Clare* recently sent us her story, in her own words, to share with you as part of our One in Five Women campaign during the International 16 Days of Action. Today, Day 10, we are highlighting that domestic violence can happen in young, dating relationships.
What Clare's story shows us just how easy it is to become trapped in an abusive relationship and how hard it is to see the warning signs. Clare also had a very difficult experience when trying to leave her abuser but with the help of family and support from Women's Aid, she and her daughter are happy and safe today.
"I am 24 years old, I have one daughter and we live alone together with our dog. I was raised in two separate homes as my mother and father weren’t together from when I was young, but both homes were stable. I was just turning 17 when I met my ex-partner. We hooked up at my 17th birthday party. He was 21 at the time. Having a 21 year old interested in me at the age of 17 certainly felt thrilling at the time. The relationship lasted for the best part of 6 years and was mostly on/off.
At the beginning he was nice, making sure I got home safely and on time for curfew. He was attentive to how I was feeling on a daily basis and he never failed to mention how good looking I was to him, in fact he used to say that I was unique, which made me feel like I was, I felt wanted and special.
Things became different after we had moved in together when I had just turned 18. It started when he said he’d like to see me wearing clothes of a certain style because he had a better fashion sense and knew what he was talking about.
He then began doubting my relationships with friends because of their lifestyle choices. He would try to convince me that they were bad influences on me “because they’re nothing but sluts” or “they’re trying to keep you away from me because they’re jealous of our relationship” he would say.
Eventually I was convinced that he was right and that he was just looking out for my best interest and I was soon socially isolated from my friends. I never patched things up with those friends; out of fear that I would not be accepted for letting someone else’s judgments against them effect our friendships.
While I was with him I didn’t see or speak to family as much. He used to speak badly about my family too but I never ended up completely isolated from them. Although I am convinced if the relationship continued, I probably would not have contact with them.
I experienced social, emotional, financial, mental, physical and spiritual abuse while I was with him. As the relationship continued, I knew that it wasn’t healthy but I never considered it abusive until he began inflicting physical harm on me.
He had a severe gambling addiction. I remember one time he had gone gambling and left myself and my daughter waiting outside, each time he came out he was looking for more money as he wasn’t winning, he soon admitted defeat but according to him it was my fault he hadn’t won because of “the face you had on you” he said.
We ended up in an argument about how I felt it was ridiculous to blame me and that he shouldn’t have kept spending. That argument led to him physically assaulting me for the first time.
We got inside and he pinned me into a corner with his hand wrapped around my throat, as he snarled abuse at me, threatening to kill me and leave with my daughter. He then started to push and shove me around by the base of my hair. I fell to the ground and began to fight back by continuously kicking him in hope that it would stop him in his tracks, but it didn’t work and I never fought back again, because while I was on the floor he kicked me into my face with such a force that it threw my head back causing it to split open in two different places.
I never sought medical attention because he had said once he saw blood he knew he had gone too far and that he was sorry. Plus I was terrified, all I could think of was, what if they believe I provoked him? what if my daughter gets taken away from me because we’re in a dangerous environment?. That night I shut myself and my daughter into the bedroom and I cried myself to sleep.
Later on in the relationship we had moved to a different house, the physical abuse continued up until an incident had happened at the house, which gave us no other option, but to move away from each other yet again. I moved back into my mother’s house with my daughter, while he went to live with friends.
The relationship continued but it was mostly over the phone. This was when I slowly began to escape. I think being away from him and living at my mams gave me a sense of security. It was after he had continually lied and made excuses, to why he couldn’t lodge part of the money that we had claimed together as co-habitants, to help provide food and nappies for my daughter, or why he couldn’t come to stay with us so we could figure out our next move, that I called it off and said I couldn’t do it anymore. It took me the best part of a year to have absolutely no relationship status with him, as we had met up on occasion or we would try to give it another go, but no matter how many times he promised things would be different “this time around” it never was. I definitely experienced abuse after I left the relationship completely.
I mostly experienced verbal, mental and emotional abuse over the phone. As I slowly progressed in getting away from him he would often threaten to bury me alive, something I would be terrified of because I’m claustrophobic, or he’d say he was going to dance all over my face until I was unrecognizable, or he’d call me fat claiming how nobody else would ever want me romantically.
I began to see a pattern, as he would behave this way if I didn’t answer my phone when it suited him and it got a lot worse when I gained the courage to tell him that I didn’t HAVE to answer my phone to him or explain my whereabouts to him.
The time came when I decided to take out a safety order against him because of the repeated threats he was making against me. I was granted the order and made it clear to him that the responsibility of access to my daughter was his alone, as he had threatened to kidnap her from me on different occasions so I was not happy to make negotiations between just us. I remember him telling me at this point that God would punish me for “doing” this to him, as we shared the same religious views.
The first time I contacted Women’s Aid was after the relationship had ended for posttraumatic purposes and I found them to be extremely resourceful and helpful. After reading a book I gained understanding about what I had experienced, I like to say that it saved my life. It was called “How he gets into her head, the mind of the abuser” by author Don Hennessey.
I feel that this experience has affected me in a way that I find it hard to trust that not all potential intimate partners are going to try to manipulate or abuse me, because of this I have decided to focus on myself and my daughter for the time being.
Although it’s hard being a single mother I would consider myself to be getting on well, and I definitely believe my daughter is better off without her father, as she isn’t witnessing his abuse.
I’m also growing all the time and look forward to the day that I can say I’m completely free as he can sometimes plague my thoughts, but I’m sure it will come.
The reason I’m sharing my story is that I hope anyone who may be reading it will gain understanding that it doesn’t matter what your age, your background or your current circumstances, an abuser can target anyone. Also the victim does not do anything specific causing them to become a target for abuse.
To anyone who may be in an abusive relationship at the moment, I read a lovely piece from Poetic Style that I would like to share with you.
“Even when I realized I could not trust you, I still could not stop myself from loving you, Even when I realized you didn’t deserve me, I still felt like I deserved you, Because I had already given so much of me and invested so much energy, it didn’t seem fair to have to walk away with nothing.”
This spoke to me in a way that made answering the question “why don’t you just leave?” seem easier, because it’s not easy to “just” leave, but I’d like to say that if or when you do you don’t walk away with nothing because, from my experience, you gain yourself and your energy back, something that rightfully belongs to you. And you are not alone, no matter how much it may feel like you are."
If you, like Clare, are experiencing abuse in your relationship please contact the Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900, 10am to 10pm, 7 days a week. Or visit our 2in2u website to read more about abuse in younger relationships, danger signs and take our relationship health check - www.2in2u.ie.
*Name has been changed to protect identity.