Interview with… a survivor of domestic abuse
Brenda (surname and age supplied), is a nurse from Liverpool living in Ireland. She endured years of emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her ex-husband with whom she has five children
I met my ex-husband through work when I was 19 – I’m a nurse and he worked in social care. He was my first real boyfriend and was a little bit older. I was very naive – I got pregnant very quickly. Even then there were warning signs but I was so young I thought it was love. I opened a joint bank account and put money in and he cleared that out.
I was isolated and excluded from his life but he didn’t like me having friends of my own – he would make them feel very awkward. At the time I didn’t have the insight to know what was going on. He would say I was unattractive and ‘who’d want you?’ He made fun of me and would tell me what to wear. I was very afraid of him. It starts off quite subtly and just creeps up on you.
The irony is he worked with people with serious mental illnesses. I remember speaking to a police officer: he said abusers will place themselves in positions where they can access victims. I think if most people met him, they’d think, ‘Oh, isn’t he charming’; some people were very astute, though, and didn’t like him at all.
The day we got married I tried to link my arm through his as we walked back down the aisle together. He just shook me off. I was 26 weeks pregnant.
I idealised the relationship and made it into something it clearly wasn’t. Very quickly he took over complete control of all our money.
He’d get himself lamb steak for dinner, and I’d get sausages or egg. I lived on sausages and egg for years. He’d buy himself the finest of everything and I’d be left with a tray of mince for me and the kids.
I had five children by him, all very quickly. When I was pregnant with my eldest boy I went into premature labour. He said: ‘Never mind that, go and make my fucking lunch.’ I was in hospital for a week and he didn’t visit. Someone else gave me a lift home.
That’s when the physical stuff started. I couldn’t walk past him without him hitting me in the head. If he opened the cupboard door he’d whack me on the top of the head with it.
Often when I tried to go to work he would refuse to mind the children and would leave the house. I lost several jobs because of that.
He called me fat and ugly and dowdy. It was constant. I knew I had to get out but I couldn’t get rid of him. He’d tell me I was a fucking nutter, make out I was mad.
One time I said: ‘I want you to go. I’m going to get a divorce.’ He tried to strangle me. A neighbour heard and called the police. They took him away but I didn’t want him to be charged: I was frightened of him. I was on my own and I didn’t have any family to support me. Nobody wanted to know.
He just got worse after that. My son injured his foot playing rugby. He had to get wires put into his foot and use a wheelchair for several weeks. When he came home from hospital his father started kicking him in his bad foot. I think it’s because my son and I were close.
When one of the mums from my children’s school invited me for dinner at Christmas he tried to get me to hang myself. I guess you block most things out as a defence mechanism. I couldn’t see a way out.
I finally a got divorce on the grounds of domestic violence in 2007. It was granted within five months. It’s been six years since I came here [to Ireland]. I had post-traumatic stress disorder and was admitted to hospital here – it had got to the point where I was suicidal. I got wonderful treatment at the hospital, though. It has been a really hard slog. It is getting better but I’m terrified of him finding me.
The law needs to change because the authorities seem to think that if the abuser is no longer living with you there is no problem.
I’m training to become a barrister now. I’m still working all day as a nurse so it’s tiring but I love it. I still struggle with self-belief but I’ve met a couple of really lovely women who are extremely supportive.
I used to feel like I didn’t want to be here anymore but I am starting to get that sense of normality back and I’m starting to enjoy life a bit.
I’ve been about as low as you can get. I’m just glad that I have today and I have tomorrow. Lots of women don’t have that because they’re killed by their partners. I hope to be able to support women going through court. That will keep me motivated. Lots of women are too downtrodden, they are hidden and they don’t have a voice. People don’t even notice them, probably – that’s how it was for me.
I hope somebody reads this and it gives them something to hang onto.
I would like to tell them that I understand why they feel they can’t do anything but to know that they can. You just have take it one step at a time. You need to plan but you can do it. Take yourself to safety and work from there. You have to believe that you can get away.
If you are a woman experiencing domestic abuse or know someone who is in need of help and support you can call The National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge. It is a freephone number staffed 24 hours a day by fully-trained female support workers and volunteers: 0808 2000 247
If you are a man suffering domestic abuse you can call the ManKind Initiative on 01823 334 224 Monday to Friday 10am-4pm and 7pm-9pm