A former member of Irish parliament has moved Ireland with her courageous account of her rape in a small town in France which she believed to be a safe place when she moved to live there.

Niamh Cosgrave, who in the mid-1990s played an important role in seeking compensation for Irish women who contracted hepatitis-C from blood transfusions, moved RTE radio interviewer Sean O’Rourke to tears with her account of her two and a half hour rape.

The rapist, Christian Gladieux, a local married man in the southwest French town of Chef-Boutonne where Cosgrave lived since 2007, was jailed for 18 years last month. Cosgrave moved with her family to the sleepy town with a population of 2,000 after her marriage broke up in Ireland.

“This is a town where they rear your children with you. It’s a safe environment. Doors are open all the time. Even if you go to the shop, you don’t get a smile, you get a kiss,” Cosgrave told O’Rourke.

It was not the kind of place where she expected to be savagely attacked and raped in her home.

When she awoke to a tap on her shoulder at night on September 4, 2012, she assumed it was her dog so she didn’t panic.

But then the terror started. When she tried to escape the attacker punched her in the face and broke her jaw. She was dragged back into the bedroom and raped repeatedly.

During the attack, Cosgrave could see a photo of her children sitting on the bedside locker.

“I know it sounds strange but I felt they were in the room with me and they were looking, I felt their presence in the room and I felt humiliated and I felt disgusted,” Cosgrave said.

When the rapist finally left she was petrified he’d return with a knife to kill her. But she managed to call the police and spent three weeks in hospital.

When the rapist was arrested it was discovered he had previously spent 10 years in jail for breaking into a neighbor’s home and repeatedly raping her.

During the trial last month the judge described Cosgrave as “a woman of courage,” and the rapist’s defense lawyer also commended her for her courage and dignity.

Cosgrave said she put her house in Chef-Boutonne up for sale but opted to stay in the town because of the “wonderful support network.”