By Clodagh Meaney
In March 2018, four Ulster Rugby players walked free following rape allegations in a high profile trail. The Internet responded with #IBelieveHer.
In November 2018, at rape trail in Cork, the victim's underwear was introduced as evidence. A solicitor for the defendant told the jury "She was wearing a thong with a lace front."
From there, Irish women, and women across the globe, came together in solidarity with #ThisIsNotConsent.
When she was just 15, Clara de Year from Dublin was a victim of rape. She didn't report it because of victim shaming. Following the treatment in these high profile cases, Clara decided, she's had enough.
"I didn’t know how to process [the rape] and was met with some nasty victim-blaming comments.
"I had a breakdown when I was 17 because of it and finally disclosed. I was admitted to a day unit for 2 months and left school. TUSLA got involved which only scarred me more. So I stayed quiet again.
"When events like the Belfast Rape Trial last year came up, I realised this needed to change. I’m glad I didn’t report what happened to me and that’s exactly why This Is Not Consent has been set up. Because of the fact that I’m glad I didn’t report it is exactly why we need change.
"Victims need support and to feel believed."
Along with a friend, Clara decided to campaign for rape victims and started an Instagram account to handle stigma, and victim-blaming: This Is Not Consent.
"It allows the women of Ireland to share their stories of sexual assault and rape in a supportive, non-judgemental way or share their opinions on the justice system and treatment of victims. It’s to raise awareness at how big and common the issue of sexual assault, rape and rape culture is."
Clara is very open online about her own struggles with mental health, as well as her eating disorder recovery. At the moment she is studying in Dundalk to become a Psychiatric Nurse. She is a Bodywhys Youth Advisor and Mental Health Ambassador for Brighter Thoughts Ireland.
"Looking back now, my mental health difficulties began a long time before my eating disorder emerged and while it was the eating disorder that sparked my initiation to the [mental health] services, it definitely came second to the anxiety and depression I was going through.
"My parents separated when I was 2 and a half. The court ordered they got joined custody so I would spend weekends in my dads. He was an alcoholic which progressed over the years as I got older. Come Wednesday, I’d be an anxious wreck thinking of Friday coming and having to go back over. I had to take on a lot of responsibility a child shouldn’t have to and go through a lot of events I guess you could call them.
"A comment was made about my size before he went to rehab when I was 14. While I was happy and relieved he was going to get the help he needed I was unsure. I didn’t know him any other way or how he’d be. At least when we were walking on eggshells I knew what to do. I had no clue how it was gonna be when he got out. I thought I would be happier if I was a bit skinnier and it was a distraction to what I was going through. So I decided I wanted to lose some weight, with a goal set in mind I cut out certain foods & began exercising. I reached my goal but shortly after feeling proud I began thinking it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough and I could do better."
Things soon began to get worse she explains:
"But nothing was ever enough in the eyes of the eating disorder.
It escalated to an extreme where I was over-exercising every day, restricting my food and abusing laxatives. I felt so alone, I didn’t know why I was so down and felt like I was the only person in the world and nobody could understand.
"I was given a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa and admitted to an adolescent psychiatric unit where I stayed for 3 months. I thought food was my problem and that I just ‘wanted to be skinny’ but it wasn’t that at all.
"I was so anxious and depressed that the only control I had in my life was food and my appearance. The eating disorder was just a way of coping with these difficult feelings - giving me false hope that skinny would unlock all my answers.
It never did."
Clara's struggle with stigma is what has powered her to be so open about her own issues.
"As time went by and I got better I realised that I had nothing to be ashamed of. I was just unwell and being unwell can’t be helped sometimes.
"I realised that I wasn’t crazy and what I was going through was just a result of being through some really hard times and not knowing how to cope.
I had some absolutely amazing nurses who encouraged me to share my story. They reminded me of the stigma I had faced and asked what could’ve helped me. ‘I suppose if I actually had have known and heard stuff like this talked about’ I told them.
"They reminded me how it would never change if nobody talked and that the only way to reduce stigma was to be open and I guess I’ve never looked back.
"I still remember how horrible it feels to be in that position and I hate to think of anyone feeling like that. If I can help even one person then it’s been successful so that’s kinda just my life now."
Clara has had years of experience with the public health system in Ireland, and has witnessed first hand how dangerous it can be for vulnerable people
"It was my GP who diagnosed me with the eating disorder and referred me to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services). I was seen in a couple weeks as I was so unwell and then they admitted me to a hospital within 2 weeks as I was an emergency case.
"I had some really good nurses in there without who I don’t think I would’ve made it through and they’re the type of nurse I want to be.
"However where I am at the moment and how things have been the past few years are pretty dire.
"I’m now in adult mental health services. It’s rare I get the same doctor, usually someone different every time I’m there. What it appears to me is that yes, there is a massive staff shortage but also some of the staff they have really are not suitable.
"I had one doctor tell me not to eat too much chocolate as it wasn’t good for me despite my file sitting in his hand detailing my eating disorder or the fact I was barely even a healthy weight at the time.
"At the start of January I was having an issue with medication and needed an emergency appointment, I was seen thirteen days later."
She knows how to cope with things when they get tough, though.
"For me the biggest part of coping with a difficult time is actually acknowledging it. Like saying ‘okay things are tough right now how can I manage this?’ and then taking steps to practice a bit more self care & take things a bit slower.
"The best thing I find is just being in my pyjamas with my dog, watching a movie with my Mam, or ringing a friend. Little things we take for granted and often forget to do when we’re so busy but are actually really important.
"I take days to myself when I can where I stay in my jammies and watch crap on tv and I also dose my pillow in lavender to help me sleep better at night. Or when I’m too tired after college or work I’ll order a takeaway. Just simple things to make things a bit easier or give myself a rest.
And for those who are struggling, Clara says the best advice she's ever been given is to "Take it day by day and treat yourself how you’d treat a friend. Would you tell your friend that they’re worthless or that they don’t deserve to eat? No. So why would you say it to yourself? You deserve care & happiness just as much."
You can follow This Is Not Consent on Instagram.
Pieta House - 1800 247 247
Bodywhys - 1890 200444
Dublin Rape Crisis Centre - 1800 778 888
Women's Aid - 1800 341 900