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'You will be believed': Woman beaten by step-mother for 10 years urges victims to report attackers

Cora Desmond has spoken about the abuse she suffered at the hands of Bridget Kenneally.
Nov 18th 2020, 2:51 PM 27,527 15

A 21-YEAR-old woman who suffered routine beatings and emotional abuse at the hands of her step-mother has urged victims of domestic violence to come forward and report their attackers.

After a legal battle lasting four years and more than a decade of abuse Cora Desmond finally secured justice yesterday when Bridget Kenneally (49) of Duncoran in Youghal, Co Cork, was jailed for two years.

Cora opened up about the abuse she suffered at the hands of her step-mother today and urged victims of violence not to believe their attacker’s threats and to seek help as soon as possible.

Cora’s father married Kenneally when she was just six-years-old and, after a brief period of kindness at the beginning of the relationship, Cora said her step-mother quickly turned to “pure evil”.

Kenneally began physically and emotionally abusing Cora within six months and it continued for more than 10 years until she escaped aged 16.

The now 21-year-old told the Neil Prendeville Show on Cork’s RedFM that she and her sister were prevented from having friends and were forced to act as cleaners for her step-mother and her children. 

“Her kids lived their daily life with their friends and did what they wanted to do and for us it was just: get up, clean after her kids and wait for the next beating,” Cora said.

Kenneally also called her ‘Cora Ella’, like Cinderella, because she said she wasn’t wanted in the house. “She felt joy in calling me Cora Ella because she knew it tormented me. She knew I hated it. It was, kind of, a power thing for her,” she explained.

The attacks got worse as Cora got older and Kenneally began regularly beating her with a range of objects including a sweeping brush and a fire poker. The beatings became so frequent that Cora even stopped pleading with her step-mother to stop the violence:

There was no point in begging her to stop because the more I asked her to stop, the more I cried, the more she beat me. She was punishing me for feeling pain.

During one of the incidents Kenneally twisted Cora’s hand so much that she broke a bone in her thumb.

“She got so angry, she grabbed my hand and started twisting my hand and my fingers and it eventually just snapped my thumb. And she told me to tell doctors and anybody who asked that I fell out in her back garden,” Cora said.

Another attack left Cora hospitalised for a week with a range of injuries including significant bruising to her head and dozens of bruises to her body.

Her fear of her step-mother was so great that she always stuck to what she was told to say when questions were asked about her injuries.

I was living in such fear. It was constant fear. I knew that if I spoke up that it wouldn’t end well for me, because she would always threaten that I would be taken away from my sister and my dad. As a child you don’t want to go into foster care. You don’t want to be separated from your family.

Cora’s daily routine involved scrubbing the kitchen, bathroom or another part of the house before she left for school. If she didn’t do this it would result in another attack.

School was her only sanctuary and after she returned home another battery of cleaning chores had to be carried out by her and her sister.

“Her kids would come home, have their dinner plated up for them, have their washing put away for them, their rooms scrubbed for them and it was basically all done by us. Me and my sister. It was constant running around after them,” she revealed.

After sustaining years of abuse, Cora eventually managed to find light at the end of the tunnel after she broke down during a conversation with her mother.

Learning about the horrific situation left her mother distraught and within a week Cora had an appointment with gardaí to make a statement about the abuse.

That sparked a lengthy investigation which dragged on for four years and left Cora in doubt about justice ever being served.

“I started to believe that I wasted my time, wasted the guards’ time in reporting it because it had been going on for so long, just waiting and waiting and waiting to find out what was going to happen,” she explained. 

My family always tried to boost me up and keep telling me ‘one day. one day. Keep looking forward. You’re going to get justice.’ If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be here today.

Cora’s father seperated from Kenneally when gardaí contacted him to inform him about Cora’s statement. She told Prendeville that he feels immmense guilt about never realising what his daughters were being subjected to. 

During the court case Kenneally issued an apology to Cora. When asked by the judge whether she felt the apology was genuine, Cora said she didn’t believe that Kenneally was remorseful for her actions.

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“It might sound cruel of me to not accept this apology but, at the end of the day, I know her,” Cora explained on the radio show.

I lived with her for 11 years of my life. I know her mind games, I know the way she is. I know that she’s only apologising now because it’s gotten as severe as it has.

Cora said she was shocked when Kenneally received a custodial sentence as she had expected her to escape with only community service.

“We’d been waiting so long that we thought she was going to walk away with a slap on the wrist,” she said. “We never thought that she would end up locked-up and not able to cause harm to another child.”

Cora said she has worked hard to overcome her horrific childhood and is now in a “great place”. 

“I’ve worked hard in the last four and a half years with counsellors and doctors and my family and friends to get to where I am and be somewhat happy and enjoying life,” she said.

Obviously as a 21-year-old there’s stresses and responsibilities but I never pictured myself making it this far. 

The survivor told victims that people will believe them if they come forward and report a violent person.

“Anybody that is going through something, or was going through something, should speak out as soon as possible and get help with your mental health or help to escape from a violent person,” she urged.

Just speak out and tell someone because you never know when it’s going to be too late. Don’t listen to the threats. You will be believed.

“That was one of my biggest fears when I was reporting my incident. I realised not long after that she’s the one that wasn’t believed. I had people fighting in my corner.

“People who I didn’t know. People who I’d never heard of, never met. It just shows that there are good people out there who will help you.”

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Ceimin Burke

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