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'We deserve a place to be how we are': Limerick woman raped as a child starts victims' support group

"It was only as an adult that I learned how to deal with it," said Leona. "It came back to haunt me when I was about 28 and I was very stressed and had panic attacks.”

'We deserve a place to be how we are': Limerick woman raped as a child starts victims' support group

By David Raleigh

A Limerick woman who was sexually assaulted and raped as a child, is to launch a new "12-step" support group programme for abuse survivors.

Leona O’Callaghan, 37 (pictured), has revealed her traumatic abuse and has bravely waived her anonymity, to help other victims find a path to survival.

The mother of three will hold the inaugural meeting of her group Survivor Support Anonymous in Limerick city centre at 7pm on Wednesday. The group is aimed at helping survivors of sexual, physical, and domestic abuse.

The group, which is free to attend, is based on a unique 12-step programme for men and women over 18, explained Ms O'Callaghan.

“We have formed adapted versions of the 12 steps that have helped so many recover from addictions and mental health difficulties in AA, GROW and other 12-step recovery groups,” she said.

The “peer-led group” will aim to help abuse victims “gain the skills, confidence, and ability, to live fulfilling lives in spite of their trauma of abuse”.

Leona has described how she was abused by a man for two years from the age of 12.

It was only as an adult that I learned how to deal with it. It came back to haunt me when I was about 28 and I was very stressed and had panic attacks.

Ms O'Callaghan said her road to recovery eventually began after she was rescued from the River Shannon after attempting to die by suicide.

“I went to (St Patrick’s Hospital, Dublin) and I got an amazing amount of help...If you don't get the right help it can be detrimental. When you're in the midst of a depression (the supports) may not feel reachable to you," she added.

Ms O’Callaghan said her support group would not try to act as a professional counselling service.

“Professional counselling is very successful in addressing the traumatic experiences, and for me it has helped," she said. "One of our steps will encourage a person to get that professional help."

She added: “Unhealthy coping mechanisms can have a huge affect on our lives, so the 12 steps is all about turning that around for people.”

“There is no pressure on anyone to share the details of their abuse at the meetings. They can just listen, if that's what they want to do.”

Ms O'Callaghan said she hoped the support group would give hope to others going through similar struggles that, "there is help and healing out there".

"We (survivors) deserve that; We deserve a place to be how we are."

To find out details on attending the group meetings contact 085-1492977.

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