‘It’s 1,000 days since I picked up the phone to report I’d been sexually abused as a child’

A woman shares her experience of taking a case involving historical sexual abuse, what drove her to it, and what is keeping her going

“To feel heard and listened to kept me going through those tough six years.” These are the words of 25-year-old Hannah Irish as she spoke outside the courts in January following the sentencing of her cousin. Thirty-year-old Bill Irish was convicted by a jury of sexual assault and oral rape of his young cousin on dates between 2004 and 2010. He received a sentence of 5½ years.

I don’t know Hannah, but I was transfixed watching her victory speech online. As I read the details of the case via The Irish Times, I found myself drawing parallels between her story and mine. Hannah went on to tell reporters, “you really don’t know the strength you really have”.

Her inspirational words of hope came to me at a time when I needed them most.

This month marks 1,000 days since I first picked up the phone and rang the Garda confidential line to report that I’d been sexually abused as a child. That’s close to three years ago and a final file has yet to be sent to the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions).


Before watching Hannah talk so triumphantly outside the courts, I was contemplating giving up, as it’s been frequently challenging to my mental health. To have to “park the case” and get on with my life, which includes being a wife, a mother to young children and a colleague in a demanding workplace, is relentless.

Why did I report the historical crime in my 40s?

In 2021 I was at work, engrossed in whatever project was pressing at the time. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the day until an email came through from my daughter’s primary school to alert parents about an upcoming Stay Safe programme that was going to be given to my 10-year-old daughter’s class. The email outlined the aims of the programme which were to “teach children the safety skills necessary to protect themselves from physical or sexual abuse and to emphasise the importance of telling a trusted adult about any problems they have”.

I froze.

I felt sick and started to cry uncontrollably. I think I was initially crying with relief that my daughter was about to be given skills that I had never been taught when I was in school, but then the tears progressed to sobbing. I realised I was also crying for my 10-year-old self who hadn’t known at the time that the way in which an older, trusted person had often intimately touched me had been wholly inappropriate.

As a 40-year-old woman, however, I knew it was wrong.

Reading that email was the catalyst I needed to finally pick up the phone and dial the Garda Confidential helpline. A few weeks prior, though, the seed had been planted. I would now describe it as a trigger that helped nudge me closer to making that monumental call.

While out for a walk, I had been listening to the BBC podcast Where is George Gibney? and at the end of each episode, the producers had shared helpline numbers which I had saved to my phone. Listening to that podcast had been really upsetting for me, but helpful at the same time because I had related to so many of the experiences shared by the survivors. The story of one woman had resonated so much with me that I had transcribed some of her statements directly on to my phone as I walked. I wanted them, as a reminder to myself that I wasn’t alone in how I was feeling.

Lines such as, “my first kiss was with him”, “I was 10, a baby”, “disappointed in myself”, “but you were a little girl”, all had echoes of scary familiarity.

By the time she got to the line, “I’ve done it for my girls because I’d hate if anyone did anything like that to them, I’d kill the person, I’d be up for murder,” I knew what I wanted to do next.

The following week, that email from the school prompted me to make that all-important call. I’ll never forget the kindness of the male garda at the other end of the line. He spoke to me so gently, yet professionally, and advised me that one of his colleagues, specially trained in historical childhood sexual abuse, would follow up soon.

I got off the phone, discreetly disappeared to a toilet cubicle in work, rang my husband, and cried hysterically down the phone. As my husband tried to decipher through my sobs what had just happened, he told me how proud he was of me and I felt proud too. (I didn’t realise it at the time but I’ve since learned from a Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre counsellor that it’s common for childhood sexual abuse survivors to report historical crime when they’re much older and especially if they have had children who have turned the same age as they were when the abuse happened.)

What happens next?

The second call from gardaí came through within 48 hours and was more detailed than the first. This time, the garda explained that if I opted to proceed to making an official statement then it would become a formal criminal case. They outlined that the reported incidents would no longer be under my control nor would the outcome. They asked many times was I sure that I wanted to go ahead with the formal investigation, warning me it could take years and there was no guarantee the accused would be convicted.

They advised me to take some time to think it through and to talk to someone for support. Immediately after hanging up, I rang a work colleague who had taken a case against a relative. In that case, the DPP had decided not to progress. It had taken years to reach that decision. I asked my colleague had they regretted any of it. Without hesitation they said no. They had to do all they could, to fight for justice.

I understood.

Making a statement

A few days later, a female detective was assigned to my case. I was relieved when she told me I wouldn’t have to go to the Garda station. We arranged to meet at a nondescript private office space that gardaí in the area frequently use to interview people, as discreetly as possible.

No words can fully articulate how terrified I was walking into that room, but the detective’s sensitive approach immediately had me at ease. I spent more than 11 hours giving my statement, across two sessions on consecutive days. It was emotionally traumatic to painstakingly recall every single detail of the abuse.

Afterwards, I felt relief, combined with terror over what my siblings would think of me when they found out.

And I felt exhausted at the prospect of having to face into a full day’s work.

Telling family

I was in my 20s before I found the strength to tell my family members about the childhood abuse. While they had sympathised initially, this is what I think is going on in their heads ever since: “Okay, thanks for telling us, it’s great you’re going to counselling so you don’t have to talk to us about it and then we won’t have to be reminded about something that makes our family feel so uncomfortable.”

That and, “oh, what would people in the town think”?

My aunt was the one exception. She was the first one I talked to about the abuse when I was in my 20s. And she was the first one to agree to give a statement when I revealed to her in my 40s that I had finally reported the crime.

She was a shy woman who had lived a quiet, solitary life so I fully appreciated the enormity of her gesture to go to the Garda and give a lengthy statement in support of my case. I can’t fully express how much her unwavering support has always meant to me. I’m sad to share that she died suddenly last year, leaving me bereft and very much alone among my family as I continue to pursue justice for myself.

Not one of my siblings ever asks me about the case and if I bring it up, they quickly change the subject because I think it all just makes them so uncomfortable. They’re not bad people and they support me in so many other ways for which I’m grateful. I’m just sad that their desire to escape their uncomfortable feelings far outweighs their ability to actively support me with this long, drawn-out case.

I feel blessed to have my husband, a few close friends and my therapist, as this is not a journey I would advise anyone to take without some level of support along the way.

Asking others to make a statement

When my husband and some of my friends agreed without hesitation to give statements, I cried with appreciation. This journey really is one hell of an emotional rollercoaster that is not for the faint hearted. One of my close friends is a survivor of childhood abuse too. The relative who abused her passed away a few years ago so she felt she had been robbed of a chance to get justice for herself.

Consequently, while she has found it emotionally draining to give a statement for me, she has also found it healing to be able to support me in such a practical way.

Advocating for myself

While the detective investigating my case has been as supportive as possible throughout, they are clearly stretched. She never rings me with an update. I always call her and I have done my best to source relevant contact details of potential witnesses to help speed up the process.

In my life in general, I’m used to getting things done quickly, so this whole investigation has been a hard lesson in patience, handing over control to someone else and trusting they have your best interests at heart.

It’s ironic to have to do that as an adult, seeing as doing that as a child is what led to the abuse.

Do I regret reporting the crime?

It’s now 1,000 days into the investigation and perhaps there are 1,000 days or more ahead of me before the case comes to any kind of resolution.

I don’t regret reporting the crime, but I do still find it hard to grapple with the ongoing silence from my family. Their actions can sometimes make me feel like I’m the one who is doing something wrong, which is exactly how I felt as a child after the abuse. Talking through those feelings with my therapist and my husband has helped me to remain strong enough to move forward.

One day, I will tell my children about this case – when they’re adults. I want them to know that while a horrible crime happened to their mam as a child, she did all she could to fight for herself – as an adult.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve re-watched Hannah Irish’s speech outside the courts. She referenced the “weight of carrying the guilt and shame” which also hit home for me, but when she said “taking the step to speak to the guards was freeing”, I nod in agreement each time I watch.

I feel proud of myself that I too have experienced that sense of freedom.

Whatever the outcome, I know I’ve already won.

  • Note: The case referenced in this article involving historical sexual abuse remains a live case. For this reason, the author is writing the story anonymously. Key facts and names have been altered so as not to identify the writer or anyone else connected with the case. The contributor wants to share their experience and feelings in the middle of the process to emphasise the importance of patience, resilience and self-belief, and to highlight that surrounding yourself with a robust support system is essential.
  • Garda Confidential Line – 1800 555 222
  • One in Four – (01) 66 24070, oneinfour.ie
  • CARI – 0818 924 567, cari.ie
  • Tusla – 0818 776 315, tusla.ie
  • Dublin Rape Crisis Centre – 1800 77 8888, drcc.ie