An Interview With Mary Crilly

Interviewed by Jill Kingston, transcribed by Lauren Mulvihill.

So, I kind of first want to ask you what made you get involved, and how did you come about getting involved in this?

I think it was back in 1982, and the centre kind of launched – the phone was launched in 1983; March the 8th, 1983. Back then, in ’82, there was a group of women who got together and they were looking at the idea of starting a rape crisis centre. There was a rape crisis centre in Dublin since 1979 – there wasn’t any other ones. And, I think – if you think back then, the figures, I think, in 1983 of reports in the whole country was something like 235. In the whole country. There were something like 30 in Cork City and County of rape and child sexual abuse.


Was that because they just didn’t want to come forward?

Totally. Sure, who would, like, 30 years ago where the guards were quite authoritarian and the clergy were quite strong and the whole issue of child sexual abuse hadn’t been opened up? Y’know, we didn’t know about all the institutional abuse. Well, people did, but it wasn’t spoken about; it was just kind of a thing of its time – a thing that we knew happened. We knew, kind of, boys and schools often got leather belts, and you – even when I was in school you’d get quite beaten a lot physically because it was allowed. And it was that kind of – coming from that era. So in the 80s I think the group got together just to see if we could support women going to court. That was the main. So, I was living in a big housing estate with my daughters and there was a neighbour of mine who had joined that group – they hadn’t started the helpline, they were just kind of getting together to see what they wanted to do – and that’s how I got involved. Now, at that stage, I had no experience: I hadn’t been in a women’s group; back then, consciousness-raising groups were all the thing and assertiveness groups were all the thing. I hadn’t been involved in anything. I kind of hadn’t been in college, I hadn’t a clue what I was walking into, and I think I gave myself at that stage six months. I didn’t think I would last longer than that, so six months. And here we are, 33 years later.


Moving on from your beginning and your involvement like, how do you feel – has this changed you as a person? How would you describe yourself now? Is there – how, like, if I was to say ‘describe yourself in three words’…?

It’s hard to do it in three words but I think I always thought, like – say when I was quite young, in my early teens, I remember hearing my brother’s friends talking about women as if they prostitutes or something. I didn’t really know what that word meant. And I remember somebody saying about someone – another guy I knew, I was only a young teenager; he’s a big man, I can remember him vividly – and somebody saying he’d need a prostitute. I didn’t know what were they on about. And then, as I learned what they meant, I thought, how dare they? That’s just a woman, that’s just somebody else that’s being used. That’s all I knew back then, so back then I kind of had awareness about injustice. I think – I suppose what’s happened through my life is it didn’t become a job for me, it became a way of life. It became something where I can’t let things go. I met somebody there about a year ago who I knew when I was involved in the ‘80s, and she said to me “I thought you would’ve” – what word did she use? Not ‘faded’, but – “mellowed”. “I thought you would’ve mellowed by now”. I was kind of appalled, and I’m thinking, are you all blind, like? You’re still talking in a country where one in five girls are sexually abused and one in five boys – one in seven boys. One in five girls, and one in seven boys, the children in this country, in the last survey that was done. And one in five girls are sexually abused and one in maybe thirty boys. How can you “mellow” when that’s still happening, and the victims are still getting blamed? So, it seems I’m a very strong feminist. I hate the way that word gets watered down, because it is about equality and I think if somebody tries to tell me there’s equality in the world, you just have to look at the way women in prostitution are treated; the way women in other religions are treated; the way, y’know, what we’re coming up across now, the FGM; we’re seeing women who have been trafficked. Give me a break! Y’know, if somebody says “well, y’know, I’ve worked in a great job and I never came across inequality, and it doesn’t exist” I’d say well, I’m glad you didn’t, and that’s the way it should be. That’s the way life should be, that you don’t come across it -but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. So I suppose as long as there’s breath in my body I’m going to be talking about it, because even though I wouldn’t have seen this as my career path and I have two daughters and there was times over the years where they were just sick of it, I think it’s been a privilege to be here – to sit across from somebody or to hear, not even having to hear their story, but to be given that trust of somebody walking in the door because they know what the centre is. They mightn’t know I’m running it, or whoever’s running it, but they trust it enough to come in. And it’s not easy to come in, it really isn’t, because people might think this happened anyway – how is talking to you going to change it, or are you going to make it worse? I do think they’re amazing. I think the best way to deal with survivors or victims or whoever is to be so upfront and honest with them of what you can do and what you can’t do, and help them unravel, help them to come to wherever they need to come to. And they’re amazing.


In terms of people campaigning have things to be changed; have you felt social media’s been positive in that regard?

It’s been fairly good, y’know I’d often think when you have the marches there for the water rights or when you have big marches for different things I’ve yet to see people coming out and marching against sexual violence because I think they still think there’s a certain type of rape; it’s a young girl, maybe 18-24, she’s been pissed, skirt’s up around her arse, and sure how do you know she wasn’t asking for it? You know, that kind of blame, so they won’t go up and march for it. I’d love to see that happening. I think social media – and I think Cork people would be very supportive of the centre; like this building is a lovely building. It wasn’t like this when we found it. It was derelict. It was a big move back then to even consider, y’know, a small group as we were, getting a building like this. So social media happens in different ways, it can be both. But at least we’re talking about it. I think we’ve been quite accepted by the people of Cork, I really do; I know when I saw this building, it was derelict and people didn’t want to know because it needed a new roof, it needed foundations, it needed a huge amount of work. We’d no money. There’s another story in that. I think the biggest thing people were saying was that I was bringing too much into the open. I was making it difficult for people to come in, because it’s so on the street. And I still had a question mark about why should people have to hide? I’m not saying it’s easy to come or people should come out and say “I was raped or abused”, but why should they feel that shame that the only place they can go to is somewhere up a lane or up a stairs where you have to really find the place?


You seem to have quite active involvement with college students. Like, how important do you think it is?

I think it’s hugely important, and sometimes when I go to Fresher’s Fest or I go to SHAG Week or we go to the Gender Equality Week or whatever’s going on, I’m fascinated because you’re the future. Let’s get real, your age group are the future. And if we can raise awareness with your age group, I think it’s magic, because I mean, y’know, somebody will say hang on, you can’t talk about girls like this or you can’t do this or this isn’t appropriate or – you are the future. I think if I was to go out and just talk to my age group, sure that’s a waste of space. I think it’s hugely important. Plus the fact that I think it’s something like 20% of clients here last year were students, and It’s to let them know that we’re here kind of for them too. I think it’s hugely important.


My final question is, there’s lots of girls out there fighting girls who want to help, lots of boys who want to help, I mean there’s lots of people who are just in a situation and do you have any advice that you’d give them? Is there anything you’d tell them?

I think, y’know, they’re welcome to come in here to help and support and canvas and campaign and we have guys on placement here as well as girls, say from second- or third-level schools… it’s not always women we take, depending on what they want to do and how much they want to get involved, there’s always that for them. I think the advice, if somebody knows somebody who’s been raped or abused and they’re not ready to do something about it, just kind of let them know that’s OK, but let them know that you’re sorry it happened to them. Often people who have been raped or abused have been minimised by somebody saying “sure it’s not a big deal” – and if somebody tells you something happened to them, they’re not looking for answers straight away but they’re looking at you to see if you believe them or you doubt them. Anybody who it’s happened to, and who wants their voice heard in any kind of way, please get in touch with us and we’ll talk to them and see what we can do. Anybody who wants counselling, of course we will sort that for them.