*****CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS!!******
Please do not read any further if you haven’t seen Rogue One yet. Or read it anyway but don’t complain to me when it’s all spoilered for you.
Please do not read any further if you haven’t seen Rogue One yet. Or read it anyway but don’t complain to me when it’s all spoilered for you.
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.
The Women’s Aid Helpline is 1800 341 900.
Follow me on twitter @stephie08
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.
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 water, you 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.
A Woman of Ireland.
I stood outside the Dáil on Tuesday evening during the Repeal demo organised by AAA-PBP and it began to rain. An activist I know from another organisation happened to be standing beside me asked how I was. Tired says I, as I had just come from work and I was up before 6 that morning to walk the dogs. It’s a long day when you’re standing at a demo regardless of precipitation levels. That’s not to try and garner sympathies or kudos – the point is that you’d want more hours in the day for all the protests. You’d be sick protesting. I’m especially sick protesting to repeal the Eighth Amendment. There are literally hundreds of things I could think of that I’d prefer to do. These demonstrations are kind of samey after a while and there are only so many different ways you can point out the sheer horror of having no say in what happens your body before you start to feel like you’re going to lose your mind with frustration.
As I thought about what I would rather be doing (no disrespect to the speakers because the ones I heard were really, really great but let’s be honest, we all want to be somewhere else), the cabinet came to a last minute voting arrangement on the Bill. Minister Katherine Zappone, poster deputy of Liberal Ireland, and a number of other TDs had a dilemma; having previously committed to Repeal but gone into government with Fine Gael they couldn’t vote in favour of the AAA repeal Bill, but they couldn’t vote against it either. Thus a magical typically Irish formula was arranged; the Dáil would vote on a counter motion to the Bill to state that no legislation on abortion would be dealt with while the Citizens Assembly was still sitting. This has the handy effect of getting Zappone et al out of a tight spot in this particular vote, but also buys time for the Cabinet and Independent Alliance. The Citizens Assembly is due to report in a year. Any other attempt to remove the Eighth Amendment between now and then will be ruled out of order using a convoluted mechanism of parliamentary censorship. Meanwhile Zappone and others who have built a political career on “liberal” issues will never have to make an actual decision on it. Sweatshirts and badges notwithstanding, responsibility for the matter is conveniently devolved to the Citizens Assembly.
The Citizens Assembly is a bizarre concept. It teaches us that women’s bodies are so politically destructive and terrifying that the people who are theoretically *elected* to represent the population cannot legislate for the matters that affect those bodies. The “problem” has been discussed at length by numerous Oireachtas committees and Dáil debates, all in an effort to not actually resolve the matter, but demonstrate “Look! Women! We’re TALKING about it!” They need to be seen to be doing something, but the women who need or want, or indeed have had, abortions are irrelevant to their political thinking, The comfort of their Dáil seats and knowledge of extremely healthy pensions, and the leather under their arses in Ministerial cars are worth more to them than women’s lives. Their Mercs with State funded drivers are fueled by the tears of twelve women travelling for abortions to the UK every day and god knows how many more getting medication online and off dealers. What the criteria is by which a cabinet decides an issue is so socially toxic that they could not possibly attempt to legislate for a referendum on the matter is not clear.
The Citizens Assembly is a performance. It is political theatre. It will be fleeting plot line in the inevitable boring memoir by Leo Varadkar or Shane Ross when they have a fleeting reference to how they allegedly attempted to fight against it. It is a mechanism for kicking the can down the road.
Realistically it will be a year from now by the time the Citizens Assembly reports back. That brings us to the end of 2017. There is talk that a referendum could potentially be held in 2018. This seems unrealistic. After the Assembly reports it will, as is the practice with such reports, sit with an Oireachtas Committee for a few months. It will need to be debated to death. At the same time the ordinary business of bills and farcical Leader’s Questions will continue. They will need to pass a budget. There will also be preparations for the local and European Elections in 2019. They will need to address the looming Brexit situation. Political parties view time in election cycles. After the locals, there will be preparation for the next general election of 2021 – if the government manages to last that long. Fine Gael may have quietened any umbrage taken over abortion, but they still have the matter of annual budgets, judicial appointments, teachers striking, cops striking and whatever else is around the corner.
The Citizens Assembly gives them a get out of legislating card. Do not pass go. Do not collect your pension just yet. The idea that 99 random punters are qualified to represent the population in this manner is farcical. It is the outsourcing of democracy. There was a small glimmer of hope among some activists recently when the 2018 repeal referendum was mooted. Hypothetically, if those great 99 return with a verdict that indeed, the women of Ireland need access to free, safe and legal abortion, will we get it? Will we fuck; Our expectations will be managed appropriately. Zappone has been co-opted and regardless of Labour’s current protestations, they were co-opted when they were in Government. Calls for people to be reasonable will abound and those who wish for something as basic as wanting to control reproductive health will be lumped in with the “looney left” who are seeking something better in life that the government tells us is unrealistic. The fiscal space will not allow the eradication of poverty or the realisation of bodily autonomy.
During the Tuesday night debate, Bríd Smith whipped out a packet of abortion pills in the Dáil chamber and rightly asked to be prosecuted. It will never happen though, in the same way the women of the Contraception Train weren’t touched. State authorities will save their efforts for the most vulnerable. Not the woman who has the platform of the Dáil chamber, but the woman who has an abortion at home in Belfast, alone, for want of access to legal healthcare. Or the women who are consistently reminded that you may go to jail for fourteen years if you are caught trying to do what is legal in almost every other jurisdiction in Europe. The criminalisation of those who have abortions at home and the prospective jail sentence must remain for the State; if women take things into their own hands (as they so often do) how else will they control women’s bodies without the threat of violence and imprisonment? Little do they care that there is already a significant level of subversion of these inhumane laws. There are networks of women who help each other and no threats of jail will prevent that.
There is a back and forth where reasonable TDs plead for a reasonable response. Climate change deniers and old men respond that they care about the babies. The gombeen men TDs play to their local audiences. Government members talk a lot without saying much. It is theatre of the absurd. Enda Kenny likes to think he has the air of a gladiator about him, but transcripts of questions to the Taoiseach demonstrate that he clearly has no idea what he’s talking about and it seems more like a pantomime. Look at Micheal Martin, he’s behind you!
The standard rules of political decision making do not apply when it comes to abortion. The Citizens Assembly was an invention to outsource the talking shop elements of modern politics, while retaining the control over whether or not to take on board what they recommend. Each meeting of the Assembly is a staged performance. We are witnessing the dramaturgy of abortion politics in Ireland. Each participant carefully selected to ensure that they have never made any public declarations on the matter one way or the other. The actors will play the role that has been written for them accordingly. The audience reads notes on the drama of each theatrical episode in which pro-choice groups and forced birthers are positioned as two sides of the same coin; an expression of good versus evil. Lazy journalists portray fully staffed organisations backed by the Church and funded by the American Christian right as political equals to organisations filled with students and working class people who work voluntarily to assist women and stand outside Leinster House with home-made placards. Those who would see women jailed portray themselves as the guardians of the nation’s unborn babies, while children sit in homeless hostels, direct provision, schools with leaky roofs, and in counselling services having been abused by others. The orchestrated debates and prepared parliamentary speeches are designed to show us that those in power are truth-tellers. There of course will be the occasional plot twist, as will any political tragicomedy. Fine Gael TD Tom Barry drunkenly pulling Aine Collins TD onto his lap during a debate on legislation that was taking place directly as a result of a woman’s death was laughed off as banter between friends.
Naming it the “Citizens Assembly” was an important narrative technique to make the audience feel like they had some sort of participatory role in the event. We are citizens; therefore we own this Assembly even if we are not directly involved with the show. Women who remain undocumented or without the ability to travel due to complex and ongoing asylum procedures are among the most affected by the Eighth Amendment, but they are not citizens, so they do not matter. However, we are continually reminded that the Citizens Assembly and the debates surrounding it are for a higher, more moral cause. Their decision will be collectivised and distilled into a representation of the will of the people and we will be told that the nation has at last transcended the difficult Irish question of abortion. They are “the Citizens” after all, and they will redeem the State and the thousands of women forced to leave to access abortions in England will preach forgiveness. That is the hope at least. The rhetoric of citizenship and deliberation and participation is a fitting next act in the midst of state pageantry and a million 1916 re-enactments commemorating those who wished to be heard. The State through its Assembly tells us it is listening and delegitimises more radical acts, such as ordering medication online because you made a decision you do not want to be pregnant.
The cabinet member playwrights will take their bows following its choreographed conclusion; the hope being that future generations will commend them for their brave move in “letting the people decide” conveniently forgetting that letting the people decide will require an actual referendum. In the absence of allowing a Bill to proceed that provides for a referendum, it is merely a spectacle of compliance functioning to hold the government together. If Citizens Assembly did not exist, there would be no excuse in delaying a referendum. It’s the tv series that should have ended three seasons back because it’s starting to feel repetitive but just as back to back episodes of Come Dine With Me replaces anything decent on tv, the sanitised Citizens Assembly will obscure the views of those who think women should be able to decide whether to be pregnant or not regardless of the circumstance of conception or their health.
There was graffiti in Paris in 1968 saying “When the national assembly becomes bourgeois theatre, the bourgeois theatres must become national assemblies.” The outworking of the Citizens Assembly decisions will be done by those who do the banal work of overseeing the work of governance and the State over golf courses and in the Dáil bar and in departmental offices. This is separate from the public performance. In the 1571 a book called “Order and Usage Howe to Keepe a Parliament” detailed how members of parliament should not discuss the internal goings on of the chamber; politics and how decisions are made are not for public consumption or discussion outside. Up to the 19th Century, visitors from parliament were not allowed take notes of parliamentary sessions. There is no live feed in the office of the Secretary General of the Department of Health where decisions are actually made and Dáil committees regularly sit in private session.
We haven’t come that far from the practice of 1571, the Dáil is still just ritual theatre, and the Citizens Assembly is the interval act.
Between 2010 and 2015 the rates of women travelling from Ireland to access abortion services in the UK fell from 4,402 per annum to 3,451 per annum. A total of 27,800 women travelled during this timeframe. Anti-choice groups congratulated themselves because of the drop in numbers, choosing to interpret the British Department of Health statistics as evidence of a drop in the rate of abortions taking place as a result of their work. Pro-choice groups were at pains to point out that this was incorrect; the British DOH stats simply show the decline in the numbers of women travelling from Ireland who access abortions in England in Wales, but they do not represent the total numbers of women from Ireland who are accessing abortions. The 27,800 figure was *never* accurate; it doesn’t include women who travelled from Ireland but gave UK addresses or in some cases used UK NHS numbers. It doesn’t include migrant women who travel to Eastern European states to access services there. It doesn’t include women who travel to other EU states that aren’t the UK to access abortion services there instead.
So the paper published today shows that during the period which *official* numbers travelling to the UK declined by 951, there were 5,680 women who requested the abortion pill to take at home within the island of Ireland from an organisation called Women on Web. The numbers willing to risk a criminal penalty to have an abortion at home are increasing year on year. That said, given that customs seize some of these packages, we don’t know how many made it through to the women who requested them or how many women actually took the medication once they managed to get them. But even if only 50% of women managed to get the abortion and actually take them, it pretty much cancels out the reduction of numbers women travelling to the UK for terminations. Fifty percent is actually a remarkably conservative estimate considering that Customs only managed to seize 68 of these tablets last year, and given that there are more websites than Women on Web who will provide the drug (including Women Help Women) and migrant communities who have their own word of mouth suppliers as well as less reputable black market suppliers online, it’s quite likely that there are a few thousand more who have requested and taken the abortion pill since 2010.
It’s good to see coverage of this issue, and specifically of Rebecca Gomperts’ research paper but it doesn’t tell the whole story about women who are willing to risk a prison sentence (such as the woman in the north who took pills and was subsequently reported to the police by her tout housemates). The pill was supplied by Women on Web to 1,642 women between 2010 and 2012 and they managed to conduct follow-up research on 1,181 of those women (72%).
What report does tell us is that the law that criminalises abortion north and south in Ireland, and allows the state to jail women if they breach it, is completely irrelevant to women who need to access terminations and can’t travel. They are going to take the risk and order the medication anyway. The women who accessed the abortion pill from Women on Web were generally between 20 and 30 years old and the majority of them were already mothers, and 97% of them reported that accessing and using the medication at home was the right thing for them with 98% saying that they’d recommend the experience to other women. The only negative thing for the women accessing abortions at home is doing it outside of the law.
While the Citizens Assembly pontificates on the rights of women in Ireland to bodily autonomy and control over their reproductive systems, women can and will break the law in order to end their pregnancies. The abortion pill is a safe drug, in fact, it’s safer than viagra, and while well-meaning obstetricians like to point out the risks of taking medicines without the supervision of a medical practitioner, it isn’t unreasonable to suggest that in an Irish context, those concerns are as much about women in Ireland challenging the State’s control over their bodies as they are about taking a safe dose of misoprostol following an online consultation with a medical professional overseas. Continuing the prohibition against abortion and forcing women to go to term with pregnancies they do not want to carry is a form of structural violence against women.
The fact that women ordering this medication clearly believe it is safe should tell the State and the Citizens Assembly something. More and more women are now taking the pill and recommending it to their friends who can’t or simply don’t want to travel. Furthermore, even if women don’t believe it’s safe, they are willing to take that risk as well as the risk of arrest and prosecution in order to end their pregnancies at home here in Ireland. At this stage, for women in Ireland whether they travel or order medication online, abortion is a pretty normal event. It isn’t certainly isn’t a rarity. No one is put off ordering drugs whether they are risking a 14 year prison sentence or life in penal servitude, or their own health or life when it comes to disreputable black market sellers. Women on Web and Women Help Women alongside the activists who are supplying them with information, contact details, assisting them in getting the medication and providing them with safe spaces in which to take their medication are changing women’s health care in Ireland. Of course, this medication is only available for early terminations, but the power of it becoming more normalised and giving women control over their own bodies should not be underestimated.
Recognising that taking abortion out of the constitution and criminal law and treating it as a public health issue, is absolutely essential. This is about women’s rights and self-determination There are clearly public health consequences as a result of this domestic criminalisation – not every seller is as ethical as WoW or WHW. Forcing women to a point where they order medication online, though potentially empowering from a bodily autonomy standpoint, is pretty demeaning and dangerous in the context of a potential jail sentence if they are caught; if you thought your home abortion wasn’t going quite according to plan and you were unsure whether you were bleeding a bit too much, would you ask a doctor knowing they might feel obliged to call the Gardaí?
The Eighth Amendment might still be in the Constitution looming over everyone with a womb in Ireland, but like the women of generations past who handed down details of Queen Anne’s Lace seeds and Pennyroyal tea; email addresses and website details and safe houses to have packages delivered to are handed down by the current generation. If there is no safe house for delivery there might be a drone delivery. In all jurisdictions where abortion is illegal women will find a way around it regardless of criminal penalties. The existence of the internet makes a mockery of the 1995 Regulation of Information Act that tightly controls the circumstances under which you be given information about abortion; literally anyone with a smartphone could potentially tell you when, where and how much an abortion will cost. Whether you have the funds to access it is a different thing altogether. Even if you do have the funds, the ability to access it in a post-Brexit Britain is in question.
When the Eighth Amendment is repealed, it must not be replaced with a semi-liberalised system that allows for abortion in certain highly restricted circumstances that requires women to jump through bureaucratic hoops designed to degrade them by requiring the narration of their experiences for panels of doctors who decide whether their reason for wanting to end their pregnancy is good enough, or whether the risk to their health or life is risky enough. The treatment of Ms. Y during her engagement with the panel (that ordered the termination of her pregnancy by a c-section at 24 weeks rather than the abortion she requested at 9 weeks) has taught us that the State will not make owning your own body straightforward for women. The Eighth Amendment must be replaced by a system that allows for free, safe, and legal abortion where a woman decides it is best for her, in a venue that is convenient and accessible for her – whether that is in a clinic or in her home. Continued refusal to allow this to women will simply mean thousands more travelling every year and thousands more ordering abortion pills online.
The 1,642 women who received illegal abortion pills in Ireland between 2010 and 2012 are the tip of a very large iceberg that is not going away no matter what the Citizen’s Assembly decides.
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”
“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,
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
you are constantly saying “I don’t believe you”
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.
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 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.
By an Anonymous Survivor.
(Recommended reading: “Why Does He Do That?” By Lundy Bancroft).
Guest Post by Lauren Foley
It was maybe the third time you’d done it. It took easier than the first (you vomited), no worse than the last (DVDs in bed). You’d completely forgotten all three times (and the fourth, then the fifth), but just now there was this article on your Twitter feed.
You remember the rush of sexiness, that floaty semi-arousing pre-menstrual flood. Alarm of hormones. Then blood after saccharine tugging below just your navel. There’s a taste to a chemically-induced period like NutraSweet® in your bloodstream, epidermis, sweat glands; and you do kind of want to lick your forearm the way cats do lick theirs thinking your skin might taste of Diet Coke. The blood is lighter, clearer, brighter – a pop of red cherry. Like how we’re made to think it would look if it was red on TV, and not the brilliant blue it’s made be. The pain is synthetic, manufactured and claws as if from behind a curtain (wherein lies a great and powerful Oz).
You never think on them as abortions.
The third was only twenty-eight hours into seventy-two.
You’d normally ‘double dutch’ it. Condoms and the pill.
But, you’d gained ten pounds on the progesterone injections and your boyfriend had been around a good long while …
You still used condoms, insisted—the Catholic in you—except that one night after the 1920s party when you were both too drunk to fuck but somehow managed to come. He took that as a future freedom like the American guy in Catastrophe who impregnates Sharon Horgan. You agree with her it was a bit bad of them.
And just like this article linked now on Twitter, your abortion did you no harm, you’d completely forgotten about it (the fourth, the fifth).
Lauren Foley is Irish, and Australian (enough). Her short story, ‘Squiggly Arse Crack’, appeared in the 2014 Margaret River Press Anthology. She was shortlisted for the Overland Story Wine Prize, and Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award, 2015. Lauren won the inaugural OverlandNeilma Sidney Short Story Prize 2016. She was also awarded a 2016 Varuna Residential Writer’s Fellowship for her short story cycle in progressPolluted Sex. She lives in Skerries.