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Ireland: Domestic Abusers Paradise

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Ireland: Domestic Abusers Paradise

Pink circles taryn pic

The following is a not-at-all comprehensive list of things that are not considered a crime in Ireland (if the person doing them to you is your partner or ex partner):

  • Refusing to get you medical attention when you need it
  • Deliberately embarking on a campaign of brainwashing to break you down and erode your self worth
  • Leaving you sick without food or water for more than 24 hours
  • Belittling and mocking you for your health issues
  • Stopping you from seeing your friends and/or family
  • Hacking into your accounts and spying on you
  • Trying to turn your children against you
  • Extorting money from you by coercion
  • Coming into your house without your permission
  • Going through your belongings
  • Leaving photographs of themselves in your bed
  • Sending abusive texts or emails
  • Using children to hurt/control you (by not attending to their needs when in their care, refusing to sign permission slips/passport applications/H.S.E forms etc)
  • Spreading malicious lies about you
  • Reading your texts and emails
  • Lurking round your property and looking through your back windows in the morning
  • Using jointly owned assets (property etc) as a means to control you
  • Not allowing you any money or taking all the money without your knowledge or permission
  • Sabotaging your contraception
  • Not allowing you to have an abortion if you want one
  • Neglecting the children when they are in his care
  • Not allowing you any time to yourself
  • Not allowing you to work
  • Making you keep a diary of what you do every minute of the day
  • Using their financial means and your lack of to control you
  • Deliberatley stripping you of your sense of identity
  • Threatening to take your children off you
  • Threatening to harm your children and or pets
  • Threatening to kill themselves in an effort to control you

All of the above examples I’ve taken from my own experience and those of the many women* I’ve supported after leaving abusive relationships. Many of these examples were cited in dealings with domestic abuse services and Gardai and the victim was told they had no case against the abuser. They are just some of the techniques used by abusive people to emotionally abuse others. I call it psychological torture, a brainwashing that happens over time that slowly but surely erodes the sense of self. This connection to the man’s needs creates a binding dynamic that makes it extra difficult for women to leave. Their victim’s sense of self is so eroded and they are so brainwashed into putting him first that even after leaving the most awful of relationships they are still thinking of and worried about the ‘poor’ man they’ve left. A lot of the work I do is helping women to reclaim their sense of self and to learn to put themselves and their needs first.

If you are a victim who has suffered emotional abuse constituting any of the above list (or other emotionally abusive actions), there are a few countries in the world that consider that treatment of you a crime. The U.K, France and Canada all consider emotional abuse to be a crime, as does the the U.N and domestic abuse service providers who work with abused women. Given the long term affects on the victim are the same regardless of the type of abuse perpetrated, why is it that most countries (including Ireland) only recognise the physical body as capable of being ‘abused’?

According to a U.N report on violence against women,

“Forty-three per cent of women in the 28 European Union Member States have experienced some form of psychological violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.”

43%. That is nearly half the female population of Europe that has been a victim of a type of abuse that is considered a criminal act in several first world countries and that is every bit as harmful to the victim as physical violence.

In Ireland, domestic abuse is not even seen as a crime, as Jane Ruffino points out in her excellent piece on the subject. A woman in Ireland whose partner or ex partner is doing any of the things on the list above has no legal recourse to get him to stop. Yet the list above contains actions that are considered warning signs if you are an expert in domestic abuse. And as we know, domestic abuse often ends only when the woman is dead.

Data on domestic abuse is not even collected in Ireland. Perhaps the Irish government thinks it can put it’s head in the sand as to the scale of the problem. That Gardai were grossly under reporting domestic abuse figures came to light when the Northern Irish Police released their report detailing more than 29,000 domestic abuse incidents. When this figure was compared with 3678 incidents reported by Gardai the same year people started to question the validity of the Irish figures. Since Ireland has nearly 3 times the population of Northern Ireland our figures should’ve looked more like 87,000. But then I suppose figures like that might require some kind of action on behalf of the Irish government.

According to the U.N less than 10% of women report physical, emotional or sexual crimes against them to the Police. If we are to assume that the Irish figures should be more like 87,000 and that that is representative of the 10% who report, we would be looking at 783,000 women in Ireland currently or previously being a victim of abuse (excluding child abuse). That roughly equals one sixth of the Irish population. Add that to the one in four who have been abused as a child and you have a country with a massive abuse problem. A country that doesn’t record domestic abuse figures and has a horrific history of covering up (and enabling even) child abuse.

As the government in Ireland seems disinterested in knowing how many of it’s citizens have been abused, perhaps some monetary figures would incentivise them to care. The link between metal health and trauma has been widely reported on, and the cost of mental health problems to the Irish economy is 3 billion a year. While some mental health problems are physiological, research shows that a lot of mental health problems stem from trauma. There are potentially 783,000 women in Ireland who have or are currently a victim of domestic abuse (excluding child abuse statistics). Some of these women have children who have also been exposed to if not abuse itself then the aftermath of experiencing abuse. These women have friends, family and work colleagues who will similarly be exposed and perhaps affected. That is a lot of potential mental health issues.

If we cared about abuse (if we cared about women) we might know what the actual figure of the economic cost of domestic abuse is. I’m not an economist, so I can only talk about the human cost. The human cost of living in a country that doesn’t view someone psychologically torturing you, denying you healthcare, tricking you into getting pregnant, threatening you, stalking you, lying about you or using your children against you as a crime worth prosecuting. A country that doesn’t even bother to collect data about the abuse you are receiving. And I have to ask, what kind of country accepts this behaviour as socially and legally justifiable?

NOTE ON ACTIONS: You can write to, phone or email your TD about the Domestic Violence Bill and ask for:

  • Domestic abuse to be made a criminal act.
  • Data to be collected by the Gardai on domestic abuse.
  • Emotional abuse to be included as a crime.
  • The name to be changed to ‘Domestic Abuse’ to encompass all types of abuse, including those that aren’t physical.

*I’m speaking of women in this piece as they are the most affected by domestic abuse and I have only worked with women survivors, however men can of course be victims of abuse as well.

CoParenting with an Abusive Ex

Domestic Abuse services are fantastic, I can’t think of enough good things to say about them and the people who work in the shelters and on helplines. One area where there are just about zero supports however is for after women leave an abusive relationship. Which is a time when women (and men who have been abused but I am going to speak of women here as they are the gender statistically abused much more) really are in need of supports. This is especially the case with women who have children. There is very little support available for a woman who has just left an abusive relationship. There is no extra financial help, so she must go through the same degrading experience applying for social welfare as everyone else. There are no free childminding services dedicated to helping vulnerable women out if they need to sit in the health service office awaiting their number to come up for emergency relief money, or if they need to go and look at flats or houses to move into. There are no parenting supports to help them to de-program their children from the cycle of abuse they have now been exposed to for however many years. And there is no guide to how to co-parent with someone who at the least hates you and at worst wants to kill you.

Many women are forced to co-parent with abusive exes and these men will pull out all the stops to attempt to continue to control and hurt the woman who has left them. I am going to outline here some of the common tactics they use when co-parenting and some strategies you can utilize in response.

  1. Setting their preferred narrative about the breakup/you. Anyone who you care about you should tell them the truth before he gets in with his lies. I have never not known an abusive person to try and set an untruthful narrative.  A common narrative is to try and make people question the woman’s mental health. Some even attempt to paint themselves as the victim.
  2. Attempting to discredit you to your kid’s school. When you leave go in and chat to the Principal and explain that you have left an abusive relationship. Make sure your kid’s teacher knows what is happening too. If you are not satisfied with the responses you get complain to the board of management of the school. It’s important that the school is aware of your child’s circumstances and that you don’t allow your ex to set the narrative.
  3. Attempting to turn your kids against you. They will do this in a variety of ways from the obvious and extreme (‘Your Mum’s a bitch’) to far more subtle ways. It’s a good idea to say to your kids that you are not with their dad anymore because you didn’t like how he was disrespectful to you. That is all you need to say. You don’t want to get into anything else with the kids, it would not be good for them or you. Let them know that it’s not kind to say mean things about people. Be sensitive to their needs when they come back from their dad’s and check in if they seem disturbed or upset. If they disclose that he said something awful about you make sure you take them to a counsellor or therapist so they can help your child and also to have it on record.
  4. Using the privileges that come with coparenting to control you. This could be anything from refusing to sign school or medical permission slips to neglecting their child’s clothing or other needs when they are in his care. I have seen abusive men who were not feeding their kids properly, who wouldn’t let their children shower, who sent their kids home in clothes that were too tight every time they had them – forcing the mother to constantly buy more, changed previous agreements regarding pick ups at the drop of a hat, refusing to sign for a special needs assessment, insisting on only picking kids up from the mother’s house, letting themselves into the mother’s house without her knowledge or consent, being aggressive and angry with the mother at every hand over, being rough with the children  during hand over, sending manipulative texts while they have the children “Xxxx is crying, they want you to come and pick them up.” etc. They will use anything they can to continue to control their ex partner, even using their own kids. The best thing to do ios to keep detailed records of all they do, try and get witnesses and get your kids as much support as is available/you can afford. Get your kids weekly counselling/therapy sessions and have everything their dad is doing that is harmful recorded by a professional. Judges usually don’t trust women and will only listen to professionals. Act as if you are preparing for a custody court battle, be constantly building your case against him with as much evidence as you can. That way if it does go to court you will have all the expert opinion and a paper trail of the imapact of his abuse on the children.
  5. He will try and physically see you as much as he can. He will use the kids to attempt to physically see you. It is a good idea to insist on written only communication (as that is accountable). Try and avoid seeing him if you can and never see him on your own under any circumstances. You are trying to cut off all his chances to be abusive.
  6. He may try and be the ‘fun’ parent and your kids might come back feeling resentful of you because your house doesn’t have all the fancy computer games/you don’t eat take out every night etc. He may deliberately be trying to paint you as the unfun parent, this is sometimes just to win them over, other times because he is looking to have full custody. All of these things are chances to teach empathy to your kids and to get them to understand why you make the choices you do. Be really wary if it seems like he is campaigning with them to win them over to move in with him full time. Try and teach your kids to be discerning and to be aware of people’s motivations, which is all good life learning anyway.
  7. He may try and threaten you with legal letters or with social services. Remember that he has a lot more to be worried about than you. This is another good reason to keep loads of records of all the awful stuff he does.
  8. He may send texts or emails to you that imply he is going to hurt himself and/or the children. Speak to the police and social services if he does this, especially if he does it while he has the kids. These kind of communications should be treated very seriously. He may be trying to control you but he may not be too. Call the police.
  9. He might stalk you. If he does call the police and get a barring order or whatever equivalent there is in your area. I have known abusive men who have climbed in open windows of their exes house, had spare keys made unbeknownst to their ex and let themselves into her house when she wan’t there, men who have left letters and photos in women’s beds. All not ok.
  10. He might be cyber spying on you. Change all your passwords. I’ve come across 3 tech-savvy abusive men in my time working with survivors. These men were reading all their exes communications on facebook and on their phones. One man had even installed hidden cameras in his exes house.

This is far from an exhaustive list but it outlines a lot of the common issues women the women I have worked with are dealing with.

Finally I would suggest getting as much counselling as possible to deal with the trauma you’ve been through. The stronger you are the better parent you’ll be and the more you will be able to be there for your kids. It is hard for them having a father who is role modelling an abusive mindset and who is interacting with them from this space and they will need a lot of help and support too.

I have written a survivors guide with a section on co-parenting strategies if you would like a copy email iampowerfulandstrong@gmail.com and I will reply with a copy attached.

We are not better than Morocco, we just think we are.

I was walking over Kevin Street one night a few years ago and there were three kids, who couldn’t have been anymore than about ten, throwing stones at a black man and shouting racist abuse at him. I did what any right thinking individual would have done and roared at them “HERE, quit that yis little bastards.” One of them in turn picked up a stone and fired it at me where it pelted me full force inside of my leg and left a massive bruise roughly shaped like Belgium. Normally I wouldn’t care, but the problem for me was that I had planned to attend a wedding two days later and didn’t have time to get a longer dress that would cover the bruise. So I began a Google search to find the concealer that would cover it.

There were literally thousands of results on how to cover bruising. Recommendations from forums about what types of concealer; how to do it with lipstick; the best brushes to use; the way to apply without causing any further stressed to bruised skin. There seems to be an awful lot of women with an awful lot of bruises to cover. Facelifts are popular but they couldn’t be *that* popular. Even the Daily Mail once had advice from make-up artists who outlined in detail how to cover up bruising after a woman wrote in having fallen down in the street. I know a woman who falls down in the street regularly, but it’s usually after her boyfriend has seen her chatting to another man or after he’s been drinking.

There was mass outrage this week when a Moroccan public broadcaster aired a daytime show including a segment on how to cover up bruising after a beating from your husband. It’s makes for pretty grim watching as the make-up artist chit chats while she’s masking the bruising. Much of the uproar on twitter after it was due to the fact that Morocco is a country with an overwhelmingly Muslim population. The logic to the outrage was “Look at these barbarians in this Islamic nation! See how they beat their wives! See how normal it is for them.”

We got one of those smart tellys a while back at home and sometimes I watch YouTube make-up tutorials on it in the evenings. I rarely actually use any of their tips because I’m lazy and refuse to buy more foundation until the one I’m using runs out, but there’s something weirdly soothing about watching someone layer on the primers and highlighters and  use eyeshadow to make what is essentially art on their faces. Sharon Farrell is a make-up artist from the West of Ireland who lives in Australia now and is definitely my all time favourite, mainly because she’ll tell you which eyeshadow palette from Catrice is the closest dupe to a Mac set, but also because I am convinced she is more of a wizard than a make-up artist.

Anyway, I watched one of her videos one day and she had a bit of bruising because she’d had her lips done, so this tutorial was about how to cover it up. Just after three minutes into the tutorial my beloved Sharon turns to the camera and says, “If you need to cover up bruises because someone is hitting you, that’s not cool, and it’s not ok, and there are people that you can talk to and there’s help available to you and I’ll put the numbers below the video……and if someone is beating you that’s not cool and you shouldn’t have to accept that in your life.” This was a great thing to do because make-up artists like her are going to reach a wide audience.

Obviously, and rightly, there was no public outrage over this. I spoke to my sister (also a Sharon fan) and concluded that what she had done was a good idea; a simple acknowledgment that some women seek help in covering bruises because men beat them. The video has had almost 179,000 views to date. That’s 176,000 more than this Women’s Aid awareness video.  

The Moroccan tv segment is jarring because, if the translation is correct, there is an aspect of normalisation to this. The women speak of bruises from their husbands as being a very standard thing that you just have to get on with. But this is on a spectrum; Farrell’s video to an extent is acknowledging the normalisation of domestic violence too. That is not a defence of how the Moroccan broadcasters handled the issue or a criticism of Farrell, but to point out that so many women are experiencing domestic violence, that for them this is the norm. As a make-up artist, Sharon Farrell would be well aware of the thousands of forums that I came across on my google searches researching the best foundation that will give enough coverage to make a black eye and bruised jaw disappear. Farrell and the hundreds of other make-up artists with similar videos aren’t condemned for this subtle acknowledgment because they’re white and western. Would we be less appalled by the Moroccan tv segment if they’d included a phone number for a domestic violence hotline? Would that have made the men criticising it less concerned about Islam in Morocco and more concerned for women’s well-being?

The sad thing about the Moroccan tv outrage is that it was mainly directed at the women who participated in this – rather than the men who beat their wives so regularly to the extent that it appears to these women to be a perfectly reasonable to have a daytime feature on hiding the fact you’ve taken a beating from a person who is meant to love you.  Do we think we are better in Ireland because Irish men mostly beat women where the bruises don’t show? Because we aren’t.

Domestic violence is an enormous problem. Just because a make-up artist here adds the phone number for women’s aid at the bottom of her video does not make us better than Morocco. You’re not likely to see a segment on The Afternoon Show about how to cover your black eye, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t Irish women who would look for similar information online. 6,000 women and children were turned away from refuges in Ireland during 2015 because there wasn’t the space to take them in. A lot of the 16 women turned away every day will inevitably return to their partners, weighing up the risk of a beating against the risk of living on the streets. Domestic violence is exacerbated by the State and the community when it will not give a woman an exit route.

Organisations like Women’s Aid do fantastic work in Ireland, but the men on twitter saying domestic violence is a result of Islam are insulting. Wasn’t Clodagh Hawe’s husband at mass the Sunday before he murdered her and her children and then shot himself in an act of cowardice?

A third of women in Ireland have experienced extreme psychological violence from men. A quarter of women have experienced violence by partners in Ireland.  

We are not better than Morocco, we just think we are.

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The Women’s Aid Helpline is 1800 341 900.

Follow me on twitter @stephie08

 

Why We Need To Change Our Thinking on Bullying

I’ve been working with victims of domestic abuse for 6 years now. And during the course of this work I began to see a direct link between children who bully and adults who abuse. Many of the families I have worked with have had at least one child who has begun abusing the mother after she leaves an abusive relationship. These children have had abuse role modelled for them, and disrespect for their mother’s role modelled for them and it takes a lot of work to undo the dangerous ideas they hold.  The link between child bullies and adult abusers is a contentious subject, but an important one for us to consider as it affects so many of us and should be shaping the bullying policies of our schools and universities.

Children who grow up in abusive households are significantly more likely to grow up to become abusers themselves or to be abused. 1 in 3 women in the world will experience physical or sexual violence, most commonly from a partner, so we are talking about a huge portion of the population that is affected by these issues. And yet for women seeking help and support from domestic abuse services there is little help once they have left the relationship and even less support in supporting them to parent children who have been exposed to abuse. Thus the cycle of abuse starts up again, as many survivors of abuse don’t have the skills, energy, time or knowledge to undo the damage done to their children. These children are often abusive to their mother and sometimes to other kids in school. When I first started looking into this 6 years ago I couldn’t find any information, online or otherwise on child to parent abuse. Now though child to parent abuse awareness is spreading and it has in the last few years become an issue that is finally being talked about. Because bullying isn’t just something that happens at school. Lots of children who have grown up in abusive households bully their non abusive parent. Bullying needs to be looked at within a wider context. And it needs to be looked at alongside abuse.

People with abusive mindsets share two things. A core belief in inequality and a sense of entitlement. Bullies also share these two beliefs. In my head bullies and abusers are interchangeable terms. They both mean the same thing,  bully being a kid-friendly term for a child abuser, adult abusers getting called out for what they are.

The fortunate thing is that children are much easier to work with and less fixed in their ideas than adults. It is depressing that the world’s leading rehabilitation program for domestic abuse perpetrators has less than a 40% success rate, but this is probably because the main issue is that an abusive mindset is not a psychological problem within the abuser’s brain, but a cultural and societal problem. It is the result of the toxic masculinity created from being raised in a patriarchal society with rigid gender expectations and unhealthy beliefs about the value of women. And it is constantly reinforced by the media, by the options on supermarket shelves, by the fashion industry, by governments and more. It is everywhere we look. All aimed at controlling women and portraying them as inferior to men.

Studies have shown that the behaviour of abusive people is mostly deliberate. They actively choose to behave in a way that exerts domination and control over their partner, in order to get their needs and wants met. In other words, they KNOW what they are doing. Their actions are intentional.

I do not know anything about rehabilitating abusive adults. I do however know about helping children who have been taught by their abusive parent to be bullies. I know how to help their mothers to parent them in such a way that will guide them towards being respectful people. And much of the work I do with mothers and their children works equally well in a school setting.

I was on the committee that developed our primary school’s anti – bullying policy where we defined bullying as ‘an act with intent to harm’. Most school’s approach bullying as being repeated actions. I disagree with this. Bullying is the softer, kid-friendly word we use for abuse. One act of abuse is enough to call it abuse. One act of bullying is enough to call it bullying. Why do we diminish the experience of the victim by insisting that they be repeatedly abused before we will give the matter the level of importance that is requires? I see this as a gross negligence  of the hurt child, and further evidence of how as a society we protect abusers, at all costs. It seems preposterous that a child must be hurt repeatedly before we will take the incident/s seriously and call it for what it is. In what other area of life would this be the rule? “Oh you were only broken into once Mrs Smith, come back when you’ve been broken into again and then we’ll deem it a burglary.” “Someone put their penis in you without your consent? Well when it happens again that will be rape!”

Who does this ‘repeated actions’ definition of bullying help and support? Only the child doing the abusing (except not in the long run, as being indulged in your abuse of others is incredibly dangerous to all of us, no matter what our age). In my view the important and crucial part of defining bullying is ‘intent to harm’. This is where bullying links in with the adult abusive mindset. Both abusers and bullies are driven by a desire to cause intentional harm to others in order to have some need or want of theirs met.

The great thing is what with kids we can (most of the time) undo the toxic programming they have received from  their abusive parent. Of course there will be children who will bully who have not grown up with an abusive parent as well, and children will bully for a variety of reasons but bullying can be handled the same way regardless of why the child is bullying. The important thing is that they are not able to get away with it, that it is recognised for what it is and action is taken to stop it and support the victim. That cannot happen until we re-define what we consider bullying to be. We should be putting the victim’s needs at the centre and calling any act with intent to harm what it is – Bullying.

 

 

I’m in an Abusive Relationship with my Country

Dear Ireland,

I’m sorry to have to say this but we need to break up.

You see I just finished reading this book called “Why Does He Do That? Inside the minds of angry and controlling men” and I now realise that I am in an abusive relationship.

With you.

See abusers have a sense of entitlement, and you have that Ireland, you really do. You think it’s ok to treat women like second class citizens, to lock up asylum seekers, to allow the elderly, disabled and children in care to be abused when you’re supposed to be looking after them, you think it’s ok to expect Irish people to pay twice for wateryou make racist jokes and you think it’s ok to discriminate against children who aren’t Catholics.

I know now all of these things are indicative of your deeply held sense of entitlement.

Abusers also have a core belief in inequality and again Ireland, you have that in spades. Women are  woefully underrepresented in politics (and other positions of power), paid less than men and have their right to bodily autonomy taken away from them when pregnant. Not much equality there Ireland. Can you see how unfair you are?

Plus you really aren’t respectful of my body, like when I’m pregnant you have more say in what happens in and to my body than I do. You can even force me to stay pregnant against my will, force feed me, touch my body and even cut me open – all against my will.

Other countries recognise that legally as assault, torture even.

I have less rights than a corpse around you Ireland and that really sucks. I mean who in their right mind would actually want to stay in a relationship with someone that would hold all that over you? Someone WHO WOULD ACTUALLY DO THOSE THINGS TO YOU. And if I try and reclaim my body you threaten to lock me up and take away my freedom. That’s pretty dark Ireland. You’re in a dark place.

Abusers have no respect for their partners and you clearly have no respect for me. I’ve seen the way you treat other women too, you just don’t give a shit about us do you? I’m worried about my daughters, growing up with you. Will you treat them as harshly as you’ve treated me? Will they have to go through what I and the women in your past have gone through?

I’m pretty angry Ireland. I’m bloody wild about how you’ve been treating me and I’m not going to let you get away with it. I’m going to keep telling everyone what a shit you are until you change your abusive ways.

All I want is some basic respect and access to my human rights. I can’t believe you continue to deny me them.

Sincerely,

A Woman of Ireland.

A LETTER TO MY SISTER, THE DOMESTIC ABUSE APOLOGIST

Several years ago I had just found the courage to leave an abusive relationship. By this stage I’d been receiving help from the Domestic Abuse services for over a year, having been ready to leave a year earlier only to find out I was pregnant. The D.A counsellor advised me not to leave until my baby was born, so I stayed. Even though the man I was with was financially and emotionally abusing me. He was also neglectful of my physical needs, leaving me without food or water for over 24 hours when I was to sick to walk, and he would mock me when I complained of the pain that caused me to have to use a walking stick for the final 2 months of my pregnancy.

I had a Skype conversation with my closest relative, my sister, then  living on the other side of the world to me. During the call my sister was very dismissive of my concerns about the relationship with Sean. After I got off the call she sent me the following email.

I felt the email exchange was worth putting in the public arena (with names changed) as since this time I have supported many women who have been in similar situations to me and in EVERY single case at least some members of the woman’s family have reacted in what I would consider to be a fairly appalling way to the news that their sister/daughter/niece has been a victim of domestic abuse.

Here’s what my closest relative had to say to me:

“Hello darling, I’m feeling very sad after our conversation and wanted to write to say that I hope you are not upset.  I felt like I had to say something to you about how concerned I am about you, but I understand that this is a very difficult thing to talk about, especially as I am not there.  I have been worried about you ever since you started talking about domestic violence in your relationship with Sean, initially because the example you used (which was about how he spoke to you when he brought you soup in bed one day when you were sick) was so far removed from my understanding of domestic violence.  Since you brought this issue up I have looked a little into domestic violence, and while I don’t know as much as you or (obviously) someone who works or is trained in domestic violence, I am still concerned that the situations you talk of as domestic violence aren’t domestic violence.  I believe that you believe Sean acts abusively towards you but even from the most basic look into what constitutes verbal or emotional abuse, the situations you have told me about do not meet my understanding of such.  I know that the counsellors at the clinic have told you that it is a situation of domestic violence, so perhaps there is more to the abuse than you have told me, but I also don’t think you would have gone to a domestic violence support service if there wasn’t some part of you that already believed you were in a domestic violence situation.  I think that part of why I doubt whether the situation is domestic violence is that, for example, all of the books you have read except one do not support your claims of domestic violence, but the one book you have chosen to believe is the book that supports your idea.

Despite that, I think if you believe you are being abused then something is terribly, terribly wrong in your relationship and I am so happy that you have left the relationship and moved out on your own.  I have wanted to say something to you for a long time but decided to wait until after you had removed yourself from living with Sean before I said anything because I didn’t want to add to your stress, and I think moving out is a very good thing, and I also don’t want to be one of the people in your life who does not believe you.  This is the most serious of situations and you know that I love and support you no matter what.  The only reason I am writing this, and telling you what I think, is because I am worried about you, worried about your wellbeing and your relationship with Sean.  The repercussions of saying something to you are too severe for me to say any of this without having thought long and hard about it, and there is no-one in my world who I love and trust more than you, or want better for.

I don’t know what to do from here.  I would like to talk more with you about it but I understand that you might not trust me to talk to me about this any further.  Again, I am only expressing these concerns because I am worried about you.  It has nothing to do with not wanting to hear it or denying that it is true – it just genuinely doesn’t seem like domestic violence to me, and I am worried that these allegations could cause serious harm to you or your kids or Sean.  If there is more than I know, I apologise so very much for doubting you, but I hope you will take these words with the love and concern that they are intended with.

Lots of love, Cass xxx”

My response:

“Of course I am upset. I am extremely upset and I’m also very, very  angry.
When someone comes to you to say they are being abused how irresponsible and how arrogant to not take that extremely seriously. Added to that you have not even read the material I asked you to read. You then questioned my sanity after not bothering to find out more information or read the book.
I have repeatedly told you about Sean’s treatment towards me, the financial pressure he has put on me (which is financial domestic violence), the continual disrespect, the physical and emotional neglect, and the emotional abuse. None of these things were isolated incidents, they have been the hallmarks of our relationship since the very start. You said in our conversation earlier that you believed that some of the things Sean had done were abusive. If you believe that some of the things he did were abusive, then it stands to reason that he is an abuser, and therefore I am being abused.

The level of disrespect in our relationship is extremely high. In order for there to be disrespect there has to be a belief in inequality and a belief in inequality is the basis of domestic violence.
The DV services state that emotional abuse is worse than physical violence as there are no outward signs. I am unable to show you the deep wounds to my psyche from being continually disrespected, from being called lazy and useless, from having my work and contributions constantly devalued, from severe physical neglect, from the cruelty I have experienced. I am sorry I never got a punch so I could take a photo or file a police report so that you would believe me. I would rather have been punched than have what has happened to me over the last few years as from a victim’s point of view it is the more subtle forms of abuse that are harder to pick up on – there is nothing so obvious as a fist to let you know you’re being abused. If I’d had a punch in year one I’d have known and been the hell out of the relationship.
If you genuinely don’t believe I have suffered emotional/mental abuse then I would ask you what is it exactly that you think emotional/mental abuse is? What has to happen for you to believe it is abuse? How have you lowered your standards so much that you cannot see that his behaviour towards me is abusive? This attitude you have is indicative of a very big problem with the general population’s ignorance about DV. You think that these very low standards do not constitute abuse. This makes me worried for you, about the kind of relationships you have had/may have if you cannot see that this is abusive. How can you protect yourself from abuse when you have such a poor understanding of it? How can you be a responsible member of society without a knowledge of abuse?
I have consulted more than one domestic violence service and been told that I am a victim of domestic violence so my belief is based on professionals who work in this area, who work with abused women every day combined with the book they recommended I read, Lundy Bancroft’s book. It is Lundy Bancroft who is asked to speak and provide information to Domestic Violence services here and in America, not the authors of the other books I bought from Amazon (not from the recommendations from trained professionals).
I went to the domestic violence services after picking up one of their leaflets and reading the checklist and seeing that I was able to answer yes to some of the questions they use to determine if a relationship is abusive. I did not believe I was in an abusive relationship but having explored every other angle I thought I would go and see them, even though the whole thing made me feel very uncomfortable. I told the counsellor why I was there and relayed experiences I had had during my relationship with Sean and I was told very early on that I was most definitely in a relationship with an abusive man. You have stated in your email that you have looked a “little” into Domestic Violence. I would like to ask what books have you read or professionals have you talked to? And why did you not read the book I recommended? (the book that was recommended to me by trained professionals, and the book that they told me to ask my friends and family to read).

You made it sound as if you believed I had a desire to believe that I was in a DV relationship. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am also wondering if you think I am making up or embellishing stories for the DV services to validate my so called ‘desire’ to be in a DV situation. I really don’t know what I’m being accused of, but it feels very sinister as well as being incredibly upsetting and unsupportive. Consider the possibility that I am right and you are wrong, how awful, how sinister would it be to discredit your own sister in this way?
I find it really shocking that with your limited knowledge on abuse you still feel it’s ok to question the validity of what I’m telling you, this despite the fact that Sean himself is able to see that he has been abusive and that I have seen various professionals with years of experience in this area who say the same thing.

I am going to go through your email bit by bit.

Hello darling, I’m feeling very sad after our conversation and wanted to write to say that I hope you are not upset.

How inhumane to not think I’m going to be upset by your distressing take on my situation. How could you have such a high level of detachment to not think I would be upset when you yourself say you believe that I believe I’m being abused. It would be impossible for anybody in my situation to not be upset. How can you have such a lack of judgement about what will upset me?

I felt like I had to say something to you about how concerned I am about you, but I understand that this is a very difficult thing to talk about, especially as I am not there.  I have been worried about you ever since you started talking about domestic violence in your relationship with Sean,

This is very condescending and patronising  language. Also I am distressed by your use of the phrase “ever since you started talking about dv”  as if  a woman is not supposed to talk about dv. You should be concerned that I’m in this situation, not that I’m talking about it. The motto for the DV services is “break the silence” there is a very important reason for this. What use breaking the silence though if when you do people don’t believe you?

initially because the example you used (which was about how he spoke to you when he brought you soup in bed one day when you were sick) was so far removed from my understanding of domestic violence.

What exactly is your understanding of dv? Someone with a knowledge in this area would know that that situation re the soup was a perfect example of a person with an abusive mindset. It was not even a very subtle example, it was no small thing.  My physical needs were forgotten about and I was spoken to very rudely when I was in a vulnerable situation and unable to look after myself. The whole situation that day showed Sean’s lack of humanity, he was not even remorseful about his behaviour. As my sister I would have thought that you would have been shocked and distressed to hear that I received such a poor level of care when I was so ill. How much worse could he have treated me for you to agree that his behaviour was abusive. I experienced a high level of physical neglect that day. I am the one with a lot of  knowledge in this area and yours is the naive and crude understanding of what the reality of what dv is. If this is your level of understanding you need to learn more, for your own sake at the very least.

Since you brought this issue up I have looked a little into domestic violence, and while I don’t know as much as you or (obviously) someone who works or is trained in domestic violence, I am still concerned that the situations you talk of as domestic violence aren’t domestic violence.

How can you make this judgement that it is not domestic violence when you agree yourself that you have only looked a “little” into the subject. How arrogant of you to assume you know more than people trained in this area. The main person I have been seeing has been working 15 years as a counsellor and 15 years as a Domestic Violence counsellor, I am certain she has more knowledge in this area than you.

I believe that you believe Sean acts abusively towards you but even from the most basic look into what constitutes verbal or emotional abuse, the situations you have told me about do not meet my understanding of such.

Why would you even say this? Of course I believe what I’m saying! Why would I say it otherwise. How patronising! What made you think that having a basic look at something allows you to make a judgment about it (especially one so serious and with such serious repercussions!) Also there is no such thing as a basic look at DV, it is a complex subject that requires assimilating a lot of emotionally difficult information.

I know that the counsellors at the clinic have told you that it is a situation of domestic violence, so perhaps there is more to the abuse than you have told me,

“Perhaps”?? This word in this context carries detachment and it is also incredibly patronising. I’m getting the impression that you are speaking as if you know more than I do about this and speaking down to me.
You need to learn more about how to support people in a dv situation. You are being patronising and condescending. Are you aware of this? It is very disrespectful to communicate with me in this way, especially when I’ve told you that I have experienced significant disrespect in my relationship. would you not be trying to be incredibly respectful and careful in your communications with me given the experiences that I’ve had?
The information I have already told you about my relationship should have been sufficient to convince you of the abuse. When you don’t understand DV you don’t think that information is sufficient.  Also I would ask why you did not enquire about if there was more to it? If you felt there was even the possibility that there was other things happening you didn’t know about (which of course there was) then you should have asked. Instead you have made judgements based on small amounts of information.

but I also don’t think you would have gone to a domestic violence support service if there wasn’t some part of you that already believed you were in a domestic violence situation.

You state this like it’s an accusation? What is it I’m being accused of exactly? Having a suspicion that I may be in an abusive relationship? What would be wrong if I did???  Are you suggesting that I ‘wanted’ to be in an abusive relationship? What is the subtext to what you’re implying? Are you suggesting that I am trying to create this in my life because I believe it and not that I believe it because it is a reality?????

I think that part of why I doubt whether the situation is domestic violence is that, for example, all of the books you have read except one do not support your claims of domestic violence, but the one book you have chosen to believe is the book that supports your idea.

As stated above the one book I’ve “chosen to believe” is the book that was recommended to me by the domestic violence services. They only recommended that one book as there is a lack of good books on the subject available. To put this statement in this way is really offensive. Can you not see that? You are questioning my sanity and my ability to think logically and rationally. You show a gross lack of awareness in respectful ways of communicating. You are talking down to me. If you read up about dv you will see how detrimental this is to a victim as you are hitting me with the same stuff I’ve been living with. You are crossing boundaries and you are giving me hidden motives.

Despite that, I think if you believe you are being abused

you are constantly saying “I don’t believe you”

then something is terribly, terribly wrong in your relationship

If you really believe me that something is terribly terribly wrong would that not be a big warning sign of the possibility of abuse????

and I am so happy that you have left the relationship and moved out on your own.  I have wanted to say something to you for a long time but decided to wait until after you had removed yourself from living with Sean before I said anything because I didn’t want to add to your stress, and I think moving out is a very good thing,

So patronising. really offensive.

and I also don’t want to be one of the people in your life who does not believe you.

And yet you are.

This is the most serious of situations

and yet you are not taking it seriously.

and you know that I love and support you no matter what.

If this is not your intention I do not feel supported by you. I do not feel that you are being very loving either. I told you of a situation where your sister was sick and unable to care for herself that her partner did not give her food. When he finally came to the room after leaving me for 24 hours without food or drink and I asked for food he went to the shop and when he came back he told me he forgot to buy me food. When he said he’s make me soup and I said I didn’t want to be any trouble and I’d just have toast I was criticised and spoken rudely too. He did not apologise for his treatment of me or show any remorse. This situation is a perfect example of abuse and yet you cite this story as being of no consequence.

The only reason I am writing this, and telling you what I think, is because I am worried about you, worried about your wellbeing and your relationship with Sean.  The repercussions of saying something to you are too severe for me to say any of this without having thought long and hard about it, and there is no-one in my world who I love and trust more than you, or want better for.

I think you should be worried but for different reasons than the one you are.  Imagine the possibility that I may be right and think that you may have been concerned because you thought your sister was losing her sanity rather than being concerned because your sister was being abused.
I am glad that you realise that when you accuse someone of being mad when they say they are being abused that they will be upset. and there will be serious repercussions. You are right on this front.
I do not believe you thought long and hard about this as if you had you would have done more research and read the book I asked you to read to arm yourself with more information if you have a gap in your information you need to get the resources to find more information.
You did not need to think about it at all, as your thinking on this subject is erroneous. It is also very arrogant to think that all you had to do was a bit of thinking about it, as if you have all the knowledge.
You’re not doing any asking here – you are showing a marked lack of humility. You did not do this, you did not take care in how you dealt with this situation.
Exactly what do you mean by trust in the above statement? You have shown no trust in my judgement. I am very concerned if there is no one in the world you trust more than me when you do not trust me.
If you genuinely want the best for me would you not acknowledge the wrong in a relationship where I am not even given food when I am ill.

I don’t know what to do from here.

read the book

I would like to talk more with you about it

not until you read the book

but I understand that you might not trust me to talk to me about this any further.

Good, I am glad you have some awareness of the impact of your patronising and naive ways.

  Again, I am only expressing these concerns because I am worried about you.

Can you please start considering the possibility that I am in an abusive relationship before you jump to the conclusion that I am mad.  What is more likely?

  It has nothing to do with not wanting to hear it or denying that it is true

even though you are denying that it is true.

– it just genuinely doesn’t seem like domestic violence to me,

that’s because you have very little knowledge of dv.

and I am worried that these allegations could cause serious harm to you or your kids or Sean.

It is not the allegations that have caused the harm, it is the continued exposure to abuse that has harmed us all. In a really big way. This statement contains a subtle threat, it is the most sinister thing you have ever said to me I think. It is another attempt to silence me, why do you not want me to talk about the abuse I have suffered? This will have serious repercussions for my family if I don’t deal with this. How irresponsible of you to try and silence me talking about this when it is so big and will have such an effect on all our lives. You are accusing me of possibly causing harm to my children, which is a really serious accusation to make. Do you realise that? All because I am trying to speak out about what has happened to me.

  If there is more than I know,

what you know should be enough, and would be enough if you had done more research. These are not conditions that any woman should not see as serious.

I apologise so very much for doubting you,

Do you know what doubting a person who comes to you looking for help with abuse does to that person?
When you have raised your awareness sufficiently to understand the enormity of what you’ve done then come to me with an apology that fits the crime because the apology you’ve just given would technically be seen as a non apology.

but I hope you will take these words with the love and concern that they are intended with.

If you haven’t read the one book that I asked you to read before you spoke out you have shown little love and concern for me.  You started to doubt my sanity and expressed that to me before doing any research. How is that loving to question someone’s sanity? That is not loving. I’m telling you I’m being abused, I’m being bullied and you don’t believe me. Would you not think you needed to check that out? Would you not ask lots of questions about what’s happening and arm yourself with information? That would show concern for me.”
I wanted to share this as so many women are not believed or their concerns are dismissed when they speak out about the abuse they received from an intimate partner. And when you’ve just left an abusive relationship you’re often re traumatised by the responses of loved ones. I call it the second punishment. We are punished for speaking out about what happened to us. We are silenced, mocked, dismissed and ignored. Even women I know who have had bruises to show have been treated like this after speaking out about their abusive ex partners.

It takes courage to tell someone you’ve been abused.

If someone shares their story of abuse with you, please, please believe them. 

 

By an Anonymous Survivor.

(Recommended reading: “Why Does He Do That?” By Lundy Bancroft).