Clíona Saidléar: Surviving confinement difficult for victims of sexual violence

Survivors of sexual violence are already resourceful, but need additional support to get through this isolating era safely, says Clíona Saidléar
Clíona Saidléar: Surviving confinement difficult for victims of sexual violence

Survivors of sexual violence are already resourceful, but need additional support to get through this isolating era safely, says Clíona Saidléar

The Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) believe many survivors of sexual violence are suffering in silence during stay-at-home.

But — they do not have to do this alone and it may not be advisable.

While we are all in this together, for many people they are experiencing stay-at-home not just as part of the community pulling together but as survivors of sexual violence.

Many of these survivors were already isolated by secrecy before we isolated in our homes.

The conditions of stay-at-home matter immensely for many survivors. The necessary and advisable measures of control — confinement at home, restrictions on movement and placing a mask over their face — can trigger and replay the conditions of the sexual violence they experienced.

The public health measures asked of us all can mirror the control and taking of freedom exerted by an abuser. It takes energy to maintain the distinction between these two. This often hits in the gut and emotionally, despite what you may know rationally. We call this ‘triggering’.

The labour of holding firm is especially exhausting under these circumstances.

Survivors of sexual violence are resourceful. They have spent the time since someone violated them learning how to hold their trauma, how to live with it, how to live well despite it. But many of the innovations and controls that survivors have built around themselves in order to live their best lives are challenged by stay home.

Some survivors are now confined in the homes within which they were abused as children; for some they simply don’t have the privacy to make a phone call, for some they are at home with the abuser.

Some can no longer get the hour a day alone that they used to, the social activity that sustained them; the book club, the Zumba class, the walk to and from work each day giving them precious time-out, the moment when their children were safely delivered to school for a few hours are no longer available.

For some, they have been separated from the safe people they had gathered about themselves. For many survivors, these things, taken by Covid, were part of a routine that gave them the everyday space and energy they needed to manage their trauma.

We are here to say that for rape crisis, survivors are our priority. While others are working on responding to the pandemic, our job is to support survivors. No survivor should hesitate to ring us.

We will always find time to have the initial conversation with you and to prioritise and tailor supports for each survivor, whether that is safety planning if you are in danger right now, accompanying you to connect with the Gardaí or supporting you emotionally and in confidence.

For survivors actively engaged with rape crisis supports before Covid and who have been able to continue with us, the hour a week with an experienced and specialist sexual violence counsellor is one hour where they get to focus on their needs solely as survivors. This can help sustain them for the rest of the week when we all are asked to put the needs of the community first.

All across the country, survivors who had left rape crisis centre counselling confident in their capacity to live free, with joy in their lives are returning for support. For any survivor needing this support, we welcome them.

Clíona Saidléar is executive director of Rape Crisis Network Ireland
Clíona Saidléar is executive director of Rape Crisis Network Ireland

Some survivors have found themselves in the gravest of despair. We are grateful that they were in touch with us and trusted us to support them.

Supporting survivors, early and when they need it, so that they can come safely through stay-at- home, is our priority.

While most survivors are not in touch with a Rape Crisis Centre and unfortunately, we do have waiting lists, the whole community can help to support survivors.

The many small kindnesses and human interactions within our communities during stay-at-home are a lifeline for the survivors living amongst us. These cannot be underestimated and you will often not know whose life you saved today with a kind word or gesture.

Some survivors have found new ways to find time out. And Rape Crisis Centres are at the end of the line to offer direct and specialised support.

Nationwide Rape Crisis Centres remain open and accessible to anybody who needs them. This has been a priority for us and for government because we have not forgotten survivors in this and you matter to us.

- Clíona Saidléar is executive director of Rape Crisis Network Ireland

  • Anyone wishing to donate to your local rape crisis centre should donate directly to them — you can find your local centre here www.rapecrisishelp.ie The national 24 Hour Helpline run by the Dublin Centre is on 1800 778888.

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