From the 25th of November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to the 10th of December, Human Rights Day, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign is a time to galvanize action, each year, to end violence against women and girls around the world. This initiative, unlike other awareness days, receives 16 Days, because it simply needs it.
Below is a collection of stories from survivors of domestic violence from Ireland and beyond. These stories were shared over the 16 Days Of Activism last year..... but let's not end the conversation as soon as December 10th has passed.
“We were scheduled to have hymenoplasty surgery, all three of us. We didn’t want it to happen but we are controlled by our family. Our brother is the head of our family and is the reason some of us are not virgins. This abuse has been going on for years. Once, my sister was very sick in hospital. My brother knew how much I cared for my sister and threatened that he would hit her and cause her more pain if I refused to have sex with him. My own brother!
Then one day, we decided we had all had enough of this life. We escaped in the middle of the night. We took the first step to taking controls of our lives. The first step is the hardest but we feel like we have been born again and finally have a chance to live our own lives.”
"I was two months pregnant and he beat me. A couple of days later, I lost the baby. He said to me, 'You must not have taken care of the baby properly. That's why you miscarried.' What a thing to say to a woman.
As always, all the blame was on me, but it wasn't my fault, I tried to protect us. I lost a second child a couple of years later. for the same reasons. This time, I was 8 months pregnant. We had a mass and I had to bury my baby. As soon as I did, he started playing the victim and wanted all my attention again, he mocked me and put me down for being sad. I never got to grieve for my two children properly, he wouldn't acknowledge them or allow me time to."
"I never thought it was bad enough to go seek help from Women's Aid. I thought, I'm not one of those women, there are other women that are much worse off than me. I was wrong. I was one of those women and realising it was a turning point.
He used to choke me and shake me, but he never punched me, and to him this proved he wasn't abusive.
Then, one day when I was pregnant, he was particularly violent, and banged my head against the wall and left numerous bruises. This shook me and I threatened to call the Guards on him. He knew I wouldn't though, I was pregnant and afraid to be left raising a child alone.
After that incident, I asked him, 'How can I ever trust you again?'
His response was 'How can I ever trust you again? You were going to call the Guards on me.'
That is the type of manipulation you're dealing with. He always played the victim and played down my feelings.
He thought that we were both in the same situation; that me being abused was the same as him being in trouble. He used to tell me that I was exaggerating because he wouldn't hit me everyday."
You know those small toys you get in a Happy Meal? Well, one of the kids got a small Grinch-type toy in their happy meal once. Just a small toy that is meant to bring happiness to a child. In my case, this was used to torture and belittle me in front of my kids and used to distort the relationship between me and my kids. He would hide it around the house, which made me really anxious as I never knew when or where it would be pointed out. What he did was he would leave it around where the kids and I were and would purposely do or say something to upset me and this is where he used the toy. He'd either point to the Grinch or pick it up and say,
"That's your Ma, the Grinch, always moaning and crying"
I now realise the importance of this object in taking control of how our children viewed me as their mother. He eventually achieved his goal and my children turned on me and disrespected me, answering me back when I tried to parent them. He would even reward them for disrespecting me. He always had control, he knocked me down and used me as a way to make himself feel like a big man.
"My mother passed away when I was a young single parent. I met this guy who instantly put me up on a pedestal. I was grieving and raising a child on my own and here was this man offering me all that I wanted; a loving family, the happy ever after that we all look for. He really wanted a child and as soon as I was pregnant, everything changed. When I had the baby, it got worse and I realised he wanted me pregnant so he had a bit more control over me.I remember we were bringing the baby home from the hospital for the first time, she cried like most newborns do. He lost his temper and shouted, "she's going to be a moan, just like her mother." That was my daughters welcome to the world and the goodbye to my fairytale ending."
"One time he dragged me in to the apartment by my hair. It was one of the few times that I fought back. I kicked him, but that just shocked and angered him even more. "Kick me, will ye?!" he shouted and responded with kicking me in the back of the head. I managed to get away from him and ran in to the bathroom. He tried to come in after me. I told him that I was seriously hurt and that my head was bleeding. This worried him and he kept trying to get in to the bathroom. He insisted I show him the blood, he wanted to see proof. That was out of fear for himself, not out of sympathy for me.
I never fought back after that, out of fear of making things worse for myself. I just took the abuse. After a while, you get to a point where you feel like you can take it. You can't ever get used to or feel like you take the mental abuse though. The name calling, the control, being told what to wear.
I remember pleading with my mum to help me "get him out of my head!" That was the first time I ever shared anything with her. She had no clue what was going on. I had hidden it from everyone. Speaking up was the best thing I ever did, and I hope women reading this will do the same."
"Looking back, the best way I can describe to you, why I stayed for as long as I did, is that it's like a drug. A drug that chips away at your confidence, pushes your friends and family away and makes you feel completely isolated and out of control, like you need him, but you don't!
That is what you have to realise, you are so much stronger than you think and your life shouldn't be like this, love shouldn't cause you physical pain. You will gain your confidence back and leave. It takes time, but you can do it.
I used to think, life isn't worth living like this, and I didn't want to continue living, I couldn't take it anymore. Today, I'm in a loving relationship with someone who is the complete opposite to my last partner and life is worth living again. So when people say 'just leave' just know that you can and you eventually will."
"I remember someone said to me 'He sure did assault the wrong woman.' I thought he assaulted the right woman as I am now not afraid to speak up through Women's Aid to help somebody else.
I cannot believe I stayed so long in that environment, I had such a lucky escape. Yet in other ways, I still can't believe I got out, with no ties, what would have become of me if I didn't get out the way I did? I don't know where I went the two years I was with him. I completely lost my voice and my independent self. I got off a plane after working and travelling the other side of the world and walked straight into hell.
After the physical assault I googled domestic abuse. I felt sick. I read the warning signs and could relate to nearly all of them. It felt like someone was watching my relationship from afar and documented what was happening. If I had one wish it would be that every single person on the planet who is in any relationship, whether they think it's good or bad, Google the warning signs like I did, or look at the Women's Aid website and educate yourself. It was a dose of reality that I wasn't expecting and is difficult for it to register and understand that that's what you've been experiencing.
You might be in denial and think all will be okay, but in reality, it won't. It's not all about one slap or one physical assault, it's a pattern of abuse and control that can lead to being seriously injured or in some cases, death.
It sends a cold shiver through me when I read those horrific stories about murder and serious assaults. The ignorance towards the complexity of domestic abuse concerns me and people still question; Why did she stay? What did she do? Or, Why did she do that? This ignorance can cost lives and women are afraid to speak up. If we live in a society where a woman is made feel isolated for speaking up we are allowing the cycle to continue. Men are free to do what they please, they can pick up another victim and start from scratch."
“It was my Christmas party and he told me I wasn't allowed go to it. I had to go, I organised it and had promised everyone I would be there. He warned me I would be punished if I disobeyed him but I didn't want to let anyone down. I waited until he left the house, and then I went. I had a horrible nervous feeling all night but I tried to enjoy myself. When I came home, he was standing in the kitchen with this smug smile on his face. I knew he had done something but couldn't imagine what. My son called me upstairs and said, 'Dad's after burning all your things.'
I couldn't get my head around what he just told me. He told me to go in to my room and see for myself. All my clothes, gone. Any memories that I had of my mum, gone!
He had burned everything I had out the back garden. That was my punishment for disobeying him, for doing something as normal as going to a Christmas party. But, it's because he didn't have control over me that night. That was the last night he stayed in our house. I lost my things but gained control.
He once threatened me 'You might leave me, but you won't leave with that face,' and beat me pretty badly. This photo is from that night and now I'm the one burning the memory of it.”
"We met when we were 17 and ended up doing the same course in college. He was verbally abusive towards me, in person and in texts. One day, in class, I had to stand up and give a presentation and was using my phone as a timer. As I was giving the presentation I kept receiving text after text from him telling me I was stupid, and what I was saying didn't make sense, that I wasn't smart enough to be doing the course and that everyone in the class thought the same. He was always putting me down and hated to see me doing well. Along with his ever present verbal and emotional abuse, the threat of violence was always lingering. He would threaten me constantly saying things like "if you don't do this for me [some sort of sexual activity] you'll regret it" or "if you go out with her [a friend] you'll regret it." Until one day, that threat became reality.
"Fat pig" was one of his favourite things to call me and used it frequently. He would tell me that he needed me to look more like other girls for him to be attracted to me and that I needed to try and lose some weight. So I started running. At first I started running to change myself physically for him but I ended up enjoying it for myself. It was freeing and calmed my mind. This year I completed my second Dublin Marathon and will complete my third, in Paris, in April."
I took him pushing me, and knocking me over. I took him shoving me. I took him kicking his boot through a bathroom door where I had locked myself in to get away from his rage. I took being grabbed by the throat once. I took being called every filthy undermining name under the sun. I took him telling me loads of lies. I took him ruining nearly every special occasion I looked forward to. I took him ruining my birthdays. I took his sulking and refusing to speak to me for days on holidays. I took him ignoring me for weeks on end. I took him sleeping on the couch and leaving me lying in bed, wondering if he was coming to bed or continue to ignore me. I took him staying in his own selfish world, where he came first. I took him looking past me when I really wanted him to listen to me. I took him screaming the house down, many a time, and refusing to stop, despite me crying and pleading with him to. I took him saying he liked the things that he knew upset me, in front of others. I took him flirting in front of me. I took him looking smugly disgusted, and being totally uncaring, when I cried when he hurt me. I took him sneering at me when I felt hurt. I took him deliberately gushing all over people I had fallen out with knowing it would upset me. I took him never giving me attention or affection when we went out socially. I took his sudden and soul destroying total rejection of me, when I least expected it, and when I really needed his support. I took him turning up late for meals I had caringly prepared for him, without any explanation or apology. I took his explosive anger when I would just ask why he couldn't just call?..when he had said he'd be home on time for the meal. I took him freaking out at me, and raging like a lunatic, many times, and especially whenever I tried to discuss his treatment of me. I took the fact that he never apologised for hurting me, or abandoning me...and his TOTAL DENIAL of all these things, his re-writing of all the facts, and his refusal to admit his behaviour, and him showing that he didn't care, whenever he really hurt me. I took it all...
"He wanted me to get a tattoo. I got one and he got angry because it wasn't big enough. I found out that there was another woman who had a tattoo and he wanted me to be like her. There was a problem, she was petite and like a doll. Her style was very different from mine. I love my casual wear but he tried so hard to direct me towards heels and jeans with glitter and slinky tops . I began to hate going out, because what I wore became an issue and unknown to me, I was competing with a doll. The abuse was verbal, emotional and physical. I was told I was big, and the punches came when he wasn't pleased with how I looked. Here I was in my 40's getting another tattoo. He was adamant that this one had to be big. For me, it is big because the pain was bad. But he still wasn't happy because it couldn't be seen but I wanted it to be discreet. I chose this butterfly, which I now call my freedom butterfly. You see, butterflies are things of beauty and fly without being trapped. Once I reported all the abuse and my rape, I flew and regained my beauty by regaining my confidence which he had scraped away every time he abused me. The abuse came in many forms and at unexpected times. My phone was checked when he thought I was asleep or I was in the shower. He shouted at me in public but strangely enough, people just walked by. I was called names and accused of not giving him money, even though I was paying all the bills and I gave him what I had. He threatened to cut me up and put me in the boot of my car, all because he wanted chipper food and I had no money to buy it! He urinated on me when I was trying to rest on my day off and then beat me for making the bed wet. Plates of dinner made artwork on the walls and to check on where I was he would ask me questions about something at home. A cream became his favourite item to question me about so I bought a second tube and carried it about with me always ready and gaining more freedom. He wanted control of me but didn't want me, the person. He just wanted what he could gain from marrying me. I was a puppet in his agenda, an agenda which he had already got before even meeting me. Thankfully, I have turned my life around after getting help from Women's Aid and the Rape crisis centre."