My speech from the March 31st Dublin #IBelieveHer rally.
The time for pleasantries has passed by centuries so I’m just going to get straight in to it: I was nine years old the first time a grown man told me he wanted to take me to bed. I was ten, the first time a grown man actually tried to. I was eleven the first time a grown man touched my genitals. These were three different grown men, in case there’s any confusion.
I was forced to leave home just three weeks after my fourteenth birthday because of mental illness in my parents so severe that it resulted in the incapacity of my mother and the suicide of my father.
Before the year was out — the year was 1990 — I was homeless on the streets of Dublin. I was, and was recognisably, extraordinarily vulnerable. For the predators of Ireland, instead of provoking some human sympathy, I represented an opportunity.
In the following year, the twelve months between my fourteenth and fifteenth birthdays, I was sexually harassed, abused and assaulted, more times than I can possibly count. I think of it today as an intense form of sexualised bullying. When you are a homeless young girl, the perverts come out of the woodwork, and they come out every day. And you would be surprised by what those perverts look like. I didn’t see any dirty old men crouching behind bushes in mackintosh coats. I saw taxi men, business men, dentists and doctors, men of all descriptions. I saw many family men; men I was still innocent enough to think that I could trust. And I know what they saw in me; they saw a young girl with no one to protect her. A girl that they could use. And they did their damnedest to make good on their own convictions.
In the summer of 1991, I met a young man who thought he had the remedy for my homeless situation, although he turned out to be more concerned with his own situation than mine. He brought me down to the red light zone. I can’t remember whether it was six or seven men he sold me to that day, but I know it was one or the other, and I know something else too: I resent the men who bought me a hell of a lot more than the one who sold me, because it was the men who bought me who created the marketplace for pimps to operate in, in the first place.
That went on for seven years; I was fifteen getting in, twenty-two getting out, and let me tell you that I will never listen to the nonsense that’s peddled in this country and elsewhere, that refers to the ritualised sexual exploitation of prostitution by the stupid, contemptible and deliberately misleading term of ‘sex work.’ Prostitution is neither sex nor work. Sex, devoid of mutuality, is not sex. What men buy in prostitution is not sex; it is sexual access. Prostitution is not work. It is monetised molestation; the commercialisation of sexual abuse.
I could say a lot more, because there’s a lot more to say. We haven’t got time for that, but I do think it’s important to add that I grieve for the loss of the intimate connection between men and women that’s currently being destroyed by the normalisation of prostitution, pornography and the fetishisation of sexual abuse in our culture; and it is not unconnected to the situation that’s brought us here today.
We are here because a young woman was treated like dirt, put on trial and torn apart in the Belfast courts. Treated like she herself was in the dock, and she was; we all saw it. Nine straight weeks of allegations. Told she was delusional, accused of being a liar. Her bloodied underwear and clothes paraded in the court, as if this were an indictment of her person, rather than of the persons who bloodied them. She was delivered shame, devastation, and life-long humiliation beyond words or measure.
There is only one reasonable thing we can do in response to the ways sexual assault complainants are treated. In the North and in the Republic, we must call for complete overhauls of our legal systems in relation to sexual offences on this island. We must demand reviews of our sexual abuse complaints processes. We must insist that never again will we see women legally shamed and abused and bullied because they’ve had the temerity to refuse to be sexually shamed and abused and bullied.
It is time to refuse to accept the inhumane bullying of sexual abuse victims in the courts. This bullying is the reason so few people report rape. We are in the outrageous situation where a tiny fraction of rape victims report rape. Of those, a tiny fraction are put forward to the courts, and of those, a tiny fraction secure a conviction. It’s time to say, we’ve had enough of your tiny fractions. It is time for change.
To close, let me just say: I believe her. I believe her, and sue me Paddy!