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The Many Faces of Abuse...

The Many Faces of Abuse...

Domestic Abuse
Just five minutes ago I was looking for inspiration on what to write about next.  I was about to give up, have another coffee and catch up on Homeland when I saw this headline: 'New Garda crime figures to prove grim reading'. 
 
I thought uh oh - what's it going to be this time? Another whistle blower? (Yes, but from a few years ago, less publicised and there were TWO of them), Another stats scandal? (Yes), Another story about the treatment of women? (Yes, but certainly not exclusively).
 
Here's one figure that jumped out at me: In November 2014, the Garda Inspectorate found that serious crimes such as assault, burglary, robbery and theft were being "under-recorded" by as much as 30% in some garda divisions.
 
It found 45% of domestic violence calls to Gardaí were not being recorded at all.

No more coffee for me - that got the heart rate going for sure.

This is a very, very serious problem. Support organisations and people like me who work with the victims of abuse need access to reliable statistics.
 
It helps us to adequately and with confidence speak about prevalence rates, to understand the dynamics, provide targeted support, provide means and ways for people to access that support and get the help that they need and deserve. And then there's the funding of course.
 
Why would a service be funded if you cannot adequately prove that the service is needed?

45% - let's just think about that figure for a moment. It's big. And the reported figures were already big. It is likely that whatever age you are, whatever gender, whatever background that you are, or have been or have a friend who is in an abusive relationship. 
 
We still dismiss abuse - all of us

Although not consciously. I recently had a horribly chilling 'aha' moment. I was ruminating about a couple I used to know and I suddenly realised that the man was being abused. All the signs were there and I missed them - and this is my area of work!! We have yet to accept the prevalence of domestic abuse. In a way we are all being collectively abused - and by that I mean we are all colluding (again, not consciously!) to keep the secret. Does this partly explain the poor reporting by the Gardaí? I don't know. But I do feel that we are all groomed to dismiss the effects and the many ways in which abuse can manifest. 
 
Abuse cannot survive without secrecy.

And it's not always about violence - which makes it even more difficult to report.

We have words for abusers like "she's difficult", "he's controlling", "he's got a bit of a temper", "she prefers to manage the money", "she's moody". "He's a man - they have needs", "he has a very high sex drive", "she's awkward after drink", "he's just jealous and insecure" - the list is long, you've probably heard all of them. And then we might make it extra "OK" by saying - but like, he's never laid a hand on me!
 
How do we define abuse?

When we are ‘in’ an abusive situation, it can be hard to ‘see’ that it’s abusive. But you might have a niggling feeling, your friends or family may have expressed concern. Maybe they avoid your house - have you noticed?
 
Abuse takes many forms. You don’t even have be over 18 or 21. You don’t have to be living with someone to be in fear of them. 
 
The nature of abusive relationships and domestic violence is such that we are not always certain that we are a victim. It is this subtlety that ‘helps’ the abuser continue their abuse.
 
Sometimes the abuse is subtle – invisible yet felt keenly by the abused. It's usually gradual. Usually the abused finds themselves thinking - "this is not the person I first met. That person must be in there somewhere. I'll hang on in there and help that person to come out".

Because abusers choose empathic people to abuse.

For this reason, men and women who are emotionally abused find it hard to ‘justify’ feeling unhappy, to tell someone about what’s happening, or to take the huge step of leaving their relationship. The huge, brave, scary step.

Before we continue: For some of you reading this, be aware that it may bring up some difficult feelings. Please know that there is support available, services designed specifically to help you (listed below).
 
Here are some warning signs: If your partner...
  • Criticises you
  • Shouts at you
  • Mocks you overtly or subtly in public
  • Blackmails you /threatens to shame you publicly
  • Blames you for his/her mood or violent behaviour
  • Coerces you into unwanted sex/drinking/drug taking/ illegal activity
  • Slaps/spits at/ shoves/ pushes/ pinches/ cuts or pulls your hair
  • Hurts your pet(s)
  • Threatens to or hurts your child
  • Withholds affection or money from you
  • Rewrites history
  • Denies events or conversations happened
  • Insults your choice of friends
  • Controls your social life
  • Monitors your social media and phone activity
  • Gets jealous frequently
  • Promises to change, especially if you don’t report it (the tears will look real)
  • Uses drugs or alcohol to excess and blames his/her unacceptable behaviour on you
  • Invades/ doesn’t allow your privacy
Please, if these things resonate with you, access support. It might be from a friend, a professional or an organisation (see below). But that hope you have that things will change will continue to be dashed, and that's so, so hard to live with.
 
What can we do?

First, let there be no shame.

Often, abuse that starts subtly and escalated to violence goes unreported because the abused feels shame. Let's help ourselves and each other by knowing the signs above and providing space for each other to talk about these things in a safe, non-judgmental way. Let's remember that what we hear initially from a friend or colleague will often be the tip of the iceberg. The person speaking to us might be checking to see if there will be heard and not judged.  The abused man or woman has had their self-esteem destroyed, they've lost trust in themselves. If this is you then sadly, you may already be familiar with these thoughts:
  • "How could I allow this?"
  • "I must be stupid"
  • "Maybe it's not that bad, I've never been hospitalised and he's always so sorry".
  • "Why am I putting up with this?"
  • "No-one will be believe me - he's so popular!" (Abusers often are - this is why I get the rages when abusers are described as people of good character and pillars of society etc etc bla bla - they HAVE to be in order to continue to abuse and not be suspected. Then if the abused does complain, the eye of suspicion could well fall on the victim instead. It's how they work. But changing the judicial system's understanding of abuse is another day's work!)
Male or female, if you believe you are at risk or have an uneasy awareness of a friend’s situation, again, please feel OK about telling someone:
  • Document all incidents where you felt abused.
  • Take photographs of injuries, broken household items, injured pets, damaged clothes.
  • Take screenshots of abusive texts or mails
  • Tell someone
  • Call Women’s Aid, the Rape Crisis Network or AMEN. 
  • Check out the #whatwouldyoudo campaign and #2in2U on Twitter. Feel OK about getting help and getting out, here there are some personal Irish stories that might inspire you.
  • Report this crime to the guards and ask that they record it.
The shame is not yours. You have not “provoked” anything. You are not crazy or stupid and you deserve to be safe and happy.
 
Nobody deserves abuse.

And now, with this new report on domestic and other crime figures being made public, we might find that this crime is taken more seriously from now on. As it should be.
 
Written by
Sally O’Reilly is the Family Psychology Expert at Family Friendly HQ. She's a Psychologist, Psychotherapist & Clinical Supervisor in private practice in East Cork with twenty years’ full time experience. She has a special interest in working with teenagers. For more info contact her through her site sallyoreilly.com or on Twitter @psychosal or Facebook at Sally O'Reilly Psychology & Psychotherapy.