Hazel Larkin: 'My brother told me the rapes were my fault and I should have stopped him'
Abuse was so normalised for Hazel Larkin, now an International Human Rights Law student at Queen's University, that she had assumed every girl she knew was being sexually abused by their brothers. Here she tells Carol Hunt of her search for justice and peace of mind.
Hazel Larkin's biggest childhood fantasy was of being kidnapped and taken "far, far away": "I always thought it was normal to want to run away and when I asked my daughters, about three years ago, how often they thought about running away, they were stunned.
"They hadn't realised that was a 'thing'. 'Never,' they both responded."
Growing up in a small Irish town, she says she had "a bog standard Irish upbringing: mass on a Sunday and a family which presented a façade of doing well in front of the community but where behind closed doors there was a lot of making do and going without".
As a young schoolgirl Hazel adored drama and words: "I loved reading and learning to use and manipulate words to convey my meaning."
But one thing Hazel didn't talk about was what was happening to her at home. "Abuse was so normalised for me that I assumed every girl I knew was being sexually abused by her elder brothers as well.
"I remember being 10, and looking at the 'popular girl' in my year and wondering if her brothers had abused her as seriously as mine had abused me.
"At the same time, I knew it wasn't the kind of thing you asked another girl."
Myself and Hazel met some years ago to discuss the possibility of putting her story into the public realm. At the time she had been involved in a civil case with her abusers which still had to be finalised.
Since then her brothers agreed to a settlement out of court - but only after Hazel had to go through the trauma of putting herself on the stand - and to pay her damages.
Many of the years beforehand she had spent literally running "far, far" away - from her past and her history, engaging in unsuitable relationships until she eventually returned home to Ireland with her two daughters.
She is currently finishing an LLN in International Human Rights Law at Queen's University, Belfast. But we need to go back a few years to understand how she got here.
"I moved to Singapore in March of 1995 when I was 21 and stayed there until November of 2004," she says.
"Not with the same man. My first marriage ended much earlier. I came back here briefly after he had been on the wrong side of the law more than once.
"No, we were trying desperately to have a child." She corrects herself - "I had been trying desperately to have a child, but in retrospect I realise that was a blessing in disguise, as I knew that I would never have escaped from him if I had.
"But at the time it was the greatest sorrow of my life. And I felt that I was not being taken seriously by doctors because they used to just say to me 'you're young, go home and have sex and you'll be fine'.
"Instead of having an investigation and finding out what had been wrong," she pauses.
"There was an awful lot wrong. You see, I had been damaged by the abuse and I couldn't get pregnant, couldn't have children without surgery.
"And I had to come back home to find a sympathetic doctor to do the surgery."
Hazel came back to Ireland with her husband, where they lived for almost a year - but after her final round of surgery she "just couldn't take any more of the madness and I left him".
Hazel then returned to Singapore in order to sort out some outstanding financial issues, and met another man, an Indian this time, who asked her to marry him the night that they met. "And I laughed" she says. "And said 'no'. But a long story short, he would not take no for an answer.
"He was constantly emailing and calling - and I'm not proud of this - he just wore me down. I married him two years after we met. My chief motivator was that I wanted to have children.
"And I felt that there had to be that structure - marriage - for the child. But it wasn't that simple. He didn't believe in sex before marriage - but unfortunately he didn't believe in sex after marriage either.
"He refused to have sex with me. He refused to adopt a child with me, but we were married and I was dreadfully unhappy.
"And so I went off to a clinic to be inseminated as it were so he didn't have to touch me - which, after my background, was very traumatic."
Hazel managed, somehow to become pregnant. "And soon after I had my baby, Ishthara - she was 10-weeks early, but she was beautiful."
Unsurprisingly, Hazel's marriage didn't last. For months she hid all the money she earned teaching English and drama in a tampon box ("the one place I knew he'd never look").
And one morning - a week after the police had been called on account of his violence - she found herself bundling her baby into a taxi as she made her escape to a new home on the other side of the island.
"So I stayed in Singapore," she says. "I'm 29. I've left my second husband. I'm teaching and writing and supporting myself and a couple of days after I've left him, another man I know insists we meet for coffee. He arrives and throws me completely by declaring undying love and saying he wants to marry me."
She submitted to his charms, though and became pregnant again, beautiful Kashmira was the result, but the relationship with her Indian lover didn't last when he returned to his wife and child.
Eventually, Hazel returned to Ireland. She couldn't keep running around the world, hooking up with unsuitable men and then leaving them in a flurry of angst and fear.
She was beginning to realise that she needed professional help. And so, we get to the point, the place where we had left off in our last conversation. The reason we are meeting.
The history behind Hazel's atrocious taste in men and penchant for running off with them at the first opportunity.
"I am one of six," Hazel says. "I have four brothers. And my younger two I'm happy to say, never sexually abused or raped me. Unfortunately I can't say that about the two others.
"Eventually I realised through therapy - I've had a lot of therapy, I've been hospitalised, because I was suicidal - I was brought to the realisation that I'm not a terrible person and that what happened to me wasn't my fault. And I was nearly 40 before I realised that.
"I remember finding a therapist, giving her a brief history, and saying to her; 'this is where I am'.
"I'm quite aware that I am very traumatised, I'm quite aware of why, but there is something else, I don't know how to move forward. I told her to get back to me if she could help."
She could and she did. And so Hazel finally realised that: "Oh good Jesus, it's not me, it's them. I'm not this awful person who cannot make life work. The damage has been done by my family and they continue to compound that damage by insisting that I perform in a certain way."
She did, however, tell a friend about being sexually abused by members of her family when she was relatively young.
She says: "I (then) told a nun, who called the priest who was the principal at the school my brothers attended. When he confronted the boys, they admitted immediately, but told the priest that if he told our parents, they would kill themselves. So the priest kept his counsel. He decided to interrogate me on my lunch break that day, however, and on the way to my school, he called into the doctor.
"The doctor said to the priest that he was to make sure that I wasn't going to get pregnant because 'a scandal like that would be very bad for the town's image'. (This is from the nun's sworn testimony prior to the trial).
"So the priest came and interrogated me over lunch - he wanted to know exactly what was done and what I'd been through. In the end, he told me he'd talk to my brothers, but I was to bear in mind that 'boys will be boys'. I'd never heard the expression before, and it makes me grimace every time I hear it now.
Even Hazel's mother was unsympathetic: "She asked me if I was sure and then she said to me; 'well, we have a big family and sometimes these things happen'.
Hazel was a little girl betrayed by her family and the state, a child who was not supported, her trauma minimised. I ask. 'Why were the police not called'?
"I do not know why the police were not called. There were multiple times when they should have been.
"What happened was I sourced, via the Freedom of Information Act, my files a few years ago, when I decided to take action against my brothers. Not out of malice but because I felt that they had to show remorse and my own study and therapy told me that if somebody didn't show remorse they are more likely to offend again."
And so Hazel took her brothers to court with the help of an organisation which supports victims of sexual abuse. "Apparently I am the first person to take a civil case before a criminal case - but all the time I was hoping that my brothers would have an epiphany and say 'we did a horrible thing and we're so sorry, we need help'."
In April of last year the trials started. Her brothers didn't make it easy for her. Hazel describes how they brought her all the way to the Supreme Court (and back again to the High Court) to try to prove that the statute of limitations had expired - but three judges ruled against them. The evidence was there, and there was never a denial from either of them. "Neither one of them ever said, we did not do this."
Eventually, the brothers decided to settle with Hazel. She agreed because she thought it was the kindest thing to do in the circumstances. She had already been cross-examined on her affidavit.
She recalls: "My brothers abused me from the time I was six. It started with classic grooming - and progressed until I had been sexually assaulted and raped. I was raped (by one brother) for the last time when I was 16. He told me it was my own fault and that I should have stopped him.
"It was never, ever about the money," she says. "What it was about was holding them accountable. I thought I could teach them how to be remorseful. I've since discovered that I can't."
One of Hazel's brothers has honoured the modest settlement agreed with her lawyers but the other has not. "In spite of the fact that I choose what I still believe was the kindest path, (he) has chosen not to pay the amount he offered 13 months ago. He asked for - and was granted - two extensions. Now, he refuses to respond to my lawyer's emails."
Now, she believes her story must be told, adding: "I know I'm not only one who has been let down by the 'services' that are supposed to be there to help sexually abused children and teenagers. Child sexual abuse is endemic in our society and it's predominantly at the hands of family members, not the clergy or teachers or anyone else. We need to break the silence and I hope that by speaking up I'll encourage other people to speak up, too.
"Breaking the taboo around sexual abuse - and about incest in particular - can only be a good thing. Children who are abused within the family are so isolated, they are so sure that they are the only people in the world being abused, that they don't disclose. Often, they are threatened by the abusers in order to ensure their silence."
She adds: "Justice is different things for different people, and it doesn't necessarily involve the law.
"For some people, justice can be a heartfelt apology from the abuser who then tries to atone for the damage and gets help to ensure they don't re-offend. I think the first step towards any sort of justice, however, is an honouring and an acknowledging of the damage done to our children by the abuse they are subjected to."
- This is Hazel's first public interview under her own name. Her book Gullible Travels, £9.99, is now available at amazon.co.uk