It was the kind of radio that made you late for an appointment. Ailin Quinlan recounts former senator Niamh Cosgrave’s shocking ordeal as told to 'Today with Sean O’Rourke'.
FORMER Fine Gael senator, Niamh Cosgrave, wasn’t concerned when she was woken in her bedroom by a tap on her shoulder.
The village of Chef Bouttone in western France is so quiet and neighbourly that residents leave their doors unlocked, even at night — that was one of the reasons why Cosgrave, a hepatitis C campaigner, had moved there eight years ago, following her divorce.
It was 11pm on September 4, 2012. The mother-of-four merely assumed she’d been woken by her French Spaniel, Ben, who opened doors with his nose.
But it wasn’t Ben.
Suddenly, Cosgrave’s head was pushed down. An horrific ordeal of several hours had begun. Cosgrave was dragged down a hall on her knees by her hair, punched, had her jaw broken and was repeatedly raped.
“All I could see were tracksuit bottoms and a pair of runners,” the 50-year-old told Sean O’Rourke yesterday, in a radio interview that left the veteran presenter close to tears.
Initially, Cosgrave had thought a child had broken into the house, but then realised she was in great danger. “He made gestures that made me believe I was in serious trouble here.”
Not believing what was happening, she went “into auto mode.”
Cosgrave, who was one of the first women to go public about being infected with hepatitis C, through the contaminated blood product Anti-D, tried to remain calm.
She asked him for a cigarette. He rolled her one, and, after she’d smoked it, ordered her to give it back to him.
“I knew I was in trouble when he told me to put the cigarette into his hand. He put it into his pocket. I then realised this guy was covering his DNA,” she says, adding that she knew he had done this before and that she needed to escape.
Cosgrave asked to use the toilet and then made a run for it.
“I went to run, and he turned around and he broke my jaw. He literally swung around and, with the impact of his fist on my jaw, he broke it.
“I knew it was broken, because I could actually feel the click.
“The pain was absolutely horrific. I’ve given birth to four children and I’ve never experienced pain like that before in my life.
“I still tried to run away, but he grabbed me by my hair, threw me to the ground.
“I was fighting, fighting, fighting, because I knew if I went down that corridor I was not going to come back out alive.
“He eventually got me into the bedroom, and, yes, he raped me, and he raped me repeatedly”.
At one stage, she leaned across to turn a photograph of her children on its face.
“I felt they were in the room with me and they were … looking.
“I felt their presence in the room, and I felt humiliated and I felt disgusted.”
“Don’t bother,” said her attacker. “You’ll never see them again.”
He beat her so badly, she says, her mind divided into two.
“People think of rape as just being a sexual act, but the amount of violence is horrific.
“In fact, it got so bad that I no longer felt any pain and I divided in two; it was like I was looking at a horror film, and I think, in some way, that saved my life, because rape isn’t about sex; it’s violence, and he was particularly violent.
“I don’t know what was going on in his head, but he was playing out some sick fantasy.
“The only thing I could do was pretend to be dead and I don’t know where I got the willpower to just lie there, but, as I divided in two, I don’t know what happened.”
She stopped feeling pain, and when he eventually finished and left her, she thought he was gone to find a knife, thinking, “he can’t have done all this to me and leave me alive.
“I knew I was going to die, that is exactly how I felt. What he was doing to me was so bad I honestly did not think he could leave that house without killing me.”
She found her phone and, terrified the rapist was still in the house, rang the gendarmes. They were there within minutes.
After she helped to compile a photo-fit, her assailant was identified — not only was Christian Gladieux on the sex offenders’ list, as a serial rapist with two previous convictions, but he was a neighbour who lived just a few minutes’ walk away.
After being told by police that it was not safe to go home, Cosgrave stayed in a psychiatric hospital for three weeks, until Gladiuex was arrested.
She returned home, planning to tell people she’d been beaten up in a robbery — but somebody had started a rumour that she was accusing an innocent man after a sex game had gone wrong.
The case took more than two years to come to court, but such was the severity of the assault on her, Gladieux was sentenced to 18 years in prison and a further 10 years of psychiatric supervision on his release.
The judge praised Cosgrave’s bravery, describing her as “a woman of courage.”
Even Gladieux’s defence lawyer expressed admiration for her courage and dignity.
“Until that case came up, I felt like a dirty little secret,” Cosgrave told O’Rourke, on Today With Sean O’Rourke.
“I felt that rape was a dirty little secret. And that’s what an awful lot of victims feel. They feel humiliated and they live in fear and they live in secrecy and their lives are destroyed.
“One of the things I wanted to get across was, yes, you can report, yes, you will get the help you need, yes, you can do some good.
“When I saw him in handcuffs I realised that, yes, I can learn to live with it.”
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