephone helpline from 10am to 10pm on 1800 341 900 and the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre has a 24-hour helpline on 1800 77 8888.

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