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'no excuse' National Opera House slammed for 'glamorising' sexual abuse in play description

Survivors distraught as organistion describes the abuse of a 12-year-old child as a 'passionate relationship'

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Laura Witheroe of the Survivors Side By Side support group

Laura Witheroe of the Survivors Side By Side support group

Laura Witheroe of the Survivors Side By Side support group

ABUSE SURVIVORS have called on the National Opera House to issue an immediate apology after it described the sexual abuse of a 12-year-old girl by a 40-year-old man as a 'passionate relationship' and an 'unconventional love'.

The descriptions were included in promotional material for the play Blackbird, and were posted on the Wexford based Opera House's website earlier this week.

The original promotional material made no mention of the fact the relationship depicted in the play was illegal or constituted abuse.

Blackbird is a play written in 2005 by Scottish playwright David Harrower.

It was inspired in part by the crimes of sex offender Toby Studebaker and depicts a young woman meeting a middle-aged man 15 years after being sexually abused by him when she was 12.

The National Opera House's initial description of the play read: "Guilt, rage and raw emotions run high as they recollect the passionate relationship they had fifteen years ago when she was twelve and he was forty.

"Without any moral judgements, the play never shies away from the brutal truth of this abandoned and unconventional love."

The description was changed after the Sunday World contacted the Wexford-based Opera House to highlight the distress it had caused to survivors of abuse.

However, the altered description - which belatedly included the warning: 'Sexual Abuse is discussed' - has caused further anger among abuse survivors as it now refers to the abuse as an 'illicit love'.

Laura Witheroe, an abuse survivor and administrator with the Survivors Side by Side support group, said the depiction of the abuse in this manner had caused huge distress and disgust within the group, adding it had been 'triggering' for many of the group's members.

"This is a huge problem because it so deeply inappropriate," she said.

"For anybody who is a survivor, first and foremost, that wording is very triggering.

"Second of all, every person in Ireland is either a survivor of abuse or knows someone who has been abused.

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"And they will look at what the National Opera House have done here and ask how in the hell did they think it was acceptable to word the promotional material the way they have done.

"People who have seen the play say that it does not condone sexual abuse, but the issue is not the play - it is the National Opera House's description of the play.

"Using words like 'passionate relationship' and 'unconventional love' glamorises sexual abuse.

"There's no excuse for that.

"You cannot use words like that to describe something that is entirely illegal.

"There is no context in which it is OK to normalise the sexual abuse of a 12-year-old by a 40-year-old man."

Laura said up to 100 members of the Survivors Side by Side group had contacted her to express their hurt and disgust at what the National Opera House had posted on its website.

"People are upset because they feel it normalises abuse, it glamorises abuse and it condones it," she said.

"Those things are not acceptable to anyone who had endured childhood abuse, or any kind of abuse for that matter.

"I actually cannot get my head around how they thought the wording of this material was going to promote this play in a positive light."

The National Opera House did not respond to several emails from the Sunday World.

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