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Dear Mary

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The author of this piece wishes to remain anonymous

Daily newspaper problem pages and agony aunt columns are usually the stuff of tea-breaks – a few subbed-down lines is all the reader gets to explain the situation that needs sorting. This week, though, the Irish Independent’s “Dear Mary” feature printed an extraordinary letter from a man who claimed to hate his wife but who said he would continue in the relationship if she had sex with him once a week. It caught my attention, not because of the misogyny – though that is astounding in its intensity – but because the writer admits to forcing his wife to have sex….and Mary welcomes this “other perspective”.

It prompted me to imagine what the writer’s wife might say to Mary, if she’d read her husband’s letter and recognised him. Perhaps other women might like to imagine too?

“Dear Mary,

It’s been 14 – no 16 – years. Of hell. If you must know.

Fourteen years with his ring on my finger.

God he begged and begged me to marry him when I was at university. We met at a gig in the students’ union. He caught me unawares after a few drinks. It wasn’t until sometime later that he admitted he wasn’t a student too.

He was a salesman.

Who liked hanging around the university in the evenings.

And it wasn’t until sometime after that again that he admitted he still lived with his mother, not in a house on the edge of the city with two friends from college.

These untruths annoyed me and we split up several times. So why did I marry the liar?

Well, I met his mother on the final get-back-together weekend.

“Ah sure you’re great together.

“Ah he worships the ground you walk on.

“And when I think about it, he’s very good to me really.”

As I listened to her gush in her sparkling kitchen, I thought this was strange because he was always complaining about her. But I let it slide and accepted the ring.

And it was grand for a while. We honeymooned hornily in Benidorm for a week and our first child was born 40 weeks later.

When I found out I was pregnant he was delighted.

His own personal taxi service to and from the pub.

When the child arrived, he celebrated over the whole weekend with his friends. I saw him at the delivery and then 36 hours later, dishevelled and so drink-sodden I thought the nurses would turf me out of the bed and put him in it.

I’d just started a good job before I got married. The child put paid to that. They didn’t have to keep the post open and so I scraped by on the notes he put on the kitchen counter each week.

He was always promising more – there’s a big deal coming off, he’d say, loads of commission. But it never happened. It was on one of those Friday nights that I fell pregnant again. A couple of cans of cider in my three-month-post-baby-body and that was it. In spite of his assurances that he’d seen on television that a woman who’d had a baby couldn’t get caught again for a year.

Yes. I was that in love, that gullible.

So three years into the marriage and two youngsters under two. His money stayed the same so I had to do something. But who would look after two kids that age for nothing?

Well actually,his mother did – for a few mornings each week – and I started cleaning other people’s houses. Cash in hand. No sick pay. No holiday pay.

So, Mary.

I could buy bits and bobs at Christmas….new shoes for the kids…the usual.

And it was hard Mary, do you know that?

Getting him off to work with a clean, pressed shirt each day. Getting the kids organised for their gran’s, getting to work – I’d no car – and back. Then housework, the dinner, the kids.

I was shattered.

He came home from work, threw off his shoes and ate his dinner with the six-pack he’d brought home. Or phoned me to say his workmates were having a few drinks and he’d see me later.

Either way, I couldn’t win. Either way, when I had put the kids to bed, he’d start pawing from the sofa, or arrive home with just one thing on his mind.

And I was shattered Mary.

A lot of the time I got away with it. I’d say one of the kids wasn’t well and sleep in their room. Or say I had my period. For a man who was supposedly so well up on female reproduction he had no idea most periods don’t last two weeks.

But sometimes there was nothing I could do.

Now don’t get me wrong. At that stage I did kind of still love him. If he’d lifted the toys or said he would iron his own shirts, I’d have been all over him like a mare in heat.

But he never did.

And he was no stallion Mary. He was a little mongrel dog. One, two, three. Done.

A good lover?

I climaxed three times in our marriage – twice on honeymoon. As the Americans would say, go figure.

Anyway, after a few years he stayed out more and more.

It sounds like a 1950s record, but when I washed his shirts I knew he was with other women. They can’t help themselves with the perfume – even their deodorant smells different. And it was all over his shirts.

Then one night he came home earlier than usual. The children were watching television and I was making their school lunches in the kitchen. In he comes through the back door, swaying, demanding.

I suggested later. He wanted it there and then. I protested the kids were in the next room, could walk in any minute. He tipped the back of a chair against the door handle and raped me over the kitchen sink.

Do you know what that’s like Mary? To be violated in your own home, your children in earshot so you can’t scream?

One, two, three. Done.

Be thankful for small mercies.

He said nothing the next day and neither did I.

I thought about leaving him then. But this was before the internet was big and I’d no mobile phone anyway. It wasn’t until weeks later that I saw a poster for Women’s Aid in the library – but when and where would I get the time to ring them? What would they be like? Would they give off that I had stayed there that night – and since? I did not know these things. Besides which, on the night it happened I’d four euro fifty in my purse and no idea of where to go.

Now, it’s different.

Now I’m still cleaning because the kids are still at school but I’ve saved a bit for what I call my sunshine day.

Now I know the Women’s Aid number. I’ve got someone to speak to.

He’s forced me since. And I’ve told her. She’s written it down.He’s never hit me, but she says that doesn’t matter – rape in marriage is still rape. I always thought the hitting mattered most, the black eyes and the bruises . That that was domestic abuse. I think lots of people – men and women – do. Maybe you do too. Maybe you should talk to Women’s Aid too. Ask them about rape in marriages and partnerships.

I didn’t know that controlling the money in the house was abuse. Both our names are on the mortgage, but he keeps telling me that I’ve let him down and it really should be his because I don’t have the job that my university education lead him to believe I’d get.

I’d didn’t realise that his never-ending put-downs were abuse too. After the second child and thinking I was stuck with him forever, I didn’t care about anything. I ate when I wanted – crisps and toast. No, actually, I ate what we could afford and when I wasn’t cleaning, or looking after the kids or him. So my jeans and T-shirts got bigger, but I’m always clean and fresh, even if my hair is constantly tied back in a ponytail and I cut my own fringe.

And I make my children smile. And the people I work for and anyone I talk to. Though I haven’t been able to keep up with my uni friends – or make many news ones. Well, you can’t when you’re never out, Mary, can you?

He has lots of “friends”.

But the Women’s Aid woman is a friend now. She persuaded me to tell her how my life is lived. And she helped me see that it is no life at all. She knows because it used to be her life too.She understands that a time will come. And she says they’ll be waiting.

I have a phone now but he doesn’t know about it. I hide it under those shirts he never irons in the basket. So, when that time comes and I’m ready, I can call them and tell them I’m coming.

He still comes home expecting his dinner and all the rest – and sometimes, like before, I can’t escape, but I will….soon.

When he’s sitting, furious at the lack of sex, on the sofa, he texts a lot. I know it’s other women but I ignore the pings. He smiles sometimes and puts on his coat and leaves me in the kitchen. I know he’s meeting them for sex – he keeps condoms in his jacket pocket. He doesn’t know I’m studying the books I’ve hidden behind the cereal boxes.

So yes, Mary.

Tell him to leave.

Tell him to get out of this house and move away, far, far away. He never cared about the kids up until now – ask him the dates of their birthdays and see what he says. He won’t miss them.

We won’t miss him either.”

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Feminist Ire Podcast – A Conversation on Consent: It’s ok to say no.

Feminist Ire Podcast – A Conversation on Consent: It’s ok to say no.

For the first Feminist Ire podcast, myself, Sinéad Redmond, Sue Jordan, Yaz O’Connor, Lisa Keogh Finnegan, Helen Guinane sat down and talked about the issues of consent issues in sex, tea, alcohol and everyday life in general – and how it’s ok to say no.

Eilís Ní Fhlannagáin performs her spoken word piece “Ruth.” (This starts at 90:00 if you want to skip straight to that). 

If you’ve been affected by any of these issues regarding consent or rape or sexual assault you can contact Dublin Rape Crisis Phone Line on: 1800 77 8888

If you need information on accessing information on abortion services you can contact the Abortion Support Network.

Massive, massive thanks to Oireachtas Retort for editing assistance. We are grateful!

If you would like to share any views with us on this, please email feministire@gmail.com or get in touch with us on twitter @feministire

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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.