In the beginning, there were little, mean passing comments. Insults and humiliations. Step by step.
And then the physical violence slowly crept in. Ava, a woman in her early twenties shares her experience in her former relationship. “My ex-partner hit the walls and yelled, he came very close to me and didn’t let me walk away. In the two years, we spent together, more than half were driven by violence.“ At first, she didn’t even realise what she was going through. “It was at the beginning of the last year when I was standing in front of the mirror – alone and naked – and looked at myself. My fingers moved down my body. I couldn’t believe, it was me, I was looking at.“
Most of the time it happens undetected, but it is the frightening reality: around one in four women in Ireland experiences physical and/or sexual violence by their partner at least once in their life. Worldwide the estimated numbers suggest nearly one third of women have experienced abuse since the age of 15. The World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledges violence against women as a “major public health problem and a violation of women’s human rights.“
A recent report by the Central Statistics Office raises awareness of new shocking numbers. More than one in two women had to experience sexual contact without consent at least once in her life. Of the women who reported their experience, most were between 18 and 24 years old.
Violence does not always mean being marked with a blue eye. Threats, coercion and stalking are often the beginnings. Moving on to deprivation of liberty, social demarcation and, in the course of it, physical assaults.
“My body was covered with bruises, I seemed exhausted, these dark and tearful eyes that faced me, couldn’t be mine. Even though what I saw was real, it seemed to be surreal, even absurd“, Ava says. After the first beatings, Ava tried to make excuses for her ex-partner’s violent outbursts. He didn’t want to do it, it’s an exception. He’s just stressed right now, it’s all over again. And her ex-boyfriend also always denied that he had become violent towards her. Because they lived together, they also shared their daily lives and so it was even harder to understand what was happening.
Ava is often asked why she put up with it for so long. Why didn’t she just leave after the first physical abuse? But it wasn’t that easy. She lived with her partner. And she always held on to the person she once met. “I was hoping he would change eventually. He would become the man I once fell in love with. But this hope is false and intriguing.“ At that time, she couldn’t imagine that the person she loved from the start would one day spit on her, beat her and mistreat her. It was impossible for her to understand why he kept looking for arguments. The blows made her feel lonely. And the only thing she longed for was to get her partner’s love back. But the only thing that followed was intense violence.
Shame is exactly why women do not talk about what is being done to them. They blame themselves and do not see that their partner is the real danger. Especially because violence is a topic which people discover as neglected within society. Often the victims are confronted with accusations, hostility and denial of the violence they experience. So often people just don’t believe the woman. Even in courts. According to a study by the charity Survivors Informing Services and Institutions, the family law system did not believe the abused women, minimised the problem or even treated it as “irrelevant.“
Victims of violence often live in an ambivalent relationship with their partner. Loving phases alternate with violence and the affected person does not have a realistic picture of what is really happening.
Only when she realised the danger she was in, Ava could take a consistent step for herself. Especially after she had a bloody lip, she managed to leave her tormentor. “I drew a line after the last time he gave me a beating because I thought he would end it for me if I didn’t. The violence got even worse, more extreme.“
And then Ava tried to heal herself. She has been checking up on other women who have had similar experiences. She could see that there were many other people with the same pain. To really process her experience, Ava has started to write a blog.
Even though many women are ashamed of what their own partner does to them, it is important to confide in someone. A close person like siblings or a best friend would be one option. But if they feel too uncomfortable to share intimate experiences with familiar people, victims can also seek help from outside. Support organisations such as Woman’s Aid or Safe Ireland offer 24-hour freephone helplines, instant message support, helpline emails and face-to-face services.
Domestic violence on women by Annalena Bischoff
Feminist organisations demand the creation of “an equal Ireland with zero tolerance of domestic abuse and all other forms of violence against women“ by politicians. Even though there is no law in Ireland, domestic and sexual abuse are considered criminal offences. The National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence (Cosc) has developed strategies in order to combat violence against women and change societal attitudes. The aim of Cosctogether with state and non-governmental organisations is to reduce abuse, find the right punishment for the abuser and the right support for victims.
For Ava, it was important to realise that people like her ex-partner never change and that she did not have control over his behaviour. There is no point in waiting and trying to avoid conflicts. And nothing to be ashamed of. For a long time, she refused to admit that she was a victim of domestic violence. “Only when I trusted one of my friends and told her everything, I realised I couldn’t believe his lies anymore. He wasn’t difficult. He was violent.“
And it was not her fault.
Author’s note: The name of the interviewee was changed to protect her identity even though she was open to share her story. It can be helpful to speak up but protecting yourself is the most important!
WHERE TO FIND HELP:
There are several supporting organisations against domestic violence in Ireland. You can either call them and speak directly to an advisor. If you do not feel comfortable speaking, you can also contact them via email. Do not hesitate to share your experience with a professional, there is nothing to be ashamed for. Looking for help is not a weakness! Helplines are open 24/7.
Men’s Aid Ireland
Phone: 01 554 3811
Women’s Aid Ireland
Phone: 1800 341 900
Phone: 1800 341 900
Local helplines available for different counties. Find more at https://www.safeireland.ie/get-help/where-to-find-help/.
Find phone numbers and addresses at www.legalaidboard.ie/en and www.flac.ie.
This is an incredibly important topic, thank you for shedding light on it!