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Charlene Masterson to campaign to help those suffering abuse

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A daughter who suffered years of abuse at the hands of her father has told of how she plans to campaign for greater awareness and support for individuals suffering abuse.

Charlene Masterson (32) said she waived her anonymity in a bid to highlight the difficulties she faced.

Last week David Masterson (56) was jailed for 17 years for sexually abusing his daughter over a 7½-year period after first blackmailing her.

The Central Criminal Court heard that Masterson went on to defile three girls, having sexual encounters with two teenage girls and entering into a sexual relationship with a third, who lived with him for a period of time.

The court heard this occurred after his daughter reported the seven years of sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father to her mother in 2014 and he left the family home.

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show on Friday, Ms Masterson – who waived her right to anonymity – said if her friend, who was training to be a social worker, had not confronted her about the abuse she did not know what would have happened.

Since the court case, during which she delivered a devastating victim impact statement, Ms Masterson said she had taken a number of educational courses on domestic violence awareness. Such information should be freely available, she said, adding that a lot what was available was not relevant in an Irish legal context.

‘Massive stigma’

She said there was still a “massive stigma” in Ireland about rape, and sexual assault and she wanted to change the system to develop a message, like the FAST alert for cases of stroke, which could pinpoint things for individuals to look for in people they suspected may be facing domestic violence.

Ms Masterson said her abuse took place for seven and a half years and she had had seven years since to “process it. I’m out the other side now” and said she now wants to try and help others.

Asked if she had any regrets about waiving her anonymity, she replied: “not one.”

Her main aim had been to help people and this was “one step of the journey.”

The abuse started when she turned 18, she said, but it was only afterwards she realised her father had been grooming and controlling her from her early teens.

Later she also realised he had been tracking her phone which was why he always knew where she was and what she was doing.

When the blackmail started, she said her father had been “cool and collected” and told her she would have to do as demanded. “I would never have guessed it was my dad.”

Her father had told her he would be with her and would not let anything happen. On a number of occasions there was another person involved in the abuse who she said knew that she was his daughter.

The court heard the abuse began in 2007, when she started receiving anonymous text messages, which later transpired to have been sent by her father.

The messages began demanding that she do sexual things with men while threatening to send information to her father’s work regarding her previously talking to boys on an online chatroom for teenagers.

When she told her father about what was happening, he told her that she would have to do these things because his job was at risk.

It was arranged that her father would let a person into their home and she would do whatever this person wanted while wearing a blindfold and earphones playing music. She was then sexually assaulted.

Father’s role

Ms Masterson said she finally discovered her father’s role in the abuse when she attempted to assist her grandmother install a programme on her laptop and found a DVD with a recording of two of the abuse incidents, which she knew had been recorded as it had been a “bargaining chip.”

She knew then her father was her abuser but did not know what to do. The person to whom she should have been able to turn to for assistance, was the person who was abusing her. “I didn’t have anywhere to turn.”

When she confronted her father “a row broke out” and her father asked how she could think it was him, but she did not receive any text messages after that.

But the abuse continued and spiralled into “open abuse” and sexual harassment, she said. If she did not do as he demanded “there was hell to pay.”

Ms Masterson said her father followed her to her part-time job and eventually forced her to give it up. The rape and violence continued. “He was never happy.”

In March 2014, aged 25, Ms Masterson went on a weekend away with friends. “He didn’t want me to go.” Throughout the weekend her father sent texts threatening her, saying he had people he wanted her to meet.

At that stage her friend asked if her father was abusing her and Ms Masterson replied that he wasn’t. She knew that he thought what he was doing was “completely normal”. At one stage she left out a magazine with a story about incest for him to see, “I thought this will trigger him, but he laughed it off.

“In his head he thought this was completely normal.”

‘Petrified’

Ms Masterson explained that she was “petrified” of her father and that it was “easier said than done to walk away.”

The friend, who was training to be a social worker, “kept pushing”.

By that stage her father knew that her friend knew and told her “you won’t see her again.” Eventually her friend, who was due to leave the country, said she would not go “until she knew I was safe.”

By that stage Ms Masterson said she realised her father did not care that other people knew and had held her by the throat up against a wall one night when there was another friend staying over.

Her trainee social worker friend continued to question her and said she would not leave until she had answers. “This time I said ‘yes’”, when asked if her father was abusing her.

As soon as her mother heard what had been happening she told the father to “get out” and there has been no contact since that day.

Ms Masterson said that she saw her father at his mother’s funeral and on three occasions in court.

When she saw him for the first time in court she had been thrown to see that he had not changed at all physically. She had thought that the impact of what he had done might have caused him to lose weight. “Seeing him for the first time, I thought he might be frail, older. But he hadn’t changed at all, it had zero impact.”

Ms Masterson said she made eye contact in court and “stared him down. That last time I felt absolutely nothing.”

Sentence

Ms Masterson said that despite the length of sentence imposed on her father – 24 years, reduced to 18 because he pleaded guilty with one year suspended, he would not serve “all those years” because of the system.

The judge in the case had been very kind, she said. “All cases of this nature are horrific.” The judge had realised the magnitude of what had happened, she said.

While she had tried counselling, speaking to eight counsellors, she found that it did not help, “I thought I was weird.” It was not until she spoke to another person who had a similar experience that she felt she could do something to help change the system. “I want to help survivors.”

Ms Masterson thanked the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre for their support during the court case and afterwards. She had considered not giving her victim impact statement herself. But she felt it was something she would regret if she did not deliver it herself.

While there could not be a template for victim impact statements, Ms Masterson felt there could be guidance provided along with support for the friends and family of abuse survivors.

Her mother carried great guilt for not being aware of the abuse, but she said even if her mother watched her for 23 hours a day, her father would have gotten to her for that last hour. “I wasn’t safe anywhere.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article you can contact the national 24-hour rape crisis helpline: 1800 778888 or One in Four at 01 662 4070

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Senior figures in Washington stand behind Belfast Agreement and protocol, McDonald says

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Senior figures in United States politics have made it clear that the government of Boris Johnson in the UK will face negative consequences internationally if it attempts to rupture or dispense with the Northern Ireland protocol, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said.

In a presentation at the National Press Club in Washington DC on Thursday she said the protocol was “necessary, operable and going nowhere, despite what Boris Johnson might wish to believe”.

She said she had met with “people of considerable influence” in the US Congress and in the Biden administration on her visit to the US this week and they all stood four square behind the Belfast Agreement and the protocol.

“I heard yesterday on the Hill the clearest possible articulation across the board that any notion of walking away from the protocol would not be acceptable to the United States.”

Asked about a report in the Financial Timed that Washington had delayed lifting tariffs on UK steel and aluminium products amid concerns about threats by the UK to invoke article 16 of the protocol, Ms McDonald said this was a matter for the Biden administration.

However, she said: “There is no doubt where the US stands. If Johnson believes he can walk away from the protocol, he is wrong and there will be consequences for Britain if he chooses that course of action.”

Tariffs

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie, who was also in Washington DC on Thursday, said if the lifting of tariffs was being delayed due to concerns about the protocol, he would argue at a meeting with the US state department that it had “got it wrong” in its view on what article 16 was about.

“If people say we have to adhere to the protocol and article 16 is part of the protocol then it becomes a legitimate thing you can use.”

“It is not about whether you should or should not use it. It is about how you should use it.

“You should use it in a narrow sense of a particular issue that is causing economic or societal harm in Northern Ireland, for example, medicines .”

“If the medicine issue has not been fixed and is starting to affect the people of Northern Ireland, it would be right to instigate article 16 to focus minds on that issue.”

Ms McDonald also told the press club event that she expected the United States would “be on the right side” on the controversy over British plans for an amnesty in relation to killings during the Troubles.

She said the British government was going to the ultimate point to keep the truth from the people about its war in Ireland.

She said the Johnson government’s plans would mean “in effect no possibility of criminal action, civil actions or even inquests into killings in the past”.

Ms McDonald also forecast that a point was coming over the coming five or 10 years where referenda would be held on the reunification of Ireland. She urged the Irish government to establish a citizen’s assembly to consider preparation for unity.

She also said “there will be need for international support and international intervention to support Ireland as we move to transition from partition to reunification”.

Separately, asked about a recent Sinn Féin golf fundraising event that was held in New York, Ms McDonald said the money that was raised would be spent on campaigning and lobbying in the US.

She described it as a patriotic expression by people in the US who had a deep interest in Ireland and the peace process.

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Drop in cancer diagnoses as high as 14 per cent during pandemic, early data shows

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The drop in the number of cancers detected during the Covid-19 pandemic could be as high as 14 per cent, preliminary data has suggested.

A report from the National Cancer Registry said it was still too early to provide “definitive answers” on whether pandemic hospital restrictions last year led to a reduction in the number of cancers diagnosed.

The registry’s annual report said an estimated decrease of 14 per cent in detections pointed to the “potential scale” of Covid-19’s impact on other healthcare.

A separate analysis of data on microscopically verified cancers diagnosed last year showed a reduction of between 10 and 13 per cent, the report said.

The drop in confirmed cancer cases, when compared with previous years, could be partly accounted for by “incomplete registration of cases already diagnosed”, it said.

Prof Deirdre Murray, director of the National Cancer Registry, said there were “clear signals that, as expected in Ireland, the number of cancer diagnoses in 2020 will be lower than in previous years”.

‘Very worried’

Averil Power, chief executive of the Irish Cancer Society, said the organisation was “very worried” over the significant drop in cancers diagnosed last year.

The shortfall in cancers being diagnosed would present a “major challenge” in the coming years, with lengthy waiting lists and disruptions to screening services “all too commonplace” already, she said.

Ms Power said it was frightening to think of the people who were living with cancer but did not know it yet. She added that existing cancer patients were “terrified” of having treatments delayed due to the recent rise in Covid-19 cases.

The registry’s report said there were about 44,000 tumours identified each year between 2017 and 2019.

Not counting non-melanoma skin cancer, the most common cancer diagnoses were for breast and prostate cancer, which made up almost a third of invasive cancers found in women and men respectively.

For men this was followed by bowel and lung cancer, and melanoma of the skin. Lung cancer was the second most common cancer for women, followed by colorectal cancer and melanoma of skin.

Nearly a third of deaths in 2018 were attributed to cancer, with lung cancer the leading cause of death from cancer, the report said.

The second, third and fourth most common cancers to die from in men were bowel, prostate and oesophagus cancer. For women breast, bowel and ovarian cancers were the most common fatal cancers.

The report said there were almost 200,000 cancer survivors in Ireland at the end of 2019, with breast cancer patients making up more than a fifth of the total.

Mortality rates

The research found cancer rates among men had dropped between 2010 and 2019, with mortality rates decreasing or remaining the same across nearly every type of cancer. Rates of cancer detected among women had increased between 2008 and 2019, with mortality rates for most cancers decreasing.

The report said the five-year survival rate from cancer had increased to 65 per cent for the period 2014 to 2018, compared with 42 per cent two decades previous.

There had been “major improvement” in survival rates for most major cancers, however, the research noted the chances of survival varied significantly depending on the type of cancer.

Prostate, melanoma of the skin and testis cancer had survival rates of more than 90 per cent, followed closely by breast and thyroid cancer, and Hodgkin lymphoma. Pancreas, liver, oesophagus and lung cancers had much lower five-year survival rates on average, the report said.

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How Germany has made it easier to cancel broadband and phone contracts

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What’s going on?

On December 1st, new amendments to the Telecommunications Act came into force in Germany. The updates bring with them wide-ranging changes to consumer rights laws for people who’ve signed – or will sign – new mobile, landline and internet contracts.

The headline change relates to the amount of time contracts are allowed to run for after they renew. If a customer signs up to a 24-month mobile contract and doesn’t cancel before it renews, telecommunications companies will no longer be allowed to sign that customer up for another one or two years without their permission.

Instead, people who don’t cancel in time will be put onto a one-month rolling contract that essentially allows them to terminate at any point with just one month’s notice.

It’s an end to a tax on the disorganised that has seen people stuck paying for contracts they no longer want or need for up to 24 months longer – often at higher prices than they agreed when they first signed the contract.

Does that mean all contracts will be rolling contracts?

Not exactly. As before, most new contracts will run for a minimum 24-month term – so expect to be locked in for at least this long, unless you specifically look for a more flexible contract. 

The change affects what happens after this initial term is up, meaning if you do sign up for a yearly contract, one year won’t automatically turn into two if you don’t remember to cancel it in time. 

READ ALSO: Everything that changes in Germany in December 2021

What else is new?

Alongside the key changes to contract durations, there are also changes to the way in which contracts are agreed and tougher standards for internet providers.

In future, if you agree a contract over the phone, you have to receive a summary of the terms of the contract and confirm it in writing before the agreement is legally valid. 

This summary must include the service provider’s contact details, a description of agreed services, details of any activation fees, the duration of the contract and any conditions for renewal and termination. Without written approval, the contract has no legal standing and the provider has no claims against the customer – even if they switched to the new services immediately after the telephone call.

A young man on the phone in Hannover
A young man takes a phone call on a tram in Hannover. Under the new changes, contracts agreed over the phone will not be valid until they are confirmed in writing. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

If a provider makes a change to a contract after it’s up and running, customers now have the right to terminate without notice.

In future, providers must inform customers if there are more favourable offers available and a change to a new contract would be possible.  This must happen once a year, and once again, providers aren’t allowed to do this solely over the phone. 

For broadband customers, there’s more good news: internet providers will in future face issues if they don’t provide the bandwidth stated in the contract. 

That means that if your internet is slower than promised, you should have the right to pay a reduced price or terminate the contract. 

READ ALSO: Moving house in Germany: 7 things you need to know about setting up utility contracts

I signed a new contract a while ago. Do the new rules still apply? 

Yes, they do. Regardless of when you signed your new contract, the amendments to the Telecommunications Act will apply. 

That means that once your initial contract period is up, you should be able to cancel freely and only pay for the month’s notice. You should also be informed of any changes to your contract or better offers and be eligible for compensation if your internet goes below the promised bandwidth. 

If you’ve already been locked in to a 12- or 24-month contract through an auto-renewal, the situation is a bit less clear – but it may be worth contacting your provider and asking them if the terms of your contract have changed in light of the new law. 

READ ALSO: Has it just got easier to end credit agreements in Germany?

What are people saying?

The Telecommunications and Value-Added Services Association, which represents the industry, said it was important than the initial 24-month contracts were allowed to continue. The subsequent new notice periods are a good compromise, VATM Managing Director Jürgen Grützner told Tagesschau

“On the one hand, this means better financial forecasting for expanding providers’ networks and, on the other hand, the best of both worlds for consumers,” he added. 

Campaign for faster internet
“We need fast internet!” is scrawled in huge letters across a street in Weetzen, Lower Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Ole Spata

However, Grützner believes the new rules on bandwidth could cause difficulties for providers who struggle to offer the same quality of internet across all regions. 

Meanwhile, consumer rights advocates have welcomed the improvements to contract law. 

In particular, the Federal Consumer Advice Centre “expects competition to improve as a result of the new regulation, including the price-performance ratio,” Susanne Blohm from the organisation’s Digital and Media Division told Tagesschau.

In an initial sign of the regulation’s positive impact, the provider Telefonica has announced that it will abolish surcharges for contracts that don’t have a minimum cancellation period. 

Vocabulary

amendments – (die) Novelle

bandwidth – (die) Bandbreite 

minimum contract term – (die) Mindestlaufzeit 

provider – (der) Anbieter

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.



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