This is Sexual Violence
In 2014, DRCC teamed up with Women’s Aid to raise awareness of sexual violence in relationships.
This is Not Happily Ever After was a four-week, national awareness campaign funded by Cosc, The National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence.
The Campaign aimed to raise awareness that the majority of rape and sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim and to break the taboo of speaking about rape and sexual violence within relationships. It seeks to reinforce that rape, sexual assault, and sexual coercion within a relationship are crimes and to challenge the humiliation, shame, and self-blame victims experience.
We are all familiar with the popular fairy-tale narrative of the happily-ever-after relationship. In this campaign, we are pulling back the cover and shedding light on those relationships where this idea of happily ever after is a myth or a façade, and where there is significant abuse and violence taking place.
Naming sexual violence in relationships as a common experience for women in Ireland is uncomfortable and upsetting.
Below are examples of scenarios that reflect the various types of sexual violence within relationships that have been reported by DRCC and Women’s Aid clients. While all personal details have been changed or omitted to protect anonymity, these scenarios provide examples of what it is like to experience sexual coercion, assault, and rape within a relationship.
Reading these scenarios may help you to identify behaviours that you or someone you know may have experienced or currently be experiencing. If you feel upset or want to talk confidentially, it is important to know that support is available on our National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900 and on the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre National 24 Hour Helpline 1800 77 8888.
“When I look back at that first relationship, after I came out in my late teens, I am still upset to remember how controlling my partner was and how awful it was to be forced by him into certain sexual acts that I didn’t want. I was really intimidated by him as he was more experienced and would taunt me that I was boring or limited if I didn’t go along with what he wanted. He threatened to leave me and I wasn’t able for that – I was very needy and dependent then. It took a few years before I realised I was being abused in the relationship and contacted the confidential Rape Crisis Centre Helpline. I got help and finally left that relationship. It was only when I met my present partner that I learnt it didn’t have to be like that, that I had choice and I could say no and have my choices respected and still be loved.”
Forced to consent to sex because of threat of physical violence, blackmail, or any other forced consent, not having a real choice whether or not to engage in sex, or in what kind of sexual activities
“I didn’t have a real choice whether or not to have sex, or do whatever he demanded of me in the bedroom. If I said no he would get what he wanted one way or another. It wouldn’t matter what time of night it was or whether I was sound asleep or sick, he would come back from the pub and I would suddenly wake up to find him having sex with me without any warning. He just treated me like a thing without any feelings. My self-esteem and confidence were destroyed and it wasn’t something I felt I could tell anyone, I felt so ashamed. It was on the Helpline that I first talked about it. It was confidential and I didn’t have to give my name. It was a relief to tell someone and not to be blamed.”
“After the birth of our first child, I had a very bad time – I had a lot of gynae problems and I was constantly in pain. I became depressed. Sex was the last thing on my mind as the baby was colicky and didn’t sleep well and I was constantly exhausted. But when I said I was too tired or too sore, which was the truth, he would say it was my duty as a wife and that if I was not going to perform my duty he would be entitled to seek a divorce. I was on a temporary work visa at the time and had not got citizenship in that country. I was afraid what would happen to me if I didn’t agree.
Being forced to have sex in return for money for basics, to feed the children, or for exchange of other necessary or withheld items
“He controlled all the money. I had to ask for money for the groceries or the children’s clothes and he was always mean about it and gave me the bare minimum. He was real controlling – he always checked the change and left me with very little. And then if I said I didn’t want to have sex, he would threaten that I’d get no money for a week. This happened a few times when the children were small and I had to borrow money from my mum and my sister. I was absolutely mortified and so I learned the hard way that I’d better give in rather than have that happen again. It was only in counselling in the Rape Crisis Centre many years later that I could tell what happened and realise how my confidence and self-esteem had been gradually eroded from him controlling the money and using it as a bargaining tool for sex. It was like a nightmare at the time”.
“My husband put me down all the time. When I tried to stand up for myself he would punish me, locking me in a room until I apologised, beating me, or making me perform sexual acts on him. He was a drinker and I started to drink with him – it helped to numb me. He would give out to me for my drinking, and I would try to stop, but it was him who brought the drink home and would keep pouring them for me. It got that most nights I wouldn’t remember going to bed. Some mornings when I woke up I would be bruised and sore, and my husband told me that I was so drunk I had fallen. There were times when I felt from my body that he had beaten and had sex with me, but he would always deny this. I chose to believe him, as I did not want to think otherwise. He would ask why would he want to have sex with an unattractive drunk. One morning I woke up and there was really bad bruising all around my vagina, and bruising on my neck. This really frightened me, and I couldn’t deny my fears any more. I went to my GP and told her everything. I didn’t want to go home and she contacted Women’s Aid who found a place in a refuge. She also referred me to the Rape Crisis Centre. They attended SATU with me. I discovered that as well as giving me the drink my husband had been lacing it with sleeping pills. Women’s Aid are now helping me to formally separate from my husband and I have continued to go to counselling with the Rape Crisis Centre. “
Forced, or not disclosed, photographs or videos being taken in compromising position or during sexual acts, and later used to threaten or blackmail
“When I broke up with Dave, he said I’d be sorry and come running back to him, that no one else would have me, not after he showed them what a slut I was. I didn’t know what he was talking about, I thought because of all the things he said that I’d never hear from him again. Then I logged onto Facebook one day to find my profile picture had been replaced by a nude one. I didn’t even know when the photo had been taken. It looked like I was asleep. All my friends had seen this. I didn’t know what to do; I was so embarrassed and scared. Then I saw a post from Dave, it just said ‘slut’. I knew then it was him. I deleted the photo, and a Helpline support worker helped me change all my passwords, and my phone number. But I haven’t gotten over the terror of what else he might have done while we were dating, and when he might use it. I haven’t been able to put him out of my head.”
“Sex was always a big part of my relationship with John. He was much more adventurous than me and initially I enjoyed this. He told me I had clearly had a very sheltered upbringing and that he would help me broaden my horizons. When we started acting out some of his fantasies during sex, it didn’t feel right, but John told me this was a normal sexual relationship, and that I was being prudish. So I suppressed how I felt. One time he actually hurt me, and when I shouted out for him to stop he carried on more forcefully. Generally I would go along with what he suggested. If I didn’t he would become more brutal in the sex, and ignore me afterwards. One night John arrived home with two of his friends and I ended up having sex with them while John watched. I felt awful afterwards – I hadn’t wanted to do it but I didn’t feel able to say no to John. It made me realise how much control he had over me. I had heard about Women’s Aid from a friend – I wasn’t sure if it was the right place to go, but the support worker reassured me that they could give me support. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to change John’s behaviour, but I did realise it was wrong, and eventually separated from him. I recently started counselling with the Rape Crisis Centre as I don’t want how John treated me to impact on future relationships.”
“We were together a few years when I realised that he was watching more and more porn – he didn’t even try to hide it from me. That was bad enough but then he insisted that I watch it with him “to spice things up”. I found it revolting and disgusting as it was real hardcore stuff and very violent. I felt it was degrading to the women in the video and to myself to have to watch it. But he put a lot of pressure on me saying I was square and it would help me loosen up. I didn’t know how to get out of it as he would become really aggressive if I didn’t go along with watching it. That’s how he got turned on and then he wanted sex. It went on from there to him wanting me to act out some of the scenes in the porn videos. I was sickened by the very thought of this but he had a way of intimidating me so that I felt threatened if I didn’t agree, or he would make life very uncomfortable in a whole lot of ways. I would give in and do some of the things, and he forced me to do others that I absolutely didn’t want to do. I felt so degraded and dirty and so ashamed. I felt I couldn’t tell anyone, I felt I was to blame for doing it. And who could I tell anyway?”
“The physical abuse was there almost from the beginning, along with the put-downs and the threats and the gradual isolation from my family and friends. As the children came along though it got worse, and his drinking became a regular feature. He’d come home from the pub and start shouting and abusing me. I couldn’t protect myself and I couldn’t protect the children either, though I tried. They saw and heard things that they should never have gone through. The worst – and I still can’t bear to think of it – was one night after being on the rampage all evening he raped me in the hall as I tried to run out. He didn’t care that the children could see and were terrified. It was after that that I rang the helpline and left with the children and went to a refuge. I got a lot of help and support and that was the beginning of me getting my life back and getting a more normal life for the children, but it took years to heal the hurt really, and feel normal again.”