ON a Sunday evening in September, 1999, Miriam Moriarty Owens and her two young sons ran away from home.
She was running away from a marriage that was not working — and it was not her first time fleeing.
She had left home before, aged 21, having been sexually abused by her father on 146 occasions.
“I put the number down in my head,” she says.
Miriam, 61, grew up in an orphanage in Tralee due to her mother’s struggles with tuberculosis (TB).
“Years ago, if the mother was sick with TB, the father was not allowed to keep the children,” she explains.
Miriam remained in the orphanage and went to an ‘Industrial School’ run by nuns, until the age of 13.
“I’d seen my mum a few times, but my dad never came to visit,” she says.
Two days after her 13th birthday, Miriam went home so that she could spend the remainder of her adolescence living under one roof with her parents.
When her father first began molesting Miriam, she says that she wasn’t sure how to react.
“In my heart, I knew it wasn’t right, I thought to myself, is this normal, because sex was never mentioned in the orphanage,” she says.
“If we watched a film and if somebody kissed, the nuns would put a cardboard over the projector.”
At 19, she heard of a case of sexual abuse like she had experienced, with the perpetrator being sent to jail.
“I thought to myself, I can’t talk now because if I do, he’s going to go to jail,” she says.
“So, I waited until I was 21 because if you were not 21, they could bring you back, then I just left and married my husband in London the following year.”
Miriam soon fell pregnant and felt obliged to stay with her husband.
The marriage was not a happy one for Miriam, but she added: “He was good with the boys.”
A decade after Miriam finally felt strong enough to leave her husband and years after her father’s death, she broke her decades-long silence and detailed her traumatic past in a book called, Shh, Don’t Tell, A True Story Of Survival.
“It was the best thing that I ever did,” she says.
Miriam is now on friendly terms with her ex-husband.
Her story — and those of other survivors of domestic violence — were featured in a recent short film entitled Silence Is Golden. The film was showcased in Dingle Film Festival last year.
Miriam has now joined forces with John Hayes, a Cork-based stage director, in urging survivors of sexual violence to share their stories so that they could be brought to life on stage as part of a theatre production named, This Is My Voice.
Her story will be played out in one act with possibly six more acts being dedicated to other survivors.
All the money raised will go to Cork’s Sexual Violence Centre.
John says he was inspired to launch the project upon listening to a BBC programme on sexual violence on Christmas Day.
The 39-year-old stage director, whose last theatre production about the plight of refugees, No Borders 2, ran in Cork’s Granary Theatre last year, says raising awareness and showing solidarity with victims of sexual abuse are his primary objectives.
“None of us is going to make money out of this,” he says.
“In my head, I was like, don’t do this to get back to theatre, do it to fight this issue through the forum of theatre.”
Sexual violence has been described as “the world’s most underreported crime” and experts believe that sharing personal stories is key to reversing this trend.
A recent study found that 89% of perpetrators of rape in Ireland were known to their survivors.
The #MeToo Movement encourages victims of sexual abuse worldwide to share their stories online, followed by the hashtag, as a form of solidarity.
John is keen to portray the stories of asylum- seekers in Ireland who have been subjected to sexual violence during war and conflict in their home countries.
“There is hesitancy to acknowledge sexual violence in conflict and how it’s being used as a weapon of war,” John reasons.
Miriam is calling on other vulnerable groups including Travellers and members of the LGBTQ community, to share their stories with them too.
According to a comprehensive report on sexual violence in Ireland published by Trinity Law Review, gay and bisexual men disclosed almost twice the incidents of rape compared to their heterosexual counterparts.
The report also revealed that 40% of lesbians, gay and transsexuals waited ten years to report the abuse.
Miriam is hoping that they can bring their stories to life on the stage of Cork Opera House.
She believes that theatre, due to its live and present quality, is still a powerful medium through which artists can highlight significant issues and make a difference.
Both John and Miriam emphasise that participants in the project can opt for anonymity and there is no pressure for coming forward publicly.
You can send your stories of experiencing sexual violence to email@example.com or through Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/This-is- My-Voice-stage-production-237251267202293/.
Or for those who are not tech savvy, they can contact Miriam at 087-3678020.