Women's Aid depends on your support
Our Current Donation Appeal
Your gift of €73 will keep our National Freephone Helpline running for one day...and provide a crucial lifeline for a woman like Kate.
"I've never punched you. Tell anyone, and I'll leave you."
These are the chilling words that kept Kate imprisoned in an abusive relationship for almost 10 years. I talked to Kate recently and she has very bravely agreed to let me share her story with you today.
Ten years ago she was a successful businesswoman with an excellent job in an accountancy firm. She had a home of her own. A three year old son, called Nathan, from a previous relationship. A wonderful circle of friends. And she had her independence.
But then tragedy hit--Between the grief and the shock of suddenly losing her mum, the break up with Nathan's father, and the pressures of coping as a single mum, Kate felt completely alone in the world.
Then she met Mark and at first, everything seemed wonderful. It was as though he was exactly what she needed, as Kate recalls.
"When we first met, Mark was very affectionate. He put me on a pedestal, saying 'Oh, I adore you' and 'I've never felt like this'. He made me feel really, really special. I fell for it hook, line and sinker.
Over the next few months he started to change, but it was very subtle. At first it was like, 'Do you really want to wear that top?' and 'I don't really like the way you're doing that.'
The first time he got nasty we were having a meal in a restaurant and I was pouring us both a second glass of wine, when he looked at me and hissed, 'You put that bottle down, you're just after making a show of me. Everybody in this restaurant is looking at you. A gentleman pours the wine, you're not a lady at all. I'm going to have to teach you how to behave'."
Those chilling words, 'I'm going to have to teach you how to behave' reveal a lot about the root of much of the abuse our helpline staff hear about. Because, ultimately, it's always about control.
Control over what she wears. Over whom she sees. Where she goes. How much money she has to spend. How she should behave at home and out of the house. Kate didn't know it at the time, but this is exactly the process that was beginning in her relationship with Mark.
"There was I, earning good money and whatever, but what he said affected me. I thought, 'Oh my God, maybe people are looking at me, maybe I am stupid. It started with things like that, and I began to look to him for guidance, because I was afraid of getting him angry."
In addition to his controlling behaviour, Mark displayed an alarming degree of possessiveness of Kate. He would accuse her of flirting with almost any man in their company. He would even accuse her of flirting with waiters in restaurants.
He would apologise for his bad temper by trying to justify it -- saying he was just the 'hot-blooded type', and that it was really Kate's fault for 'setting him off'.
Then one day he offered to 'prove how much he loved' Kate, by proposing marriage. While she was wary, she was also flattered, and felt it might be possible to rekindle the affection of their early days together.
But rather than getting better, things only got worse ...
"As soon as we were married, things got really bad. He'd stop me going out of the house. Sometimes he'd lock me in. None of my friends would come round, and I wasn't allowed out on my own. I had no social life. I started to go in on myself.
He became very physical too. He would put his arms around my throat and drag me. Or push me up against a wall. Sometimes he'd choke me or shake me, or bang my head against the wall. He'd pin me against the wall with one arm and put his face right up to me and be shouting. I'm five foot three and he's six foot so it was quite intimidating.
He left bruises all over me, but he never punched me. So in his mind it wasn't violence, it was just him reacting to something he thought I'd done wrong.
And if I'd complain he'd say, 'I never punched you. You're just making a big song and dance. This is nothing'. He knew my biggest fear was being a single mother again. So he kept threatening to leave if I ever said anything to anyone else."
At this point in their relationship, Mark began to exert a whole new level of control that extended into every single area of Kate's life.
He moved out of his house to live in Kate's. But he refused to contribute to any of the family or household bills -- not even the groceries. Meanwhile, he rented out his own house -- and kept all of the rental income for himself.
He persuaded Kate to leave her job and set up her own practice as a home-based accountant. He also wanted to have a baby -- and before long Kate was pregnant.
"I paid for everything, the mortgage, the electricity, the phone bill, everything. He didn't pay anything at all. He would buy clothes for himself, but not for the children, that was down to me.
The economy was going down, so I wasn't getting much business. I couldn't afford to put Ciara, my baby, into a crèche, because it was too expensive. And Mark wouldn't let me go out of the house for the business. So I couldn't work properly. I was struggling to pay all the bills on my own. But he kept saying, 'they're your bills, why should I pay your bills?'"
What Kate was experiencing is called 'financial abuse'. Something we hear about so often from the women who call our Helpline.
And again ... it's all about control.
By keeping all of his own salary and his rental income to himself, not only was Mark shirking his responsibility as a father -- he was also engineering a situation where Kate had no personal money for herself. Mark had his own money and his own life. Kate had no financial independence at all.
Without financial independence -- she literally lost her freedom.
Mark was now in complete control of Kate's life. Before long, between her loss of freedom, the violence, and the financial strain, Kate was pushed to the very brink ...
"Mark went to work every morning and I was left at home with Ciara. My car insurance and tax went out of date because I couldn't pay them, so I was stuck in the house without a car.
Then the baby's buggy broke. He took it to get it fixed -- but he never brought it back. So because I had no buggy and no car, Ciara and I were stuck in the house all day, every day. I literally became a prisoner in the house. I couldn't go anywhere.
Every month, when all the direct debits came out of my bank account, I wouldn't sleep for about four or five days beforehand. I was petrified, and I would dread having to ask him for money. There would be a huge argument and he would say, 'right I'll sort it out for you this month but I'm warning you, you've got until next month to sort it out'.
I couldn't figure out what to do. I couldn't talk to anyone. I couldn't leave the house to get a job. There was nobody to mind Ciara. I couldn't see a way out. The only thing I could think of was that if I killed myself, my life policy would pay for the kids to be okay.
I didn't want to, I didn't want to leave them. I kept wracking my brain for another way, but I couldn't see it. So I thought, 'I have to do it for them'. This is an act of love for them. So I started to stock pile tablets.
I remember sitting in the church for Ciara's Christening, looking around as calm as anything and thinking that the next time everyone would be here in this church, it would be for my funeral."
I'm sure you feel as shocked as I was that Kate should have been driven to this. But I'm equally sure you can understand why. She had literally lost everything she'd ever held dear in life ... her mother, her friends, her job, her financial security, her independence, her freedom. All gone.
Now, even her ability to care for her children as she would wish was being taken away from her.
Shortly after her daughter's Christening, Kate tried to take her own life. Fortunately, she didn't succeed. She spent four days in hospital under psychiatric care, and was discharged on the basis that she would continue to be treated by a psychiatrist as an out patient.
It was during these visits that she was told for the first time that she was a victim of abuse. However, Kate was still in denial . . .
"It was coming up to Christmas, and they kept saying, 'you're in an abusive relationship' and I was saying, 'no, he doesn't punch me.' That's all I kept saying.
They said I should phone Women's Aid, and I kept saying no. Then one day a nurse brought the phone in and dialled the number for me."
Over the next few weeks Kate began to call us on a regular basis. Gradually she began to open up about all the things she'd been experiencing -- only a portion of which I've been able to share with you here today.
This is why our Helpline is so vital to women trapped in violent relationships -- you see, it's so much easier to open up and speak to a voice on the other end of a phone.
With the help of our amazing supporters -- understanding and generous people just like you -- we listen to their stories ... we offer support ... we explore options ... we help develop safety plans ... and we never judge. We help women see that they are the victims of abuse. That they are not alone. That it's not their fault. And that a future free from their pain and fear is possible.
"The first calls were just dipping my toe in the water. I liked the anonymity. They let me talk through things. And then they let me know that what was happening to me was abuse, but they went through it very slowly with me. I started saying things I hadn't said to friends, family or anybody because I was so afraid of being judged."
After about a month, Kate was beginning to open up when something happened that caused her to retake control of her life for the first time in almost ten years.
One evening shortly after Christmas -- while Kate was in bed -- Mark assaulted her son, Nathan, who was now twelve years old. Mark punched him several times in the stomach, but neither of them mentioned it to Kate. It was several days before Kate discovered the bruises on Nathan's body.
"It looked like Mark had rained about seven or eight punches on him. I asked Nathan why he hadn't told me and he said he didn't want Ciara to lose her daddy. That was the final push over the edge for me.
When I confronted Mark, he was furious, saying, 'how dare you accuse me of something like that'. He said: 'if you're going to take Nathan's word over mine I'm going to leave you.'
I said, 'Go!' I packed his bags and threw him out.
I'm afraid even to think this, but maybe if I hadn't made those few phone calls to Women's Aid, maybe I would have excused what Mark did to Nathan that night and carried on with him. I hate to think that. But who knows?"
This is precisely why it's so important to keep our National Freephone Helpline running efficiently and effectively. I consider it one of our greatest challenges to make sure we are here -- ready and waiting to answer the phone -- whenever someone like Kate calls.
Every single unanswered call is one too many. Your gift today will help us to rise to this challenge, and help us answer every call.
Thank you so much.
Thank you for your continued support of our services, which you can find out more about here.