Our new regular contributor, Annie O'Neill, writes on the subject of Domestic Abuse. The other day I overheard someone saying they couldn’t understand why women 'put up with' domestic violence. "If it was me", she said, "I would be out of the door the minute he laid a hand on me". Well it's not always that easy and her comment inspired me to write this article.
Domestic abuse is not specific to any particular gender, culture or class. It happens in relationships all over the world. It is difficult to know how many cases there actually are because they are not all reported. A Women's Aid survey revealed that 45% of women and 26% of men in the UK have experienced at least one incident of abuse in their lifetime. However, when there were more than 4 incidents of abuse (ongoing abuse) 89% of victims were women.
When he first hits you it is such a shock. He says he is sorry, he didn't mean to do it, it will never happen again. This is the start of a repetitive pattern that will last for the whole of the relationship. Sometimes there isn't even an apology. You are made to feel that it is your fault - you deserve to be punished because you've done something wrong and you end up believing it.
At first you deny it if anyone asks. You love him and you are sure he'll change. You want friends and family to like him. As time goes on you become ashamed.
At first you don't realise it is happening. It starts with the occasional comment; he begins picking at you for little things. He starts criticising what you wear, he tells you you're too fat/too thin. He tells you you're not doing things properly, the housework isn't done to his standards, you're not a good wife/mother. He may start calling you names. He puts you down in front of other people and you are too ashamed to protest. Then he distances you from your friends. They are discouraged from coming to the house or phoning you. He checks the phone bills and monitors incoming calls by dialling 1471. He controls most aspects of your life.
So, why don't you leave?
Why do we get trapped in abusive relationships? Why don't we just leave when the abuse starts? Because by the time we realise what is happening it is too late. Slowly and insidiously your confidence and self-belief is destroyed leaving you feeling worthless and unattractive. Your support network has been taken away. You have been told so often that you are useless that you believe it. You think even if you did leave you would have nowhere to go and you wouldn't be able to cope. You are probably scared that he would come after you, and it is true that the abuser does often continue to intimidate the victim even after they have left.
Some people don't even realise they are being abused. If this is your first relationship or your parents had a similar relationship, why would you question it? How would you know that the level of control being exerted is not normal?
What can we do about it?
We need to educate young people that it is unacceptable for anyone to be controlled by or afraid of their partner.
We need to raise awareness of the problem.
We need to tell people that being the victim of abuse is nothing to be ashamed of.
We need to publicise the help that is available.
We need to support organisations such as Women's Aid, Refuge and Mens Advice Line.