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30 Nov 2021

'You can’t consent unless you have the conversation - we need to open young people's eyes up to that'

Brid Meighan, manager of KASA, on educating young people and changing society

Day In The Life Kilkenny

Brid Meighan, Manager KASA

Brid Meighan stepped into the shoes of the late Ruth Butler when she became Manager of KASA just six weeks ago. Brid, along with all her colleagues and board members were devastated with the sudden passing of Ruth.
As KASA prepares to welcome a new manager, it seems only fitting that we pay tribute and remember fondly Ruth Butler who managed the Centre for the last 12 years. Ruth sadly passed away on March 26 last following a short illness.
Brid and Ruth worked along side each when Brid joined as a therapist last year. This week we talk to the Tipperarywoman about her new role as manager.
Originally from Gortnahoe, Brid has a background in banking. However she decided a career change in counselling was her true calling and changed paths in 2016.
Previously she worked for the Rape Crisis Centre in Clonmel for five years before moving to KASA here in Kilkenny.
Brid is married to John Dempsey and they have three little girls at home in Tipperary. Brid enjoys the drive up and down from Clonmel to Kilkenny to process the day and reflect on the cases that KASA support.
Running is also another important method for Brid to unwind - a passion she took up during lockdown after been locked in a house with three small kids!
Here is a glimpse into Brid’s world...
Brid you came to counselling 10 years ago. Why go from banking to retraining as a therapist?
Since I left school I wanted to do social work, but you have to do one year’s pre training. I just wanted to go to college and have the craic!
I found my way into banking, but all along I found myself volunteering for charities, like the Samaritans and Childline. Everywhere I lived I would find myself linking up with these sort of agencies.
I worked in State Street for 13 years and, 12 years ago, I decided that it’s now or never to take the leap of faith into counselling. So I retrained while still working in banking. Six years ago I finished up with banking completely and that landed me eventually in KASA.
The Kilkenny Rape Crisis Centre changed its name in 2016 to KASA. What does it stand for?
KASA is a take on the Spanish world CASA meaning home, ie a sanctuary.
It’s to highlight the fact that it’s not just rape crisis that we deal with here. It’s also sexual violence, childhood sexual abuse, education and supports for family and friends of victims.
I’ve often wondered how, in your line of work, you turn off when you walk through the door of your home every evening. Surely victims’ stories stay with you for a very long time?
It’s all part of the training. You certainly don’t become immune to it. Most people that come to see us are in distress and you prepare yourself that this what you are going to meet.
My role for them is to be their support, to ask them what they need me to be. They don’t need me to be panicked, worried and in a flurry like other people in their lives. I want to be that other person - who is calm, composed with a bit of perspective, even to hold them where they are in their distress.
It’s healing work and that takes time. When people open up to you, you meet their realness and vulnerability, it’s a privileged position to be in.
So if I go home and I’m flapping and worried, that is not going to help the situation. There will always be things that hit you deeper and you might carry some of that with you, but you learn and keep asking ‘what is my purpose here and how can I help?’ Like every therapist in here, we give everything of ourselves in the moments that we are with our clients.
Yes, the drive home does help. We use whatever processes we have ourselves to process the day. I also have supervision and I go for therapy myself every month, so you are the whole time working through it.
The late Ruth Butler was such an ambassador for everything this service has to offer, but unfortunately she lost her short battle against cancer in March this year.
Yes she was such amazing person, and I can’t describe the devastation that we felt when she left us. She was such an incredible manager and representative. She really lived for it - it wasn’t just a job for her. Everyone could tell how much she lived to do the work of KASA.
She really believed in information and education for younger people and going out to schools with our consent programme. The impact she had on people and clients was unreal. Especially with all the contact that was made after her passing, with all the clients remembering her. That was the mark she left.
So many anonymous donations were made afterwards in her name. It’s a testament of what a wonderful woman she was. We are really grateful to those people and we are sorry that we couldn’t thank them in person. It really helps her work carry on.
On behalf of everyone here I would like to thank you all dearly for the place in your hearts that you hold Ruth in.
The centre has been here since 1995. What services do you provide?
We are back to business as usual now with one to one counselling. If you had asked me pre-Covid could we do telephone or zoom counselling, in particular with the level of trauma that we work with, I would have said it would be very difficult.
We’ve engaged in a whole new world since then, so for our one to one counselling we now support people online, on the phone or in person; whatever the client wants to do.
We also offer an in-school programme with Transition Year students around the topic of CONSENT.
We provide court and Gardaí accompaniment. We can also accompany to you to SATU if you need to get medical examinations done.
We work with people dealing with trauma from childhood abuse, i.e. historical cases. We also provide psychosexual counselling, information and general support.
Talk to me about consent; is the message hitting home with our teenagers?
When I was younger and I heard somebody was raped, my imagination told me that they were dragged down an alleyway at night time. That isn’t what we see happening really so much in our service nowadays.
A lot of sexual assault and rape with young people isn’t about being dragged in somewhere or being drugged. A lot of the time young people don’t even know they have committed a sexual assault and this is what we are trying to create awareness around and what is sexual assault.
You can’t consent unless you have the conversation. ‘We were both drunk and I thought she was wanted it’ is not good enough. If you are going to have sex with someone and they are drunk as well, you had better be sure that they are aware and that you have had that conversation.
So the sexual attack is happening, yet they are not aware it’s a crime?
When I am working with a teenager I always ask ‘if the Gardaí called to your perpetrator’s door, would that person be expecting them?’ So much of the time they won’t be as they will not understand what has been done is sexual assault.
It seems to be mainly young girls that make contact with us. It depends on why they are presenting, but for a lot of them they think that in some way they were complicit in what happened to them because they were drunk or had taken drugs, but they know themselves that they didn’t actually want what happened. The conversation wasn’t had or they felt obliged and that’s the part about consent that we need to open all young people’s eyes to.
In your own practise you work with a lot of teenage girls. Why is it more girls than boys that we see experiencing sexual attacks?
Around 18% of our clients are male compared to female. There’s certainly a piece of that where males are less inclined to come in and share with us. Education and more open conversations around the fact that boys are sexually assaulted and experience sexual violence too is needed to help to change that and it has gotten better over the years.
Looking at the tragic case of Sarah Everard’s abduction, rape and murder in London, women are feeling unsafe on the streets in 2021. How can we change this?
We can look at how we make women safe all day long - how do we arm them and educate them. However, personally I feel the focus should be more on who is attacking these women.
The emphasis is on prevention of being raped and sexually assaulted instead of the focus on who is doing the attacking, raping and carrying out sexual assault. How do we get to those people and educate them.
The focus for me is ‘stop attacking us’ rather than ‘how do we stop being attacked’. That to me is about changing the direction of the conversation in our society.
We’d love to see the education part starting sooner with young people, in an age appropriate way and go into school earlier than to the Transition Year students.
It is getting better and parents can help too.
You have one more person you would like to mention before we go.
Yes I want to thank our board, and a very special mention to Margaret Fitzgerald, our administrator, and all our wonderful therapists who have given so much of themselves in a difficult time in our Service over the last 18 months.
If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed in the is article, please contact KASA’s private Helpline now in complete confidence 1800-478478. www.kasa.ie

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