Sunday, November 11, 2012

Do Youth Defence Really Care About Rape Survivors?

Some time ago I wrote a piece on the typical Youth Defence follower. It was intended to be lighthearted: I listed the various right-wing American personalities and groups followed and wondered aloud why a supposedly Irish organisation would find their members expressing such interest. As my source material I gave a list of other groups followed by those who deem Youth Defence of interest.

As a closing comment I mentioned that there were no Irish charities on the list. (There’s one US-based charity.) Shortly afterwards I was contacted by a new friend who asked if I could get her some more details. The script I used to pool the accounts followed by Youth Defence followers had a cut-off of 11 – it was conceivable that ten Youth Defence fans supported a specific Irish charity. Nick Beard wanted to know how many, if any, supported charities that work with rape survivors.

I’d like to frame the discussion by opening with a quote from, a front organisation based in the same building and using the same staff as Youth Defence:

“Victims need real support not a quick-fix solution like abortion. Rape is a terrible crime against women. Victims need our support and sympathy. We should be doing a great deal more to protect and help them.” -link

Do they live by this maxim?

The recent Polish case decided by the European Court of Human Rights has brought the issue of abortion access for rape survivors to the forefront of the abortion debate recently.  P&S v. Poland concerned a 14 year old Polish rape survivor who sought to have a legal abortion under Polish law.  She was delayed in accessing the abortion and even forced to discuss her decision to terminate with a priest.

It’s still being debated and discussed what repercussions this will have for Ireland (as we all know, rape survivors are unable to access a legal abortion in Ireland.)  Cora Sherlock, Deputy Chair of the Pro-Life Campaign is fond of saying that rape survivors need support, not access to an abortion:

But with all my time working and volunteering in the women’s sector, with a focus on sexual violence, I’ve never actually met someone who was pro-life and active in sexual violence issues.

Accordingly I asked Geoff to analyse the followers of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre to determine how active Youth Defencers (Defenders?) are following DRCC or any other Irish rape crisis centres on Twitter.  Result?  Two.  Two people follow both the DRCC and Youth Defence.  Out of 1,339 followers.  And the Pro-Life Campaign @prolifecampaign has nine out of 5,316 – not even a fifth of one per cent. To give you some context, ten people who follow me on Twitter (I have 265 followers) also follow DRCC.  22 people follow Choice Ireland (710 followers) and DRCC. 

Which means that 1,337 people who support Youth Defence believe that it is more important to get information on denying a rape survivor and an abortion than it is to make sure she has access to an anonymous helpline, support in court and someone to go with her to the doctor for an examination after she’s raped.  I found no followers of Youth Defence who also followed Rape Crisis Network Ireland (the overarching federation of rape crisis centres in Ireland), nor for any local rape crisis centres (which do amazing work for women in rural areas) or even the domestic violence charity, Women’s Aid.

It’s easy to pay lip service to the idea that women need support and not abortion access.  What’s much harder to do is be the voice on the other end of the phone to a woman who can’t sleep in the middle of the night.  To outside of a courtroom with a woman when she has just been demolished by a defence barrister who asks her if she routinely wears make up or fights with her parents.

Rape survivors do need support.  And one of the major ways to support them is to trust them.  Rape and abuse are acts which take control away from survivors, which denies them rights over their own bodies.  How can the law justify continuing to take control away from women and denying them rights over their own body?

I come to pro choice activism in a large part, inspired by rape survivors I meet who are healing themselves.  In this moment, austerity cuts mean that rape crisis centres will rely more heavily on private donations and the work of volunteers.  It’s disappointing that Youth Defence doesn’t seem to want to harness their followers to actually provide support for rape survivors – rather than denying them an option to allow them to regain control over their own bodies and futures.

Nick's asked me to include this rather distressing footnote of opinions voiced by a Youth Defence member at a public stall:

Hello everyone. We received this incredibly distressing message from a member today who was on the receiving end of some particularly vile treatment from Youth Defence - vile EVEN by their standards. We'd suggest not reading this if you are a survivor of sexual abuse.

"I was walking down Westmoreland Street today and there was a Youth Defence stand set up outside Bank of Ireland. [We] engaged them in debate, and one of their volunteers (a blonde woman, upper end of middle aged) suggested avoiding getting pregnant as an alternative to abortions. When I asked her about victims of rape, she said it was their own fault for being there in the first place. I proceeded to ask her if, having being raped as a 16 year old, I was also at fault. Her response was that I could easily have been lying.

When I asked her for her name so I could make a formal complaint, she refused to address me and completely ignored my presence.
I would like to ask you all to please send in complaints to Youth Defence about the gross and offensive conduct of their volunteers when dealing with such sensitive issues.
Thank you."


Anonymous said...

well come on now... you have to sympathise with the pro-lifers on this one... I mean, if they came close to understanding how gruesome and horrible rape is by supporting and knowing more about survivors and the horror they went through, and learning first hand about the trauma of knowing pure evil is growing inside of you, that might affect their ridiculously stubborn dated views! We couldn't have that now could we.. the poor dears.

Anonymous said...

If a foetus isn't a person, then how can it be "pure evil"? I don't think you can call an object evil. Are there evil doorknobs that the rapist opened, evil shoes he was wearing for the rape, an evil burger he ate to sustain him? Moron.

Robert said...

This is a great article which gets to the core hypocrisy of so called "defenders of life" Bravo

Anonymous said...

Anonymous - that was a commentator's words and certainly not mine. I'd never describe a foetus as such, nor condemn a woman who decides that continuing a pregnancy is the best decision for her.

I've worked with women who felt carrying their pregnancy was healing and with women who resented being forced by an abuser to continue a pregnancy. I simply despair that women are not allowed to heal in the best way possible for them.

-The author

Anonymous said...

What was also particularly horrible about the Polish case mentioned in the article, is the further trauma inflicted on the two women, the young rape victim and her mother, when after being sent by the hospital doctor to a priest [who took her mobile and rang her repeatedly after to alter her decision even after she rejected his advice], this young girl was taken as a ward of the state FROM her mother simply because her mother supported her decision to have an abortion. Both of these women will NEVER recover from their rape by the state of Poland, money is no compensation for the states interference in the heartbreaking reality of rape and the realization that women and girls are not the 'brood mares' of the race.