This is an extract from one of 14 real stories which will form the qualitative backbone of research currently being undertaken by SAFE Ireland to examine how Ireland’s justice and legal system deals with domestic violence.
IT’S JUST VERY difficult to describe when you’re married to an intelligent, charming man and then you all of a sudden have glimpses of another person altogether. Someone who is just cold and mean, and you want to recapture the man you thought you married. And you are pregnant with your first baby and he shoves you against the wall because you turned on the heating, or he screams into your face. All of a sudden he hits you because you’re just a burden. And then he comes home and says “I’m so sorry, I have a very stressful job”.
And he did, he travelled a lot abroad, you know, he had a high-powered job and I felt sorry for him. And then the baby was born and I was very happy. But it got worse. I had mastitis but was not allowed to buy a breast pump because it cost money. He tried to show me how to express milk with my hand because that’s cheaper. Or you have to keep a ledger of every expense. Then you go to your priest and he says to you that you have to leave, to pack up and go, because there’s something wrong. He referred my husband for counselling but it escalated; I tried everything – you change your look, you change your attitude, you go back to work.
You know, you don’t have money. You get an allowance from your husband, and then you have to pay for everything from cable TV to nappies, and he checks how much it costs. And you’re on your own, you have no friends, because you’re taking care of a baby and keeping down a full time job. I was living in a house with no curtains, no heating; I was warming bottles on a hotplate. But from the outside it looked lovely.
Then I got pregnant with his son, and he kicked me because he was stressed. But he made sure he didn’t kick my stomach. And I was in and out of hospital because I was bleeding, and they were worried I was going to lose the baby.
It’s very difficult to explain. That a good-looking, intelligent man could do this. People were envious that I married so well. And it makes you question your sanity, you know. So you make excuses. I went to a solicitor and she said, “We’ll apply for a Barring Order, this is domestic violence”. I said, “No, no, no, it’s not domestic violence, he’s just stressed and, you know, I’m fat and I know I’m not a good mammy and I’m not a good housekeeper, you know, I can’t clean properly”.
It affects your children too
But my children were being affected by things. My little girl started to self harm. I told my GP but my husband blocked the treatment, and that frightened me. My husband is very litigious. He started to attack the social workers because they found that there was domestic violence.
I got private rented accommodation and counselling was supposed to start for both children but their father wouldn’t give consent. Then the HSE started to backtrack. They said – it’s parental acrimony, not domestic violence.
I believed that even in a case of parental acrimony, surely children should be seen and heard? Even if it is to tell the therapist and the court that both parents are to blame and that their welfare is at risk. When my daughter eventually started therapy, I think one or two sessions in, my husband insisted he sit in on the sessions. Then therapy was stopped. But nobody saw the red flags. I was begging, my GP was begging, I had a daughter who needed help and I had no support other than the refuge. She was only 10 years of age.
I stopped counting at 43 court appearances
Despite everything, unsupervised access over the weekends was granted by the court. When I complained to the judge that the children refused to go on access with their dad, the judge said – then we’ll just take the children out of the equation, they won’t have an option. When they did go with him for the weekend, they’d come back saying he doesn’t feed them. Or, he would lock the front door, the kids can’t leave, or he would lock them outside that they have to stay outside, he would punish them. There were so many court cases.
The kids didn’t know if they were coming or going. You know, it was so confusing. With a child who I was told had to be kept steady, with a father who had admitted to domestic violence, and who had since admitted to hitting his children. There was an incident when the children were on an access visit and I had to call the guards because he hit my son so hard the kids thought his hand was broken.
I stopped counting at 43 court appearances. After all these years, I have nothing. My name is on the family home, so I’m still tied to him. I can’t get a rent allowance, I can’t go on the housing list, and I can’t get a loan. If my car breaks down I can’t get a loan now because he’s not paying the mortgage. I’m already with the Irish Credit Bureau because my credit rating is destroyed. But I don’t care about any of this. What really bothers me, is that access was not looked at properly nor was the welfare of my children.
The courts minimise domestic violence
I gave evidence that this man held me by my hair, driving with one hand, holding me down with the kids sitting in the back seat, because I didn’t behave on our walk as I should have. But a Circuit Court judge found that I was alienating my children from their dad. Do you know what really alienated the children from their dad? Not being fed, being put in the corner of the street because one of the children couldn’t make up his mind about lunch. This man killed my son’s pet rabbit. They’re not allowed to have toys, mobile phones or access to a telephone just in case they call me, no computer games, nothing.
In all our dealings with the justice and legal system, it has never been mentioned that what he did to me was criminal or that he could be prosecuted. I think that they minimise domestic violence. I don’t think that the judges get training in how a power imbalance can develop between spouses and how vulnerable one spouse can be, for whatever reason. Or that just because somebody hits you in a way that it doesn’t bruise, it doesn’t mean that you’re not terrified.
I don’t know how women can be heard, because you have to understand, this is my shame for the rest of my life, and nobody can make me feel any other way. I feel responsible for choosing a father for my children who treats them like this. And I live with that every day, every day.
This story from SAFE Ireland‘s One Day Census. For details of their 24-hour helplines and details of local services around the country, see www.safeireland.ie or download the SAFE Ireland smartphone app.