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Tuesday 16 October 2018

'I was raped in city but had to travel to Mullingar to be treated,' woman tells Leo in letter

Dominique Meehan told Leo Varadkar that support for rape victims is lacking
Dominique Meehan told Leo Varadkar that support for rape victims is lacking

A young woman who was raped while attending a convention in a Dublin hotel has said she had to travel to a Sexual Assault Treatment Unit in Mullingar after the attack because the one in the capital was closed.

Dominique Meehan, who waived her right to anonymity after rapist Keith Hearne was jailed last year, has said that having to travel to the unit in the midlands also meant she couldn't drink liquids for six hours until forensic swabs were taken from her mouth because she had been orally raped.

The Donegal woman (25) has raised concerns over the availability of treatment and services supplied to rape victims in a letter to Leo Varadkar.

In it, she highlights a lack of Sexual Assault Treatment Units (SATUs) in the country, and the confusion surrounding the services available for survivors going through the justice system.

Dominique also tells Mr Varadkar how stigmas still exist around rape, and how some people close to her haven't spoken to her since her ordeal, probably because no one has told them that the attack wasn't her fault.

"My name is Dominique Meehan. For a quick insight into why I'm reaching out to you, I will explain a little about myself," she wrote in the letter.

"On July 4, 2015, I was raped at a comic book convention in Blanchardstown by Keith Hearne. Last June he was sentenced to 12 years in prison, to serve a minimum of nine years," she wrote.

"I have been in counselling for two-and-a-half years due to this event. Since Hearne's conviction I have found out a lot about our criminal justice system, the Sexual Assault Treatment Units (SATUs), and about the availability of services for rape survivors - like the Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI), and the services available for survivors hoping to go through the justice system," Dominique added.

"What I have found is that every professional I have spoken to does not know how to link a survivor to another service, or aren't sure of what services are out there.

"For example, in my experience I eventually gave up on trying to receive court accompaniment. I was given, I think, seven or eight different leaflets about this service, all with different information, and never a phone number or an email address," said Dominique, highlighting what for her has been a significant flaw in the current system.

"This is a very real problem for survivors and their extended support network. Myself and my family have become almost expert on the court system through my own research, with little help from any particular service," she added.

Dominique stressed that she was not being critical of the services themselves.

"The three nurses that treated me in SATU still remember my name after two years. My counsellor in Donegal Rape Crisis Centre is a fantastic lady and if there was an award for that line of work, she would win it several times over," she stressed.

Dominique has become more involved in raising awareness around rape, treatment and the justice system.

Stemming from her attack, she now wants to work in this field, teaching secondary students and younger people about the importance of consent, and what to do if they or one of their friends has been raped.

"Unfortunately, I can't find a way to get into this line of work because the information is just not out there," she wrote.

Dominique gave a speech last October at the SATU annual conference on the importance of having more SATUs in the country.

Survivor

"It has become acceptable in Ireland that a survivor has to travel a maximum of two-and-a-half hours to reach a SATU. Imagine that you have been attacked in Westport and need to travel all the way to Sligo Hospital to reach their SATU, sometimes not even in an ambulance," she wrote.

"You must sit in the dirty clothes that you have been attacked in, unable to drink, sore in areas you have no right to be sore in. I myself, having been attacked in Dublin, was sent to Mullingar as there were no SATUs available in Dublin, and wasn't allowed to drink for six hours even though I had been orally raped.

"No SATUs [available] in Dublin?

"A county with more than a million people to serve. One in four women and one in 33 men are sexually assaulted in their lifetime and there is only one SATU in the Rotunda. It's utterly astounding that this has gone on for so long," she adds.

"Our rape culture is a veritable disease on our society that often blames the survivors for their rape. Some people close to me won't even speak to me because I was raped, because no one has taught them that it wasn't my fault. It is never a survivor's fault. This old notion of shaming victims is not an excuse any more," she added.

Dominique wants to start a programme that counters rape culture in our schools, universities and workplaces, which will in turn oppose the culture in our nightclubs and on our streets.

"At the moment, women are taught to not tie up their hair so their attacker won't be able to grab it, and to wear shoulder bags so it's less likely they will be mugged. In a more simple sense, advising women to change their behaviour is just saying 'make sure he rapes the other girl'.

"There will always be another girl who is less secure, less sober and walking home with less friends in a darker part of town. I want that girl to be just as safe as I want me to be safe," she wrote.

"We as survivors are entitled to proper support, and therefore a new and expansive report on how to help survivors. The last Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) report was 15 years ago. Fifteen! This means our facts are completely out of date, which should never happen in a developed society such as ours."

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