Our girl Vogue Williams talks to victims of domestic violence
VALENTINE’S DAY is a week away and love is in the air.
But as the whole world celebrates loved-up couples, a spotlight will shine on the darker side of dating.
Women’s Aid will this week look to highlight how it’s not just wives, mothers or women living with partners who suffer in abusive relationships.
One in five women over the age of 18 suffer domestic violence, and 60 per cent of it starts before they are 25. Frighteningly, one in two murders of young women aged 18 to 25 is by their boyfriend or ex.
This week, I met some of the brave survivors who want the message to go out to other young women to be wary of the warning signs.
We have all heard the horror stories of domestic abuse, but sometimes the emotional abuse can be so much worse and I was struck by the rise in a newer type of digital abuse.
More women are being stalked online by people they may have only gone on a few dates with, which is terrifying.
Social media is being used as a scare tactic too, with partners threatening to release personal images on Facebook and Twitter.
Thankfully, Women’s Aid has extended its national helpline to 24 hours a day from 12. They listen to over 30 calls a day, ranging from women wanting to talk through what’s going on, to others in imminent danger.
Vogue in the Women's Aid office
Calls from women like ‘Clare’. At just 25 she is a single parent and a survivor of a violently abusive relationship.
Her relationship started like any other. But at such a young age she was easily controlled by a man who she thought loved her. My heart broke for her as she bravely shared her story, but I was also taken aback at how strong she now seemed.
“I look back and say God I was a baby,” Clare told me. “It was a six-year, on-and-off relationship. It started as social abuse, that my friends weren’t good enough for me. He said I shouldn’t be with them, like he was looking after me, but it’s just to completely have you to himself. He would go out and I would be left at home with no friends.
But emotional abuse can often escalate, as it did for Clare.
“He didn’t hit me until two years later. Around the last two months he was very physically abusive, and there would have been a lot of physical threats. He would threaten to kill me and bury me alive.
“Whatever way he did it there was no bruises, he was smart enough. There was only one time he left me with a bruise below my eye and he was like ‘will you put some make-up on it’s like you want people to see that bruise’.
“I didn’t have any friends to tell. The only people I had were my family, but I didn’t want to tell them.”
After moving back in to her mother’s house with her daughter and partner, he disappeared for days on end and financially starved his young family. But it gave Clare the space and strength to reach out for help and end the relationship.
“When I called it off he got this massive shock. It took me a year to get completely away from him. He’d be ringing my phone constantly.
“I had gone to the courts to get a safety order. That was the year he threatened to kill everybody in my family and take my daughter.
“When I had told the judge he had threatened to stab me he was saying it didn’t happen. The judge knew by his attitude that I needed a safety order.
“I am still fearful that I will bump into him because he knows where I live. The safety order lasts for five years so he can be arrested if he comes near me and is abusive. I haven’t met anyone else. I find it hard to trust people, especially partners.”
Clare advises young women on the dating scene to watch for the danger signs.
“If they are judging how you look, your clothes, your hair, whatever it is, little signs, or if they are bombarding your phone, Facebook, your social media.
“I consider them to be more dangerous because it’s so much easier to take a punch than it is to not know the difference between ‘are they abusing you or not abusing you’, because you don’t have a voice anymore.”
Then Clare said something that really got to me: “Their voice becomes your voice. “
Speaking to her, you realise an abusive relationship is about control and stealing someone’s identity so they have nothing left of themselves. Many women call Women’s Aid to ask if what they’re going through even classes as abuse.
Vogue meets the team at Women's Aid
‘Ellen’ has also ended a long-term abusive relationship. She fell in love during a whirlwind holiday romance in Turkey. She was engaged within three days and married within six months. She returned to Ireland to live with the man of her dreams and very soon he became her worst nightmare.
“He was very abusive. He couldn’t get his visa fast enough so he was throwing passports at me and giving out to me,” Ellen says.
“I was thinking ‘when he’s in Dublin he’ll be okay’.”
Ellen got her husband a job in a restaurant but it wasn’t long before he began spending hours away from home at a time and she realised he was a chronic gambler.
“I got pregnant and had a little boy. He was saying I looked fat and too old. He was younger than me and saying ‘look at what you’re wearing I wouldn’t walk down the road with you’. I had no self-esteem.
“It got worse. I wanted to make a picnic, thinking this will make everything great. I had the little boy in the back and then I couldn’t find the way and he got angry and he put his fist through the windscreen of the car on the main road while I was driving.
“He tore the mirror down and stamped on that and he told me that he could kill me. I just prayed and got home and that’s when he first started to hit me around the chest area. My dad asked what happened and I covered for him, you don’t want people to know.
“Then he made somebody pregnant and I was supposed to try and get over this. He said ‘it was all your fault, you weren’t talking to me and I went out’.
“My dad asked us to go see a priest and we did, but he ended up throwing a chair at the priest. He told me he would get my little boy and drive into the sea.
“Then one night I came down the stairs and I was wearing my nightdress. He said ‘put some clothes on’. Then he hit me and started to strangle me. My little boy came out and ran to my dad and said ‘help mammy please quick’. My dad saw him and got him off me. I went to the guards and reported them and then I rang Women’s Aid.
“The Gardai really frightened him. They told him to pack his stuff leave and not come back and he never did.”
Ellen’s story has a happy ending and she is now engaged. In her own lovely phrase: “That was a horror movie for five years and now I am in a Disney movie.”
I just felt like I wanted to hug these women. I admired them for talking to me about such traumatic events in their lives, all to bring awareness to a cause which seems not to be a priority. Funding for Women’s Aid is constantly being cut back.
Anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation, you are not alone. What I noticed most was that these women wanted to try and get these men that they loved to change and to save the family they had. Sadly, these men never change.
You can support Women’s Aid by texting action to 50300 to donate €4 or donate online at www.womensaid.ie/donate.