Clare Garda Robin Grace spoke to Ray D’Arcy on Tuesday about a safety app he is developing aimed at young people. It’s designed to provide support and protection to children and young people as they navigate social media. Robin also shared his personal story about coming to terms with the sexual abuse he suffered as a young child, in which, as he told Ray, the perpetrator was an adult woman.
The conversation took place on Safer Internet Day, which falls on the 11th of February each year. It’s an EU-wide initiative to promote a safer internet for all users, especially the 800 million children in the world who use social media, according to the United Nations. As Ray explained to the listeners, the Gardaí have recently signed a memorandum with Ireland’s top social media companies, in which they undertake to block content on their platforms containing child sexual abuse material.
Robin Grace says that for many years, he repressed his memories of childhood abuse. As a preface to his story, he describes to Ray how talking about the past affects him:
“Every time I’m telling this story, and anybody that has been abused will identify with this, you’re re-living it a little bit.”
Back in 2005, when Robin was 22 years old, his memories were triggered by an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show dealing with child abuse. The talk show host addressed her viewers directly, saying: “We have to remember, females can be abusers as well”. At the time, Robin was in a hotel on holidays in India with his then girlfriend, now wife, Hannah. He said the effect Oprah’s words had on him was dramatic:
“Right there at that moment, I broke down. It was like a freight train hit me in the stomach. And I realised then, because I was able to identify. Now I always knew it, looking back, but I wasn’t able to identify it. Because nobody talks about females in Irish society, or women in Irish society as being abusers. And I didn’t see it as such until that very moment.”
Initially, Robin says he thought that once he’d had the breakthrough of re-connecting with his experience, that he was now “fine.” Robin says he soon realised he wasn’t fine, but he says he feels very lucky that his girlfriend was in India with him when the realisation hit. Still in India, the pair attended a 10-day meditation retreat in the home of the Dalai Lama and Robin says it had a transformative effect:
“I sat with my abuse in those meditations and I remembered what had happened to me. And I practised compassion towards my abuser. And this was the first part of my journey of ‘It’s not my fault.’”
Robin describes the challenges he went on to face in coming to grips with what had happened to him. He says that over the years he wrestled with feelings of loneliness and despair and considered taking his own life. Robin says that with the help of a therapist and the love and support of family and friends, things got better:
“They made me believe that the world is a better place with me in it. They truly built me up and carried me when I couldn’t carry myself.”
Robin’s studies in human rights, his work as a Garda and his personal experience all provide inspiration for the safety app he is developing, called “ME App”. The idea is to have a kind of “emergency button” for young people covering a range of issues from bullying to online safety. The tool is still at a development stage, and Robin Grace is currently raising money for the project via the Kickstarter funding platform.
Robin Grace gives more details about his plans for how the “ME App” safety app will work, as well as discussing his personal journey in coming to terms with past abuse in the full interview here.
If you have been affected by any aspects of Robin’s story, you can find links to a range of organisations offering help, information and support online at rte.ie/support.
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