In the 90s I had the privilege of sitting on a committee appointed by the then Minister for Justice, Norah Owens to review legislation on domestic violence, co-ordinate research in the area and make recommendations. Our recommendations grounded the Domestic Violence Act 1996. Working on this project over many months, exchanging views with people working in the forefront of this area from the Rape Crisis Centre and Women’s Aid fast forwarded me into a new level of understanding of this area. Subsequently I worked on a volunteer basis with Women’s Aid.
Domestic Violence does not recognize class or wealth. Women and occasionally men from all backgrounds are subjected to domestic violence. The manner in which the violence occurs may vary but its effects are the same. We would often refer to “fur coat poor” to signify the many women we came to know who dressed to kill but did not have the use of any money of their own. Their partners would wield the finances of the relationship as a weapon against them. Then there were the women whose spouses would use a pretext, it could be anything, for a row which would quickly lead to violence. These women invariably lived in total terror forever trying to please but never getting it quite right. There were the partners whose out of control jealousy was so pervasive that their spouse was afraid to talk to anyone and became increasingly isolated. Some women would give up work to please a partner only to find themselves increasingly abused and insulted, called a parasite, a useless object and such like. Some partners used only words to wound not needing to use their fists. The breaking of a person’s precious things systematically or wilful cruelty towards pets constitutes violence every bit as much as using fists. Many people were demoralised by what was happening to them but because it did not involve actual violence did not recognize it as domestic violence as such and as a result were even more disempowered than those who were actually being hit.
If your partner makes you afraid to speak openly, be yourself, socialise with others, go to work and progress in your career then chances are there is some form of abuse going on. The longer you stay in such a relationship the more demoralised you are likely to become and the less able to take action to help yourself. Ironically the more demoralised you become the more likely it is that the abuse will escalate.
Sadly most abusers do not change even with counselling. Many will use the counselling or therapy as a cover to continue the abuse. If you are in a violent relationship the best thing is to get out of there as quickly as you can. As a first step you should get yourself a good counsellor who will help you to gain perspective and help you to rebuild your self esteem. Also take legal advice as quickly as you can from a family law expert. Your Solicitor will assess the physical risk to you and determine whether immediate action should be taken. At the end of the day though you are the boss not only of yourself and your life but also of whether or not you will take action. It is important for you to take action when you are ready and not within the time frame of someone else’s agenda. This can be frustrating for your advisors but they can live with it.
If you are in a violent and/or abusive relationship you should be aware that the point of separation can often be the most dangerous time in that relationship so how you leave and when needs to be carefully planned and thought about. This is especially so if the violence is of a serious nature. Go see your solicitor as quickly as you can but make sure you go to a solicitor with some expertise in this area and understanding of the nature of domestic violence. This week is Domestic Violence Week. If you have any doubts about your relationship and what is going on in it, this might be a good time to talk to someone and take stock.