The experience of Ireland’s national women’s football coach after she was allegedly raped and sexually assaulted by three men in Dutch soccer underlines the reality that barriers to disclosing sexual violence are “still huge”, the head of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre has said.
Vera Pauw, aged 59, issued a detailed statement on Friday night in which she alleged she was raped by a “prominent football official” in the Netherlands when she was a player, some 35 years ago.
This was followed by two more alleged sexual assaults, involving two other men — also employed by the Dutch football federation.
She said she had kept the trauma private for the past 35 years.
“I have allowed the memory of it to control my life, to fill me with daily pain and anguish, to dominate my inner feelings,” Ms Pauw said in her statement.
She said she spent the past number of years trying to have her case heard in a fair and just manner by the Dutch football authorities, but “to no avail”.
She said: “Some people would rather keep my rape and sexual assaults quiet than offer me the support I need by opening this story to the world.
She said she had now reported the matter to Dutch police, which she said felt "like the beginning of the end” for her, though she knew there was “more heartache to come”.
Ms Pauw said she hoped other young footballers who had similar experiences could now feel “brave enough” to come forward.
Responding, Noeline Blackwell, CEO of DRCC, said while Ms Pauw’s experiences were “awful”, that it was shared by other women, and men.
“I think we can see that she suffered very serious harm in her job and workplace, where she should have thrived. It really handicapped her, you can see, for decades.”
Ms Blackwell said that while a statement from Dutch football was “quite defensive” it did acknowledge that they handled it badly.
“It is still an awfully hard thing for somebody to have to disclose,” she said. “She had this complication, as far as she was concerned, that she thought she was in some way to blame.
“It’s wonderful for her, I am delighted for her, that she now accepts that none of this was her responsibility, none of it was her doing.”
She added: “It remains the case that the barriers to disclosing sexual assault, including rape, are still huge. There’s also the sense of ‘maybe I could or should have avoided it’, because people still feel they will be held to blame by society.”
Ms Blackwell said Ms Pauw's experience “will resonate” with many people who tried to get things addressed and weren’t able to do it.
“It’s really important to say to people there are supports available to people.
“From her statement you can see it took a terrible toll on her every day. That is the reality of an assault, particularly an assault which isn’t properly addressed, where there isn’t healing.”
She said: “If I read her statement correctly she is doing this for herself, to name it and name the harm, and name — you hear about it in the courts — the retraumatisation from not been given the basic right of redress.”
Ms Blackwell said it was a “shame and a scandal” that victims are not able to get the help and redress they need, because “society didn’t rate that harm as serious harm”.
She said the statement will help other people: “This will matter to people, that 'it’s not too late for me to get the help I need'.
“From this, she will hopefully not have the same level of hurt and pain she has carried for over three decades, and still be able to do the most magnificent work.”
- If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please click here for a list of support services.