WHAT a wonderful start to our conference today with guest speakers Mary Crilly and Br Donal Blake (pictured above) – so much wisdom and experience to absorb in both cases.
Today we heard about two diverse topics, the work of the Sexual Violence Centre, Cork, and the history of Edmund Rice.
We are always struck by key phrases and what was striking was the similar overall message of both talks – that it is we that need to lead, to be fearless, to respond to what we see in our own communities, and to be willing to talk about it.
Mary Crilly spoke with warmth, respect and compassion about the people she meets daily who have been victims of sexual violence with her main message being – “You are the people they want to talk to.”
People want to speak to their friends and families. Mary could not have communicated this more strongly and this speaks to our responsibility to educate ourselves and to open our minds to discussing issues affecting our youth, and indeed all people, no matter how difficult this might be.
It is about leadership and being willing to be open to ideas and to reaching out to people.
This was echoed by Br Donal Blake who, when describing the type of person Edmund Rice was, described two types of people. The person who says “that’s terrible and somebody should really do something about it” and the person who says “I am the person to do something about it”.
This is at the core of leadership and making a difference in what Donal described as the “Fourth World,” the people all around us who are suffering sometimes in silence with issues and experiences we attribute to out there, away from us.
We come away from today with a sense of hope and empowerment, with lots of questions, too, but also with simple straightforward answers which can be a rare commodity.
It was haunting to hear Mary Crilly cite a question she has to ask to each and every victim- “How was it your fault?” And also in relation to a case she outlined in the course of her talk –”Who can she tell?”
We need to have more conversations about the hurt and pain inflicted by victim blaming. A statement by Mary that will stay with us was in reference to taking shortcuts home on a night out. In reference to women, she said: “Girls don’t take shortcuts because if anything happens they’ll definitely be blamed.”
The brutal facts remain that 1 in 5 women in Ireland will be victims of sexual violence and of the 1 in 4 women who report only 10% will have their cases heard in a court.
The double victimisation involved in rape and sexual violence has become so endemic that it is going to take a lot of work to shift the damaging perception that victims of rape are somehow co-conspirators of the crime committed against them.
What stems from meeting with Mary today is that there is hope and there are answers and that all of us are that hope. Mary believes that we cannot take away what has happened to people, but that by being prepared to be part of an open dialogue we are making change.
Donal referenced the importance of “blooming where you’re planted” and we are very proud to be part of a Cork where women like Mary Crilly have very much bloomed where they were planted. She saw an issue and a problem and in the face of those who told her there was no problem to be worked on she persevered. Cork, 33 years later, has a safe space for victims of sexual violence a place that Mary Crilly describes as “belonging to the people of Cork”.
Another busy day ahead tomorrow! Join us to hear Chief Commissioner Emily Logan speak at 11.30am, while 4pm marks the proud occasion of launching a book of poetry ‘Hear Me Now’ by one of our very talented students.