'I'm keeping my head held high': Cork student on rebuilding her life after sexual assault

Rachel McElroy said the attacks left her feeling empty, disgusted and lacking in confidence.
'I'm keeping my head held high': Cork student on rebuilding her life after sexual assault

Rachel McElroy was out with friends enjoying her first college night out when her whole life was turned upside down. Picture: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts Limited

A Cork student has spoken of the relief she felt when her attacker was jailed for six years.

Bagrat Kudzievi sexually assaulted then-18 year old Rachel McElroy outside a nightclub on a busy street in Cork city two years ago.

He was convicted of two counts of sexual assaults last October and yesterday was sentenced to seven years with the final year suspended on condition Mr Kudzievi return to his home country, Georgia, following his release.

In addition to suffering the assaults, Ms McElroy later found out that women who passed by during the attack not only filmed it but uploaded it to Snapchat.

Ms McElroy was out with friends enjoying her first college night out when her whole life was turned upside down.

Following the assaults, she dropped out of college and said she "couldn't really be around Cork".

In her victim impact statement, Ms McElroy said she remembers very little between being on the nightclub dance-floor and being in a Garda station having her mouth swabbed.

“I had no idea where I was. I didn't even know who I was,” she told the court. She said the attacks left her feeling empty, disgusted and lacking in confidence.

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, Ms McElroy said it took Kudzievi seven minutes to lead her out of the nightclub.

Once he had succeeded in getting her out of the busy club, Kudzievi took her to an alcove where he sexually assaulted her.

Upon realising they were being filmed, Kudzievi picked her up and carried her across a bridge to a more secluded location and assaulted her again.

It was concerned nightclub security staff who had gone looking for Ms McElroy who found them and pulled Kudzievi away.

'They shouldn't have taken that video'

While she does not know the identity of the women who filmed her attack and posted it online, Ms McElroy said she is disgusted that they chose not to help her or see if she was alright.

“All I know is that they took a video on Snapchat and put it all over Snapchat,” she said.

“I found out whenever we were in court because I think it was only a last-minute bit of evidence they found.

“It kind of embarrassed me because I do know a lot of people around the Cork area. I don’t know who those two girls were, but they could know the same people that I know and they had it up on Snapchat.

“I don’t know if my face is in it or anything but no matter if my face is in it or not, they shouldn’t have taken that video or posted it anywhere.” 

Following the conclusion of the court case, Ms McElroy spoke of the relief she felt when Kudzievi was found guilty.

"I fully convinced myself that he was going to get away with it. I was just so worried in court, I kept sitting outside in the fresh air trying to breathe, trying to relax myself and thinking he was going to get away with it" she told the Neil Prendeville Show on Cork's Red FM.

Then I just heard the words of him being found guilty on both charges and it was just a big weight lifted off my shoulders knowing that he won't be able to hurt another girl."

These days, Ms McElroy said she is doing much better.

"I dropped out of my first year of college over the incident, but I since then have returned to college and I’m working and everything – so I’m keeping my head held high now."

She encouraged other victims of sexual assault to reach out and speak to someone as speaking to counsellors had helped her to deal with what she had been put through.

Ms McElroy has been praised for her bravery in going public with her story and has been receiving huge support since yesterday's sentencing.

Mary Crilly, the Director of the Cork Sexual Violence Centre, said they have already had a number of calls from girls who had similar experiences.

Often when a person can't fully remember their assault, they feel there is no point in trying to report it but Mc McElroy has proved that there is, Ms Crilly said.

'Rape is always black and white'

The successful conviction in this case has helped victims to see that they were not at fault when it comes to their assault.

"They were drunk. Somebody did this to them when they were in a condition that they couldn't consent and it wasn't their fault," said Ms Crilly.

"But too often girls blame themselves and say 'It's my fault, if I hadn't drank so much this wouldn't have happened' and we put the responsibility totally on the young woman or young man who is raped."

Commending Ms McElroy for her courage, she went on to say: "You have no idea what you have done and the ripple and the effect it is going to have on other young girls who have had something similar happen and now feel that they are not on their own."

Speaking to anyone who has been a victim of a sexual assault, whether they were intoxicated at the time or not, Ms Crilly reminded them that they are not to blame for what happened to them.

Rape is always black and white. It is always very deliberate. Unfortunately, society changes it into being grey.

"If a young girl gets raped, we often say it was her fault because she did this or that or didn't mind herself and I think that this [court case] just shows the reality of what rape is because it's always black and white."

Having received some form of closure from the sentencing of her attacker, Ms McElroy said that if her speaking out can save at least one girl out there she will be happy.

- If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please click here for a list of support services.

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