Colette Sheridan: 'Women of Honour' finally have their say - and it's not pretty

We are almost beyond being shocked, such is the ongoing war on women, says Colette Sheridan
Colette Sheridan: 'Women of Honour' finally have their say - and it's not pretty

SPEAKING OUT: Members of Women of Honour, Diane Byrne, Karina Molloy, and Yvonne O Rourke, before a meeting with Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Simon Coveney last week

THE allegation made after the broadcast of Women Of Honour, the RTÉ Radio One documentary, that abused army women were, when they made a complaint, interviewed by their attackers is outrageous.

But then so too was every aspect of the documentary by Katie Hannon.

Except we’re almost beyond being shocked, such is the ongoing war on women being waged around the world.

You don’t have to look to Afghanistan to see abuse and a terrible sense of entitlement on the part of some men, for whom women solely exist to be treated as slaves, sex objects and the subject of derision among the lads.

Some of these lads are so thick that they just don’t get it. They don’t realise that they are not god’s gift to women, but rather, pathetic gropers or dangerous rapists.

At best, they are those annoying guys in the pub who think a bunch of women are bait for being chatted up. If only being chatted up was as far as unwanted attention went.

On Prime Time last Thursday, two ex-army women were brave enough to come on television and talk about their degradation, the terrible wrongs that had been done to them, and how the abuse affected their lives.

Yvonne O’Rourke was “a really happy person” when she went into the defence forces, but she was to become suicidal. She hated herself. She suffered from depression.

Why should she have turned against herself, following a night out in a club with colleagues, one of whom allegedly did her terrible harm? But us women do that. We internalise the obnoxious behaviour of men, blaming ourselves.

Yvonne’s abuser was a senior officer in the army. She was a 23-year-old woman, intimidated by him to the extent that he ordered her to drink lots of beer. “Yes sir,” she said, being an obedient young woman who wasn’t confident enough to refuse the drink.

“Get that beer inside you,” he apparently said. The rest is a blur. Yvonne woke up the next day in the barracks. Her breasts and her private area were sore. She said she had no idea what happened.

But the violation, the humiliation and the pain in her body was the start of an awful dark period in her life.

She wondered why nobody seemed to notice that she had changed so much. She eventually spoke to a doctor.

“Don’t be like me. Don’t internalise it. It will eat you alive,” she said.

Karina Molloy also spoke on Prime Time. She was sexually assaulted in a swimming pool by a male colleague. He bragged about it afterwards in the officers’ mess, using crude language. This was relayed back to Karina.

She kept a note of the time-line of her abuse over the course of her career in the army. Between 1981 and 2012 (31 years), there was a gap of four years that was “without incident.”

So she put up with 27 years of harassment, bullying, inappropriate remarks and attempted rape.

Miriam O’Callaghan asked: “Has anything changed in the military?” 

Karina said that the abusive behaviour is still happening there. She advised women not to join the army “until the protection is there”.

According to the former army officer, Tom Clonan, who blew the whistle on sexual abuse in the defence forces 20 years ago, the military establishment has still not caught up with the rest of society.

“The experiences the women shared shows that the defence forces hasn’t moved beyond the 20th century,” said Clonan.

Unfortunately, in the 21st century, where men in positions of responsibility still get to abuse their office, it’s clear that greater vetting is needed.

Wayne Couzens, the former policeman behind bars for life for the kidnapping, rape and murder of Sarah Everard in London, has damaged confidence in the police. It was said about the rapist and murderer in court that as far back as 2002, he was “attracted to brutal sexual pornography”.

The police watchdog previously said that Wayne Couzens was linked to a flashing incident in 2015 and again, two days before he killed Sarah Everard.

What is this extreme hatred towards women? Why do some men take out their frustrations on women? Is it nature or nurture?

One way to make the workplace safer for women is to break down gender stereotypes. Women need to be put in positions of power to reduce male domination in all aspects of life. It’s vital that the undermining of female’s autonomy is challenged. This is the best bet for breaking down negative attitudes towards women and girls.

In the meantime, don’t walk home alone at night.

If you find yourself walking towards a group of males on the street, cross the road.

Is this defeatist? Not in the world we live in. It’s scary out there.

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