'Shame belongs to people that abused us' - Abuse survivour on why we need to change the narrative

A woman who was sexually abused by her grandfather has said people need to be mindful of the lang...
Jack Quann
Jack Quann

21.19 23 Nov 2020

Share this article

'Shame belongs to people that...

'Shame belongs to people that abused us' - Abuse survivour on why we need to change the narrative

Jack Quann
Jack Quann

21.19 23 Nov 2020

Share this article

A woman who was sexually abused by her grandfather has said people need to be mindful of the language they use around abuse survivours.

Kate Brennan-Harding says her grandfather abused her for several years.

She said she reached out to her best friend in primary school before telling her family.


She told Lunchtime Live she has recently had a retrospective look at her records.

"When I was around five - I don't know when it started - I was sexually abused by my paternal grandfather, and that went on for a number of years.

"My primary school life was perfectly normal, it was fun, I did speech and drama, I had a lovely home life and I was also was being sexually abused at the same time."

"I knew for quite a while that I needed to tell my mum, and I needed to tell someone to stop it - and I had been sharing this story with my best friend in primary school, and she sort of walked alongside me with it.

"We didn't have an understanding of it properly cause we were kids - you understand something's happening to you, you don't understand the language and you don't have the language around it.

"So it was getting closer to Christmas, and I was going to be going to spend time with my grandparents - my parents were split up at this stage - so I knew as I was getting older that I needed to do something.

"It was causing me too much stress, the idea of going to see them.

"My mom says it was Christmas Day, I think it was Christmas Eve...But we go into the kitchen, my brother had fallen and she was putting a plaster on his leg, and I just started to say - very badly - 'Look, grandad's doing things to me, he's doing things that are not nice'.

"And I couldn't get the words out properly, even now when I'm talking about it I can feel my throat start to go.

"My mom was shocked, obviously, and panicked and then because I wasn't able to be descriptive or specific, she's in a world of pain trying to figure out what I'm talking about.

"Then my best friend's mom, she called - or else my mom called her - and confirmed that I'd been telling my best friend all about it."

'A different face'

Kate said at this point she was 11-years-old, and that the abuse had stopped.

"But what didn't stop was the fact that it was hushed tones, obviously it's such a shocking thing to realise - this was back in the early '90s.

"I went for assessments in the Crumlin Children's Hospital, and I only received all my documents on that a few weeks ago [under] the Freedom of Information Acts.

"It's something else to have gotten these things, which say in writing that I was believed".

"It's actually been really empowering to see that".

Kate says she remembers suffering the abuse: "I remember quite clearly having a different face - inside my thoughts were panicked and scared, but I was also really scared about people seeing and finding out.

"And scared of all the things that he used to use to control me coming true: like my parents would no longer love me, that I would be seen as dirty, that I would be sent away".

"I learned then to put on a fake face, and panic was completely going on inside me.

"And I did that for so long, and it still impacts my life now - in a situation where it should be panic, I go into this very numb state".

'I am not owned by it'

Kate has said she wants to change the narrative around victims of childhood sexual abuse.

"All of that that happened me does not mean that I am owned by it, or that it is the sum of my parts.

"It is something that is horrible, but it is not then the view that I should be looked at as only that, or a reason to say somebody is broken or that their life won't be successful because they were sexually abused.

"So often - people don't mean it - but through our language we tell people 'Oh you were destroyed, your life was destroyed, your childhood was ruined' all of these things.

"And when you're a person who has been sexually abused, you already somewhat believe that about yourself.

"So when other people say that, or when a newspaper article says that, it just compounds and keeps you stuck.

"And it keeps you covered up in shame - and we don't own the shame, the shame belongs to the people that abused us".

"I think the reason I'm talking about this is not to make anyone wrong for their understandable reaction, it's more that if you haven't been a victim of childhood abuse, or any kind of abuse, there's a missing [sic] in terms of you can't possibly understand.

"And I know that people are trying to empathise, but there's a moment where you can take a step back and you can say 'I'm really sorry that happened to you, this is a disgrace'.

"But when you say that the person's life or childhood or any experience has meant that they suddenly have a closed future in front of them, that they have to live in to a reality where people are telling them they're broken, then they will never be able to break free of that.

"So it's, I think, up to everybody to be mindful of the language that we use, and to then look at how we support and empower victims and survivours of childhood sexual abuse".

'One thing that will really help you'

Kate explained she wanted her records for part of an upcoming podcast.

"I'm curious, this is a part of my story that I don't know.

"I know my memories, I know what happened - but I'm currently doing a podcast a the moment, 'We Stand Podcast', and [in] one of the episodes we interview my mom about me disclosing.

"The whole entire thing is that it's not just me, it's not just my story.

"There's my mom, there's my aunts, there's my brothers, there's everyone that's been impacted".

"To read about myself as an 11-year-old, and to read about me talking about what happened was really powerful.

"I had it for years [that] I didn't say enough, I had it for years and years that it was my fault that nothing happened, that my grandad died without getting any kind of repercussions or anything - and I didn't, I did tell enough, it's written down in black and white".

And she has advice for anyone in a similar position.

"If you're older and you've gone through something, and you haven't spoken about it, I think speaking about it to someone is empowering.

"I think it's the most terrifying thing you can ever do, because it's that one moment where suddenly people see you as slightly different - and that's why we speak out and change the narrative.

"But I think even if you can't do that, I think maybe write yourself a letter - just get it out of your mind, out on to paper, just out of you.

"If you're a younger person listening to this, there are services that you can contact anonymously and speak to people about what's been happening to you.

"Speaking it out, even though it is so scary, it is the one thing that will really help you.

"And there's nothing wrong you with, there never has been anything wrong with you".

'Shame belongs to people that abused us' - Abuse survivour on why we need to change the narrative

00:00:00 / 00:00:00


Anyone affected by issues raised in this article can contact 'CARI' on 1890-924-567 or 'One in Four' on 01-66-24-070.

Share this article

Read more about

Abuse Survivour Child Sexual Abuse Kate Brennan-Harding Lunchtime Live Sexual Abuse

Most Popular