Then I was brought into it. We would have to do striptease while he watched and masturbated in front of us. He used to make us strip off all our clothes and wear net curtains. John was 12 years older than me. In fact, both my brothers would have been finished secondary school when the nightmare started.
We were from a big family in rural Mayo and my parents always seemed to be busy on our farm. Patrick used to have full sex with me and I remember when I had my period he would have anal sex. He was very cute about not getting me pregnant too.
I remember being totally disengaged and lying on my stomach reading an Enid Blyton book while he raped me. I would become totally absorbed in the story of the book. On the other hand, John used to have sex with my older sister while making me watch. He always wanted me to watch, and would ask me what I was thinking and was I getting excited. He sometimes stopped and fondled me in some way. I clearly recall how I got more and more frightened by those footsteps even though he [John] was having sex with my sister, I never knew how he would involve me what else he might order me to do.
Whereas with Patrick, the younger one, I always knew what was going to happen — it was straightforward sex and so it was over quickly — and he was gone. Everyone denied it had happened and so she phoned me in a distraught state and I denied it all too. But as I was talking to her I was literally sliding to the floor and when my husband came home, two hours later, I was still there, curled up in a ball, bawling crying. We talked through the night.
He was so supportive and loving and I could never have come through this without him. I finally said it out loud to a member of my family, another victim: It was very emotional for both of us. It was even more upsetting because we both talked about how we saw it happening to each other.
It was after that conversation when the real guilt and shame kicked in. It was as if it had been buried somewhere safe until that moment. How could we have let it happen? Was it all our faults? About a year later I was driving home from work one day when a victim of familial sex abuse came on radio and began to tell her story. I had to stop the car and pull into the side of the road.
I had counselling with them for three years every week. There is no doubt that they gave me my life back. Anger BUT first I had to deal with the anger. I was very angry with my parents. I was very angry with my other brothers who I felt could have stopped it.
And I was very angry with myself. I felt that if I had been more cooperative — given more — to my abusing brothers, she would have escaped. What upsets me most is that they still accept my brothers. It was as if I had done something wrong and not them. After I got married and had my own children I became obsessed with protecting them. I am still very vigilant, particularly of my daughters. If I hear a noise on the corridor at night I am immediately alert. Not surprising really, is it?
I think, as a country, people now associate sexual abuse with clerical abuse. Like in the much-published Fiona Doyle case, with familial sexual abuse, you must take on the abuser and often your family as well. But remember there is always hope and family abuse does not have to become cross-generational. My eldest brother claimed he was abused by our grandfather. But he could have got help and support. I got help and I am a good parent. Mayo Rape Crisis Centre and other agencies are there to provide professional and emotional support.
If you are being abused, you can break the cycle. You can get help and no longer be a victim but become a survivor.