Following minister Josepha Madigan's revelation in the Dáil that she was the victim of sexual assault, more people have come forward with their own experiences. On Wednesday’s Liveline, Katie Hannon heard from Independent Councillor, Deirdre Donnelly, who told how she was sexually assaulted in a hotel and how she felt that the process of reporting the assault was overwhelmingly negative. In fact, the reporting of her assault led Deirdre to believe that women who have similar experiences shouldn’t report what happens to them.
"I suppose the point I want to make here is that we have a justice system in this country that is genuinely not fit for purpose and I don’t think people realise just how bad it is."
It was extraordinary to hear a person who’s been the victim of a sexual assault say that she thinks women shouldn’t report it when it happens to them:
"I would just plead with women: don’t complain. Don’t report it. And just move on."
Damningly, Deirdre told Katie that, in her own experience and from what she’s heard from other people with similar experiences, the justice system can often be a worse experience for the victim than the assault being reported.
Deirdre told Katie that she was assaulted at an event in a hotel, when a man she hardly knew started interrupting conversations she was having with other people and making derogatory comments about the people she was talking to.
"Later on in the evening, I noticed, the way I was sitting, he kept rubbing himself up against me. This was in a bar, in full view of people, but no one seemed to notice."
Despite Deirdre moving away from this man, he came back over to her, wanting her to go to his room or them both to go to her room. He got more and more insistent.
"I was being rubbed, mauled, whatever and it got so bad, I had to shout at him to leave me alone. And I knew a number of people who were present and everybody stopped, everybody looked over. And I was so embarrassed, I left, which I shouldn’t have had to do."
Unfortunately, the harassment didn’t end with Deirdre deciding to leave and go to her room: the man followed her into the lift. He continued to insist that he was coming to her room. Eventually, when the lift stopped, Deirdre managed to run down the corridor – injuring her knee in the process – and get into her room before this man could catch her. The next day, she had to try to gather evidence of the man’s behaviour from the hotel, but they insisted that she had to report the incident to the Gardaí before they could hand over any CCTV footage. She later found out that she had a legal right to that footage. It was the first example of how she says victims are left totally unsupported in these situations.
"I didn’t actually realise that everything he had done was criminal, was illegal, until I went back studying Law myself in September. Because there’s no support for victims, no legal support whatsoever. No assistance. You’re totally on your own."
To hear Katie’s full conversation with Cllr Deirdre Donnelly – including what happened when she reported the incident to the Gardaí – on Liveline, go here.
If you’ve been affected by anything raised in this article, you can find support organisations here.