First man to head a rape crisis centre says stigma of assault still prevails

Psychotherapist David Madden appointed chief executive of Sligo Rape Crisis Centre

David Madden, the first man to lead a rape crisis centre in Ireland, said there were people leading lives ‘of quiet desperation’ who had never talked to anyone about their experiences of abuse. Photograph: Brian Farrell.

David Madden, the first man to lead a rape crisis centre in Ireland, said there were people leading lives ‘of quiet desperation’ who had never talked to anyone about their experiences of abuse. Photograph: Brian Farrell.

 

Some victims of sexual assault “go to their graves” without having disclosed their experiences, the newly appointed chief executive of the Sligo Rape Crisis Centre has said.

David Madden, the first man to lead a rape crisis centre in Ireland, said there were people leading lives “of quiet desperation” who had never talked to anyone about their experiences because they grew up in an Ireland where rape or sexual assault were social taboos “like unplanned pregnancies or being gay”.

The psychotherapist, who previously managed a treatment centre for women addicts, said one of his priorities is to raise the profile of the centre as he believes it is “not even on the radar” of some who need it.

Mr Madden said there was still a stigma attached to rape and an attitude in some quarters that “there were two parties involved” which made it difficult to seek help.

“Of course there is still an element of the ‘maybe she was asking for it’ attitude because we live in a patriarchal society,” he said, adding that rape was about “social injustice” and power imbalance. “Rape has been a tool of war since before the Vikings and it still is today.”

With males making up just 5 per cent of the Sligo centre’s clients, Mr Madden acknowledged there was a particular stigma attached to sex crimes against men.

“Much as we like to think we have evolved, there are still stereotypes and the attitude that ‘big boys don’t cry’ is still there. Fellows find it hard to talk about their feelings. It does not come naturally to them.”

Mr Madden said reporting a sex crime was difficult for anyone because it was “so invasive and so intimate”.

There has been a 5 per cent increase in the number of men and women seeking help from the centre, which covers Sligo, Leitrim and west Cavan, since last year.

It dealt with 70 new clients between January and last month and provided 1,600 appointments and 600 counselling sessions over the period.

He acknowledged appointing a man to head up a rape crisis centre might raise some eyebrows but said it was not a bad thing for women whose experience of men had been profoundly negative to interact with a man in a more positive setting.

“Some feminists might ask ‘why a man’ but then again some feminists will ask ‘why not a man’,” he said.

Mr Madden said the #MeToo movement had helped to “shift the social landscape” in the same way as others such as Black Lives Matter or gay rights campaigns.

“With the #MeToo movement it took one or two people with great courage to stand up and name the accused, and before you knew [it] there was a flood of people and then some big names came out. That is social justice in action.”

He said the high-profile Belfast rape trial had also “freed people up” and empowered them to seek help and to talk about abuse. In the 2018 case, Ulster and Ireland rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were acquitted of rape following nine weeks in court.

Mr Madden said it was “a good thing that it got such media coverage,” adding that while it polarised public opinion it also raised awareness.

Sligo Rape Crisis Centre can be contacted on 1800 750 780 or srcc.ie