(The Nationalist, 10 October 2003)
The poet, T. S. Eliot, wrote, ‘Human kind cannot bear very much reality’. It’s true. If reality is too ugly or unpleasant, we shut it out and pretend it’s not there. There are dark and ugly corners to Irish life, which we would prefer did not exist – but they do. Consider the following facts and figures taken from a report of the College of Surgeons published in April 2002, on Sex Abuse and Violence in Ireland (the SAVI Report):
42% of women and 28% of men report suffering some sexual abuse in their lifetime.
Penetrative abuse affected 10% of women and 3% of men. This means that one in every ten Irish women has been raped at some time in her life.
67% of abused girls and 62% of abused boys suffered abuse before the age of 12. For many of them the abuse went on for more than a year. And 25% of the abusers were juveniles.
30% of Irish women said they had been sexually abused as girls, compared to 29% in North America and 17% in Europe.
24% of Irish men said they had been sexually abused as boys, compared to 7% in North America and 5% in Europe.
The rate of report to the Guards was very low, and the number of victims who sought help was minimal.
The surveyors interviewed 3,000 people, and 500 of those were speaking about it for the first time in their lives.
We have a lot of soul-searching to do as a people before we come to the point of acknowledging and confronting the truth of this ugly situation. Why is there so much of this evil among us? If abuse, whether physical or sexual, is primarily about power rather than sex, what is this saying about Irish men and women, and the quality and character of our relationships? (One of the surprises in the report was the level of physical abuse of men by women.) Let us not sweep issues under the carpet. To do so gives shelter to the abuser and leaves the victim without defence or redress. We have done that too often in the past, at the price of great suffering to innocent people. We need now to face the truth and deal with it. If we do so, we will be a better people at the end of the day.