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This Irish 'I Believe Her' Facebook page is giving a voice to survivors of sexual assault

Your story can help to raise awareness in the public consciousness and to help to effect change in how rape is viewed

THE BELFAST RAPE trial was followed closely by people from across the island due to the high profiles of those accused.

PastedImage-57038 Source: Sam Boal, Rollingnews.ie

After 9 weeks of reading and hearing about the trial, last week’s outcome sparked demonstrations and numerous debates about the overall treatment of women in the justice system.

PastedImage-3585 Source: Eamon Farrell, Rollingnews.ie

The IBelieveHer rallies, signs and hashtags were not solely in solidarity with the victim of one case in particular.

In the wake of the eyeopening #MeToo movement, the Belfast trial became a catalyst for Irish society to demonstrate their anger and frustration surrounding how sexual assault and abuse is dealt with here in Ireland. Or more accurately, not dealt with.

Sexual assault is one of the most under-reported  crimes, with many victims never telling their story.

But now there is another place for victims to have their voices heard.

An Irish Facebook page called ‘I Believe Her – Ireland‘ has created a space where the survivors of sexual assault can share their stories, anonymously.

We want to offer an outlet for survivors to tell their personal stories. We hope that this will raise awareness in the public consciousness and ultimately help to effect change in how we view rape, removing stigma, changing how we report sexual violence in the media and ensuring that complainants are treated compassionately and with adequate representation at trial.

Source: @ibelieveher/facebook.com

The ethos of the page is to give an outlet to victims to share their experience and for them to have a place where they are supported and believed. To meet that end, the creator is active in moderating the page as they do not want it to become a place for debating the issues.

Many might say this is ‘PC culture gone mad’ and that this page is silencing debate.

However, there are countless other Facebook page and forums where online discussions can occur. Often online discussion can descend into an argument and the creator of the page wants to avoid this through the strict ‘no debating’ policy:

I want to make sure that anything that could be upsetting to our contributors or that may try to invalidate their experiences is not shown on this page.

Source: @Ibelieveherireland/facebook.com

The page acknowledges that many do not report their crimes, and that is why it is all the more important to share their experiences.

Due to the intimate nature of events, the fear of not being believed, the guilt and shame that society makes survivors feel, and the trauma of the rape itself, many survivors feel that that they cannot come forward. Approximately 65% of those that present to a Rape Crisis Centre will go on to report their experience to the Gardai or other formal body. Fewer go on to trial and fewer still result in a conviction.
As a result its easy for us as a country to ignore that 1 in 5 adult women will experience sexual violence and 1 in 10 adult men. We don’t hear about it, we don’t see rapists being convicted by the courts. We can pretend it is a rare event.

The Facebook page uses a statistic from the Rape Crisis Network Ireland which says that 65% of survivors using Rape Crisis Centre services in 2015 had not previously reported to any formal authority, ie gardaí, doctors etc. Around 88% of survivors who made contact with the Rape Crisis Centre were female.

Clíona Saidléar, executive director of RCNI, said:

The figure of 65% who don’t previously report it and come to rape crisis centres – they have no other voice bar this data. The fact that the vast majority (85%) know the perpetrator could go some way to explaining why so many of these crimes don’t get reported.

However, the data and figures cannot account for the wide variation of each victim’s unique stories, experience and emotions during and after their assault.

That is why this page is so important. Each survivor’s voice is crucial in helping other victims see that their experiences and reactions were ‘normal’ and also in helping society at large understand this issue from the victim’s own perspective and their own words.

The creator of the page told DailyEdge.ie that ”A lot of the stories teach us something about the true nature of consent, something I feel isn’t generally understood by the public”.

In positive news, the creator also said that the page, in giving non-judgmental support, has given unexpected confidence to many of those who shared their stories:

A number of people have mentioned they will be contacting the support numbers provided. So that’s really positive.

Pages like ‘I Believe Her – Ireland’ and movements like #MeToo and #IBelieveHer are more than social justice warriors.

They send a powerful message to survivors of sexual assault that they are supported and they are believed. They allow conversations to take place so that those in society who have never been a victim to sexual assault or harassment can become aware of how far reaching these crimes are.

What once was a topic shrouded in secrecy and shame, is slowly becoming something that is being talked about with honesty and openness.

If you feel able, the page wants to hear your stories of survival at ibelieveherireland@gmail.com or by PM the page.

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