Róisín Ingle: Dear Sister – Shame on the men of Dingle who praised your rapist

Those of us who have been sexually assaulted understand what you have been through

Some people in Dingle seem to have decided you are somehow responsible for Quaid’s crime. Photograph: Getty

Some people in Dingle seem to have decided you are somehow responsible for Quaid’s crime. Photograph: Getty

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Dear Sister, you are not actually my sister, but for the purposes of this letter, and because I don’t know your name, I will call you that. In some ways I feel you are my sister. You are a woman who has been abused simply because you are a woman. Many of us can relate to you on that level even if we have not shared your trauma.

Those of us women and girls who have been sexually assaulted understand even more deeply what you have been through. There are so many of us. Too many of us. Some of us have shared our stories and many have not. Some of us were afforded justice and many were not. We understand your torment, your anguish, your rage, your sadness, your determination to seek reparation and your will to survive.

We know and feel your pain. We are in awe of your strength in speaking out.

We see you. We love you. We are proud of you.

I just wanted you to know.

Many men and boys – there are many good men and boys – also feel kinship with you. Despite what we sometimes hear, they do not need to have daughters or sisters themselves to fully comprehend what was stolen from you that night in June 2018.

That night a trusted family friend, 26-year-old Conor Quaid of Monaree, Dingle, Co Kerry, climbed into your bed while you were, as the court heard, “curled up asleep” in your pyjamas.

Most people only need to be human to understand the horror of what you went through that night and of what you have suffered since. I am writing to you, sister, because I want you to feel that solidarity and compassion deep in your bones as you try to move on in these next few days, weeks, months and years. I want you to know that you are not alone.

Sister, even though it might sometimes feel that way, you are not alone.

I will say it again: You are not alone although I know that there are people in your area who do not believe you. I know because I’ve been contacted about them. About the people in Dingle, young and older, who, in their ignorance and callousness, seem to have decided you are somehow responsible for Quaid’s crime and for the fact that he was convicted and sentenced to six and a half years in prison.

There are people who still choose to ignore the clear evidence of your trauma, the guilty verdict of the jury, the sentence handed down by the judge. Who choose to ignore the fact that shortly after the horrific incident, struggling to make sense of what had happened, you sent a message to your assailant on Facebook accusing him of rape. The court heard that Quaid’s replies to these accusations were “accepting of his guilt”. The court also heard that he has since shown “no remorse”. He pleaded not guilty.

I spent the last week thinking about you, sister, and about our other sisters in Ireland and all over the world. I thought about Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, harassed in her UCD workplace and warned that speaking out about her harasser would damage his career.

I watched the documentary Athlete A, and thought about all the young American gymnasts who were sexually assaulted by their team doctor, the convicted serial rapist Larry Nassar. I thought about the abusive phone calls and letters Nassar’s supporters sent to the victims even after the full horror of what he had done to hundreds of girls under the guise of medical treatment was revealed.

I spent the Easter weekend thinking about them and about you. And about the men from Dingle and elsewhere who sat down and wrote eight glowing testimonials about Conor Quaid, in the hope that his sentence would be reduced. All perfectly legal, of course: these character references are part of our justice system. That system meant you and your family were forced to sit in court and hear all about your rapist’s “commitment to a local GAA club and the time he had taken care of an elderly relative”.

You had to hear praise for Quaid from a retired Garda detective sergeant and from the owner of one of your local pubs who said he was “the best employee I’ve had in 25 years”.

You sat and listened to the words of a man, now a big shot in Dingle GAA, praising Quaid’s ability to be “a team player”.

Because of these testimonials, sister, you and your family and your friends now move around the beautiful Dingle peninsula knowing exactly how highly some of your neighbours regard the man who raped you while you were “curled up asleep” in your bed. 

Your relative wrote to Joe Duffy’s Liveline, at RTÉ Radio 1, saying: “It was very difficult for us to come forward in a small town... I am getting panic attacks knowing that people who support the rapist publicly are living so close to me.”

It brought back the memory of another Co Kerry sister who in 2009 had to sit in a courtroom and watch 50 people from Listowel line up to shake hands with and warmly hug her abuser, Danny Foley. I thought of the priest, a character witness in the case, saying Foley had always struck him as having “the highest respect” for women.

Shame on them, sister. Shame on all of them. That shame is a burden they must carry all their lives. The publican, the big noise in GAA, the retired garda, the priest, anyone who whispers “that poor lad Quaid”, all the huggers and the hand shakers. May they hang their heads low, bowed down by the burden of shame they carry, their reputations tainted, their true characters exposed.

Not you, though, sister. Never you. There is no shame on you, sister. You can move through the world, with your head held high, for the rest of your life.

We walk beside you.

We see you. We love you. We are proud of you.

I just needed you to know.

In solidarity,

Róisín

roisin@irishtimes.com

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article you can visit Rape Crisis Help or call the national 24-hour rape-crisis helpline, at 1800-778888