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Opening up over sexual abuse

Sisters Joyce, June and Paula Kavanagh with co-author Marian Quinn


Three Irish sisters who survived years of torment at the hands of their paedophile father have called on the British Government to speak out to help eradicate child abuse.

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The Kavanagh sisters are in Britain this month to launch a book detailing their journey from horrific sexual abuse to a place of healing and also bring a message for Prime Minster David Cameron.

“The Government needs to start talking about child abuse openly if they are ever going to deal with the problem,” Joyce Kavanagh, the eldest of the sisters, said.

“If it was a crime of any other sort there would be no issue addressing it, but when its sexual abuse they don’t. It’s not a nice thing to hear and you can barely imagine anyone doing anything like that to a child but it can’t be ignored,” she added.

Their calls come as an NSPCC report released this month reveals a British child is abused every 20 minutes and only 10 per cent of offenders are ever caught or convicted.

The Dublin-born sisters, now active charity workers, claim both the British and Irish Governments haven’t done enough to deal with the problem and show a ‘disgraceful’ lack of priority for the children suffering.

Joyce, June and Paula Kavanagh, three of 10 children raised in a dysfunctional family home in Ballyfermot in the 60s and 70s, will highlight the issue during their visit to London next week.

They will also appear on ITV’s This Morning to talk about their bestselling book Click, Click, which is being released here that same week.

The shocking story depicts their childhoods, destroyed by their father – a prolific paedophile who abused them in their family home throughout their youth – and how they found the strength to pull through.

When released in Ireland the book – which they claim offers a message of hope rather than a misery story – prompted many readers to contact them and break their own silence about their experiences of child abuse.

“Initially we wrote the book to help ourselves to heal,” Joyce said. “We had all gone through therapy but we knew we weren’t finished healing, and we never will be, but we knew we needed to do more in depth work on ourselves, so we began writing it.”

June added: “We didn’t really want a misery book however – so ultimately it’s a book about healing forgiveness, friendship, moving on and not letting the abuse define you.

“That’s the message. We are plain spoken, open and honest – we want to make it accessible for people and ok for them to hear and discuss the issues and we have had a great number of people come out to us about their experiences after reading it.”

While it is not all uncomfortable reading, Click, Click does reveal some of the most harrowing details of the torture faced by the women from a young age at the hands of a man who was supposed to protect them.

Paula, brutally raped in her white dress on the day of her First Communion, Joyce, aged six, ripped apart and raped by her father following the promise of a new bike and June, raped on the family summer holiday, aged 11, as her friend lay sleeping beside her.

The trauma of those and other events meant it took the sisters 20 years to complete the book, which takes its title from the action their father used to indicate and summon his chosen victim.

“It was really, really difficult to write it,” Paula admits. “It was traumatic and the reason it took so long to write was because we wanted to write the memories from the point of view of the child.

“But to do that you had to go back in and relive them, and because we wrote in such detail we normally would put the book down for a couple of months or even years to get over the pain of reliving a particular experience.”

Their overriding motivation to bring discussions about child abuse into the limelight and the public domain also spurred them on.

The sisters hope its impending release here will have a similar impact in Britain – not least to get the authorities talking seriously and openly about child abuse.

“Lots of people who would have taken their abuse pain to the grave came out for the first time as a result of our book,” June said.

“Now we are hoping to really contribute to making a huge impact in eradicating sexual abuse by making people talk openly about the subject at all levels – especially at Government level.”

Paula added: “Following the report from the NSPCC in Britain last week, which says a child is abused every 20 minutes, there are a lot of people in the same boat over here. So our book will no doubt resonate with a lot of people and it’s also a very important time to get this message across.

“We need to get people talking about it so they can begin to realise they are not to blame, they do not have to feel guilt or shame and you do not have to live your life as a victim. You can come through this and come out the other end.”

The Kavanagh sisters will be on This Morning on May 3 before heading to the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith that evening for a public Q&A event.

They plan to continue giving talks on the subject and hope to develop a self-help tool kit to help victims of child abuse while they await therapy or to help them break their silence about their experience.

They also hope to

In 1989 the impressive sisters, who kept their own abuse secret from one another as children, decided to bring charges against their father. In 1990 he was convicted and imprisoned. He died in 1996 a year after his release.

They can be contacted via Facebook on or by email on


Click, Click, written by Joyce, June and Paula Kavanagh with Marian Quinn, is published by Orion Books. Price £6.99 ISBN 9781409101079

If you have been affected by this story you can contact ChildLine on 0800 1111 (help for children and young people) or 0808 800 5000 (help for adults concerned about a child).


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