Each one of us know women who have had a profound effect on our lives. For many it was a mother, a wife or a sister. While I too celebrate having an amazing mother in my life, today I’d like to share with you a woman, who I have never met, but who helped change my world forever.
Her name was Lavinia Kerwick.
On New Years Eve, 1991, Lavinia Kerwick was raped. Seven months later after numerous court appearances and despite being put under tremendous pressure to drop her prosecution, (for fear she’d destroy her rapists life), she faced him in the Central Criminal Court here in Ireland. Her ex-boyfriend rapist pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to nine years, but his sentence was suspended for one year. If he stayed out of trouble he’d be free.
The following day, July 1992 I was standing in my kitchen, my eleven month old baby girl in my arms, as I listened to a young girl begin to speak on the Gerry Ryan show. Gerry had shared the news headlines earlier detailing the rape case and commenting on the injustice of the suspended sentence. The young girls voice filled my kitchen as she spoke to him.
“What will I call you?” asked Gerry.
“Lavinia,” she said.
I couldn’t believe it. In that moment I’d witnessed history. Never before had anyone in Ireland identified themselves publicly as a rape victim. I sat mesmerised listening to her and incredulous at the injustice she’d experienced and her bravery. Within hours she was headline news.
Little did I know that within six months my own story was going to blow up, as I and others reported our swimming coach George Gibney to the guards.
For two years I watched as the wheels of justice turned slowly. He was charged, but fought the charges with the defence that it was too long ago for him to provide an adequate defence. How could that be? I was only twenty five when I reported him!
To cut a long story short the Supreme Court in Ireland agreed with Gibney and our case was never tried. As I tried to pick myself up from the hurt, anger and disappointment at this crazy injustice I was approached by a journalist in the Sunday Tribune called Johnny Watterson. He was furious at Gibney’s escape from justice. His question to me and the other victims who had come forward was simple, would we release our statements and sign affidavits allowing our stories to go public.
Really? Could I do this? Could I allow him be named and let the world know my story? I was pretty broken by then, not even beginning to heal from what had happened to me and wishing I could just hide away. However I could not let this man go free. I wanted everyone to know what he had done and let them know, regardless what the courts said, that this was not justice.
And in those moments I remembered the morning I’d listened to Lavinia Kerwick. She had stood up to injustice. She had spoken out. I could do this. So, I signed the affidavit and allowed my story to be told.
Twenty five years have passed since the Sunday Tribune printed a large photo of George Gibney on its cover and told the world what sort of a man he was. There had been no conviction, yet here was a newspaper telling the world what he had done. It was another first in this country.
In hindsight I’m proud to have stood with the other victims who were equally as brave as myself that day. However, I will always attribute my courage to Lavinia.
Today, on International Women’s day, it is Lavinia Kerwick I wish to salute. She fought injustice, spoke up at great personal cost, and because of her, victim impact statements are permitted in Irish courts.
She is to appear on the Late Late show in Ireland tonight. I hope many tune in to hear her speak.
Lavinia Kerwick… Remember her name.