Domestic Abuse Blog

Domestic Abuse Blog – Clare Champion Article by Susan O’Brien – No 5 in the Series

My cousin May was threatened by a man pointing a revolver at her, and she walked up to him, took the gun by the barrel and told him not to be silly.

The man was her husband, who she had found the courage to leave six months previously, after a two year marriage which began with his flaunting his infidelity in her face and by the time they had been married a month found her wearing long sleeves to hide where he used her skin to stub his cigarettes out.

May was very fortunate to have a supportive family, financial means of her own, and a great deal of courage and resourcefulness. It still took two years for her to leave her husband and it spoiled a hitherto idyllic relationship with her parents who found the stigma of divorce traumatising.

This was fifty years ago, and my dear May lived to be ninety, to be happily married again, and eventually to die with her spirit undimmed.

But nearly fifty years later my friend, a successful professional woman, a woman also of courage and resource, ended her life because it had been systematically dismantled and devalued by her abusive husband.

I tell their stories because they were both ashamed and guilty of what had been done to them, and where they were similar is that they both blamed themselves.

Violence, abuse, misogyny (some men are abused by women, but the majority of cases are men abusing women) cuts across all social divides, occurs in all countries, and is still a secret.

In the US the most common cause of death of pregnant women is murder by their partner. In the UK two women a week meet death at the hands of their partner. In Ireland it is estimated that one in 5 women have been abused in some way. One in five.

During lockdown we got used to saying to each other ‘Stay safe’. But for many women, across the western world as countries locked down to combat Coronavirus, their worlds became ever less safe.

The two women I have mentioned above were childless, but imagine how much more complicated life becomes when you have dependents who need you, but are also at risk themselves.

Gay Byrne electrified his audience on The Late Late Show and on his morning radio show by lifting the lid on the domestic abuse suffered by some women – but that was decades ago and the problem has not gone away. Surely as a society we have learnt so much more about listening to the voice of the victims of abuse – tragically a lesson we were taught by the voices of children. And yet still the numbers rise, and still the story told is the familiar one of victim-blaming, trivialising and voices unheard.

You can see why. Marriage, for those of us lucky enough to have found a soul mate, to live in a relationship that is life enhancing and life supporting, is such a wonderful state that it requires a creative leap of the imagination to see how for some people this is far from the case. And yet we owe it to our human family to make that creative leap.

Abusers shut down the world of their victims. They isolate and control them, and they may do this by terrifying their prey with physical violence, and threats to their life. Across the EU 25% of all violent crimes reported involve a man assaulting his wife or partner (EU Campaign Against Domestic Violence, 2000). International research consistently demonstrates that a woman is more likely to be assaulted, injured, raped or killed by a current or former partner than by any other person (WHO, 2005).

Abusers also isolate and control their victims more subtly by psychological, sexual, emotional and/or financial and economic means. Since January 2019 these are all subject to the Domestic Violence Act 2018 which defines (illegal) Domestic Violence as ‘the physical, sexual, financial, emotional or psychological abuse of one person against another within a family environment or by an intimate partner currently or previously, regardless of gender or sexuality”.

If, like me, you are not a victim of this behaviour, but are sorrowful at the thought of it, what can you do?

First of all, don’t make assumptions. My friend’s husband was popular, a member of a ‘caring’ profession in which he was very successful. He was also a master of coercive control and abuse. If someone confides in you listen with an open mind. Secondly, know that help is available. You could support the charities, but you should know that they exist. If you are affected by any of these issues personally know that the helplines are free and confidential.

I am giving their numbers and website addresses below.

Women’s Aid – 24 hour helpline 1800 341900
Safe Ireland – can advise on 38 domestic abuse services located in towns across Ireland 0906 479078

Susan O’Brien is the Ecumenical Officer for the Diocese of Killaloe
She is marred to Rev. Kevin O’Brien the Church of Ireland Rector, Binden Street, Ennis