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Category Archives: Domestic Abuse

Let’s talk about sex

Let’s talk about sex

Guest Post by Emma C, Belfast Feminist Network

If this was a fluffy opinion piece for a Sunday supplement, I might make some sideways jokes about 5 minutes of pleasure, or someone’s turn to go ‘downstairs’ as a way of making light about this intimate, messy, universal experience. It’s everywhere, in ads, all of our films, television, books, plays, music. We let our culture mull it over but with little nuance. Yet we never really seem to be able to actually talk about it. For real.

We are in the midst of a wave of reignited feminism and its predicted backlash. We see every day in articles from across the world, the endless tales of rape, violence, maternal deaths, lack of access to safe abortions, persecution of sex workers and LGBTQ+ people. I’m utterly convinced that our inability to properly address sex; what it is, what it’s for, how it feels, when it works, when it doesn’t, what its value is, has kept us behind this hurdle of inequality.

Locally, we have been dealing with our very own Northern Ireland flavoured version of this worldwide phenomenon. A recent rape trial, abuse scandals, the lack of respect for LGBT people sex workers and women, all becomes fomented in policy and has maintained barriers to healthcare, equality and respect.

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Real-talking about sex has to begin. Real sex, not biology-book sex, not biblical sex, not porn sex, but real actual sex that happens between real actual humans. Most of us have an innate drive to seek sexual pleasure and some of us are more successful in that search than others. Sex is one the issues at the crux of gender and sexuality.

Imagine you are a 12-year-old girl walking home from school in your uniform, you have just begun to develop breasts. Your hormones are beginning to go haywire, meaning your emotions are everywhere and the world seems bigger and more confusing, even though adults are beginning to make more sense. Now imagine that as you are walking home, car horns beep at you regularly, when you turn to look to see who they are honking at and realise that it’s you, you see men the same age as your father and you blush a deep red as you’re not quite sure how to react. Then imagine that with every passing few months there are more comments in the street, from young men hanging around in groups, from waiters, from family friends, even from school teachers, about your slowly changing appearance.

This is the beginning of the onslaught. This unwelcome and unwarranted attention is never spoken about to the young people that experience it. This is when men, and the women, trans people and gay men that they objectify begin to learn about consent. We are being taught from a young age that it is okay to be publicly sexualised, by men; older men, younger men, men in positions of power, strangers and there is really nothing we can do about it.

Many of us will have seen the declarations from various pious lampposts around this wee country that, “ THE WAGES OF SIN ARE DEATH”, yet we know from our national stance on abortion, access to contraception, and sex work that actually if the so-called sin is a sexual one between a ‘straight’ man and another person, it’s the other person who has to bear the brunt of that particular exchange.

Consensual sex is categorically not a sin. Well, except if you are a woman (and trans person and gay man and sex worker). Then of course it is a sin. You are a slut, unlike the man, who will probably be a legend (to himself), we all know this, we understand this paradox and yet we all maintain it, despite the harm it causes. Street harassment is the thin end of the wedge of our rape culture. RAPE CULTURE, a description that so many baulk at, yet we live in a society where somehow a woman should automatically be embarrassed about having a threesome and a man can be glorified amongst his mates. According to solicitors, the shame of a threesome could lead a young woman to take a lengthy and unnecessary court case against someone to save face… whereas leaving someone crying hysterically and bleeding internally after a sexual encounter is perfectly acceptable. A top tip for any man planning a threesome: if someone starts bleeding, best to call it a day, at the very least you aren’t doing it right and at the worst you might be raping someone.
We know that what a person wears, drinks, eats, how they get home, and what previous sexual history they have should have absolutely zero to do with whether or not they get raped, yet on and on we see victim blaming from legal experts, from prurient press, from anyone quick to judge with access to a social media account.

Expecting everyone who is not a straight cis man to pay for the sin of sex is why abortion is such a controversial topic as well. It’s got little to do with little cute babies and everything to do with women and pregnant people facing the consequences. “She should have kept her legs shut” “She should have to take responsibility for her mistake” “She should have thought about that before whoring around” – all things that are frequently said in some shape or form – it’s abortion’s own form of blaming, with a human to look after for the rest of your life as punishment. This is despite the overwhelming majority of single parents being women, it’s despite the overwhelming majority of contraception and birth control being aimed at women and it’s despite the fact that sexual assault and rape are so common that they are endemic, and yet we don’t even get off the hook for that one, as apparently our bodies don’t even deserve freedom from someone else’s crime (if they are a man).

Whenever the onslaught of sexualisation begins, it teaches us – women, queer and trans folk, that our boundaries are unimportant. It undermines our trust as to everyone’s intentions, and most importantly it undermines our ability to trust our own instinct. Setting boundaries is an important life skill, yet attempts to develop this skill are thwarted from the start if we can’t even tell strangers on the street not to comment on the shape of our ‘tits’ when we are still children.

Forgotten in all of this is that sex is supposed to be pleasurable, people shouldn’t get internal lacerations from consensual sex, unless it’s something they have specifically requested. Our concept of virginity is outdated as well, why is the only important thing when a penis enters a vagina? There are so many more ways of having sex, and not just for queer people. Sex is better when it is about reciprocal pleasure, you need to be able to say to the person that you’re having sex with, ‘yes that’s working or no that’s not working, can you do it more like this?’ However we are having sex in a society that doesn’t allow space for conversations about that.

We can be on the BBC talking about murderers, about complicated political ideas, about tragedies faced by families dealing with a variety of crises, but we are unable to talk about sex openly. We can’t address it, we are too scundered, even though that embarrassment creates a void that leads to our young people being educated by the internet; by the most popular types of porn which debase women, people of colour and trans people.

Popular porn is what we are offering to our culture instead of real conversations about pleasure. Young people are divided by gender for sex education, which is largely provided for by religious organisations. It’s no coincidence that the same organisations that are against contraception and abortions, are against LGBT people and sex before marriage.

If we let these people misinform our children, our offspring will look somewhere else instead, for something that more closely reflects the real lives they live than the prim fantasies that abstinence-only, anti LGBT sex education provides.

Not only have we no adequate ways to punish and re-educate young men with monstrous ideas about what women are (less than human receptacles for sperm and babies) but we are enabling them from children to become this way.

If we want our future to be safer and happier for the next generations, then we have to make actual changes to our sex education. We have to stigmatise talking about women and others as less than human and not stigmatise women having sex. We have to teach people that there is no pleasure without consent and that consent is the lowest bar. We have to be prepared to call out ‘banter’ if it demeans anyone because of the type of sex they have. We have to stand up to the tiny minority of bigoted bullies that get their voices amplified too often.

Everyone knows someone who has been raped or sexually assaulted, everyone knows someone who has had an abortion or crisis pregnancy, we just need to learn to put on our grown-up pants and talk about these things properly and with respect before any more generations are harmed by our wilful negligence.

– Emma C

Belfast Feminist Network

 

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Statements, sentences, and the stories that hold up in court

The author of this piece wrote this as a reflection on her own experience of the court system as a victim of violence several years ago. As is frequently the case, the perpetrator entered a guilty plea, which meant the only court appearance for the victim was a sentencing hearing at the Circuit Court for the offence of assault causing harm.

The judge sentenced her abuser to 2 1/2 years but suspended the entire sentence, in part because of his “character”. She wishes to remain anonymous.

I’ve felt sick about the Tom Humphries case all day.

Character references in court are common, and they’re bizarre, but the totality of courtroom storytelling is even weirder, and I can’t stop thinking about it. And I can’t imagine what it’s like for the victim to see the rush to humanize him so much you’d think he’d just won a prize.

You really start to grasp the narrative injustice of a sentencing hearing when you look at the character reference in relation to its counterpart: the Victim Impact Statement. The Victim Impact Statement is still a relatively new introduction and is the only time the victim has a voice in a sentencing process.

The convicted person gets a whole production team to write his character. They write him a hero’s journey, from childhood, with the help of experts who even cast supporting characters to help narrate his story along the way. In contrast, the Victim Impact Statement can only reference the individual event the conviction is for, and can cite the effect of only this particular incident on life afterward, and nothing more.

I got a call to turn up at the garda station at midnight on a Saturday a few days before the sentencing. I got no brief, I just dictated some shit to a couple of prompts, and the garda wrote it all down. She asked me to read it over for accuracy, but she’d paraphrased badly, and it read like a school essay. I told her that in court, when I read this out, it wouldn’t sound anything like me.

You just read it from the page, she said, it’s just about the facts.

I said, there’s no way this is a believable version of me. I don’t even give facts this way.

But I didn’t get to have character, I just got to be one.

I learned when I arrived at court that anything outside of a single night of my life was inadmissible. I had added too much detail because how can you reduce a long and consistently injurious experience to one decontextualized moment? They took my statement and edited again, until it was essentially reduced to: it was bad and now I’m sad all the time. And they weren’t even my words.

So then you sit and listen to the twisted and carefully written hagiography of the convicted person: the good family he comes from that loves him very much and are here in the courtroom with him (as opposed to mine, whose absence didn’t go unnoticed), that that he was ‘student of the year’ in 1998, that he is a loving friend to all around him, and a talented designer (but honestly, even in 2012 he still thought Flash had a future, and what fucking good designer still thought that).

You just read lines that even you don’t believe are yours.

While the accused gets eulogized, you’re reduced only to your statement, which presents you, by design, as a thinly written cipher, who existed, briefly, as a device in someone else’s redemption narrative. This is his life, and this is your life.

Not only that, because the perpetrator’s side has done their opposition research, and the prosecution is mainly focused on making the case for the State, they barely mention you, lest they provoke a right of reply. Even if they care about justice enough to include you in their concerns, mentioning you again would just give the main character a chance to offer a reason you deserved it.

In the end, the judge makes a decision based on his or her interpretation of the sentencing guidelines. Which means that the severity of the punishment is determined by who has told the best story.

So then you walk out with the inverted trauma narrative running in your head, the one that is your worst fear: what if it was me? what if I just made it all up? what if I exaggerated everything because I can’t accept what a loser I am? It is, in fact, the story you’ve just heard: He’s a good person (so you must be the bad guy), you’re without worth (because your character got written out) and your merit is worse than irrelevant (because how dare you overestimate your importance to the story).

He’s a protagonist, you’re the background player who got killed off too early to need a backstory. Everyone knows who you’re supposed to root for.

I imagine that sentencing procedures were even worse before the Victim Impact Statement was introduced. In theory, it’s a great idea. In practice, instead of giving the victim a voice, at best, it provides texture for the main character, but mostly it amounts to replacing a deleted scene.

That’s its own form of narrative injustice.

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.”

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