07 Jul 2022

‘I will keep fighting and I won’t back down’ says survivor of child abuse in Laois

Marlene Prakash Shiels read the following Victim Impact Statement in court last month on the day her father Patrick Shiels was jailed for sexually abusing her as a child in Portlaoise

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Survivor of child abuse Marlene Prakash Shields tells her story after waiving her legal anonimity so that her father and abuser Patrick Shields would be named

My name is Marlene Prakash Shiels, I was born on April 28th 1996, 25 years ago. But my life only gets to start today.
I didn’t get to have a childhood, I didn’t get to have that carefree feeling, the weight of the world was placed on my shoulders the day I was born and I have known no different since. But it stops today. I feel I was born specifically to be abused. I was an object rather than a person.
Any type of rape or sexual assault is so traumatic for every victim regardless of their age but when it happens as adults we can begin to comprehend and start the recovery process as we can look back to the person we once were however when this happens to a child by a person who we trust the most we cannot understand this we do not have the words.
We look to the adult figures in our lives to be our protection so when abuse is perpetrated by a parent or a parent figure we are filled with this huge sense of guilt, doubt and fear of ever getting this person into trouble, we turn this inwards and as a result this manifests itself in many different ways.
For me, It has caused a complete lack of trust in anyone. This started when I was approximately 4 years old and it is something that has carried through into adulthood. My father led me to believe he was the only person that could be trusted and I was to doubt everyone else.
This led to me being unable to make friends as I never truly trusted anyone. I always fear that people who come into my life intend to hurt me, or to use me. I find it hard to believe that people love me for me. Up until I met my current partner I felt like the abuse had negatively influenced my choice of romantic relationships, I would always go for people who would be abusive towards me as this was what was familiar to me and I felt like I was so useless and worthless I didn’t deserve love.
Up until this point I haven’t lived- I have just survived. I feel immense daily pain as I move through the journey of parenthood, realizing over and over again just how much I was mistreated, groomed and abused by my own father. My heart breaks every single day for all the things I missed out on or had taken away from me during what was supposed to be my childhood.

I didn’t get to have a childhood, I didn’t get to have that carefree feeling, the weight of the world was placed on my shoulders the day I was born

I didn’t deserve any of the abuse, neglect, and mistreatment that he put me through. None of it. Once my mother had passed, It was my father’s job as the only parent left, to keep me safe, make me feel loved, and allow me to be a child. He failed me, I didn’t fail me. I now believe this deep inside of my core.
I have lost my biological family through this abuse, he has shattered relationships because of his manipulation and lies.
No one will ever understand the full extent of how this has affected me, you would simply have to live a day in my shoes, something I would never wish on anyone but I would like to give you an insight. When I wake up immediately my mind is filled with dread and I am already tired.
The anxiety kicks in, how can I look after my children and give them my full attention when I am so consumed by what my father has done to me, I will then have a flashback, I will be back in bed with him and again- he will be molesting me. So I get into the shower I try to wash him off but it doesn’t work.
I try to distract myself so maybe I will go to the shop to get my groceries. I am wheeling my trolley down the different aisles and by me walks a man that I have never seen before, I have absolutely no connection with he just happens to look somewhat like my father and straight away I am triggered. I am no longer in the supermarket, I am in my mind being raped all over again. The worst place to be but the only place I can’t escape. My body will freeze and I will stand still for a few moments that feel like forever reliving the abuse and every face in the shop turns into my father.

When I come back around I leave my trolley full of groceries and I quickly exit the shop to get to the safety of the car where I can finally breath again because I’ve been holding it for so long. So you see- this is just a snippet of my day and by the time night comes I am absolutely exhausted. I have been in fight or flight mode all day so I go to bed. I am so tired, so drained physically, emotionally and mentally but then comes the hardest part. I close my eyes to try to sleep but it won’t work. I’m thinking about how different things would of been if he didn’t do what he did- What would I have achieved if I didn’t have severe anxiety?
Would I have a better outlook on life if I didn’t constantly feel depressed? Would I actually be able to hold down a job and not quit because I’m so fearful of people? What would I be like without my trauma? I will never know. So I spend the rest of the night awake and crying. The night rolls into the day and it’s back to the same again.
The crimes my father committed has had a disastrous effect on me. He has stolen from me every hope and dream, from early on in primary school I had decided it wasn’t for me and found that school was the only place I could act out because of the abuse that was happening outside of school it felt like this was the only place I felt a bit of freedom- I skipped school a lot.
I would say when I was there I was so far away in my mind I could never concentrate. I have always been interested in pursuing a career in beauty therapy so when I did do well in my leaving certificate I did attend second level education and got a qualification in beauty therapy however I never felt confident enough to carry it through into a career as I never feel good enough in anything I choose to do, I can't hold down jobs because I get too anxious and leave.
My father has instilled deep inside me a level of hatred for myself that I think even with a lifetime of therapy will be hard to shift. He has robbed me of any self-worth and confidence, this slowly creeped in during my teenage years, although the abuse had stopped at this stage I felt like I was a person who wasn’t deserving of anything good in life this followed through into adulthood and I still feel so fragile.

You would simply have to live a day in my shoes, something I would never wish on anyone but I would like to give you an insight.

In 2014 my life changed for the better and I became a mother at 18 years old. My daughter became my lifeline and I was so determined to change for her however becoming a mother brought with it intensified feelings about the abuse which I really struggled to cope with and just days before my daughters first Christmas, I took an overdose, - I was lucky I survived but upon being released from the hospital I made a promise to myself that once I got stronger I would report my abuse to the guards for my daughters sake and I did this in 2016.
It took me a long time to shake the feeling of being suicidal and I did self-harm for a long time from my early teens into adulthood, I worked really hard on this and managed to stop.
Eventually I had to leave the country because I couldn’t bear to be where he was. Ireland no longer felt safe for me despite it being my home.
From time to time I still suffer from suicidal thoughts, most recently before the trial began, the thought of facing him again and having to relive the abuse right in front of him was almost too much for me to cope with and had taken from me the joy of my son being born. I couldn’t cope with another flashback or another day of being triggered by even a simple sound or a smell or a person. This has happened too many times. It was the love I have for my children that got me through those days, it is the only thing that keeps me going so I find it so hard to understand why my father would not be the same. I guess we are both so different.
Every day I make the active choice to give my children and myself a better life. Each time I tell my babies that I love them so they don’t go to sleep at night wondering what they have to do to earn my love - I continue to break the cycle. Each time my babies feel safe coming to me for advice after they have made a mistake instead of shaking with fear - I continue to break the cycle.
Each time I apologize and take ownership for my mistakes as a parent and clarify that my babies are not responsible for my emotional well-being – I continue to break the cycle. Each time I set a boundary and protect my babies from people that don’t respect them or can’t be trusted – I continue to break the cycle. Each time I seek support for myself and my mental health so that I can be a better version of myself - I continue to break the cycle. I am tired of doubting myself, I do and will continue to fight daily to prevent those horrific flashbacks of my own childhood from coming to the surface.
I will keep fighting and I won’t back down. I have made a decision that the cycle of abuse within my family will end with me. There is no doubt in my mind that I will struggle with this trauma for the rest of my life but that is something I will have to learn how to manage so that it no longer consumes me like it has up until this point. Today I am here for the sentencing of my father, despite him placing a life sentence on me where I feel imprisoned in my own head. His failure to address his offending by pleading not guilty has made me feel like I am guilty, almost as if I was the one on trial and have had to prove my innocence but I was a child.

Every day I make the active choice to give my children and myself a better life.

The fact that he wasted court time being completely in denial and wanting a trial to go ahead shows me his total lack of remorse. Having to give evidence in front of him and people I have never seen before has maximised my trauma. No part of my life has been left untouched and I feel like I will carry this with me until the day I die however I will Keep moving things forward, building the life my two children so deserve - the life I never got to have as a child.
Throughout my childhood I never had a place I considered home, there were a few people that felt like home to me however my father was not one of them, today I can finally say, home is me and I am home. I have become the person I needed as a child.
There has been a lot of negative impacts the abuse has had on my life but through it I have also gained so much. My life isn’t all bad I have so many blessings. First and foremost I feel I am a great parent to my children, this is something that hasn’t been passed down it's something that comes from the heart. Secondly, I am resilient. I fall many times but I will always get back up.
Lastly, I feel I am an empath, some may say this can be a negative thing but for me it has allowed me to be more compassionate towards even the littlest of things. I am the opposite of what the statistics say I should be and I am proud.
I ask that the courts take my words into consideration when deciding the sentence and know that once again- I have stood here to face my real life monster. I am really hoping that getting justice will be the start of my healing process and give me a chance to live a somewhat normal life and to give my two children a chance to have a mother who is not complete and utterly broken.

For help and support contact
Laois Domestic Abuse Service
057 86 71100

Offaly Domestic Violence
Support Services
057 93 51886 and 086 0419154.

Laois Offaly Garda
Divisional Protective Services Unit
057 8674100

Editor's note: Marlene provided the statement to the Leinster Express on request and with the assistance of Laois Gardaí.

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