'˜I still suffer flashbacks about the evil I endured'
Victims of domestic abuse have related their harrowing experiences at an awareness raising event, marking the first anniversary of the setting up of Derry's La Dolce Vita Project.
Vanessa Craig was a victim of domestic violence for 18 years. The abuse she suffered was emotional, verbal and physical, she told those gathered at the conference in the City Hotel on Tuesday.
“For years I suffered in silence because I was too frightened to say anything. Plus there was the element of embarrassment. When I did tell people, almost all of the replies were ‘why did you stay?’ Or some people just got too embarrassed and didn’t want to know.
“In answer to why I didn’t get out, well that is easier said than done, because I had nowhere for myself and my children to go. I had no money as my ex-husband held it all, so I had no freedom at all. Plus the fear of him finding me and what he would do was unbearable to even think about.”
Ms. Craig said her mental health had deteriorated because of the constant put downs and verbal and emotional abuse. “He slowly chipped and chipped away at me until I became a person I didn’t know. I felt unloved, unworthy and useless. I became a nobody who felt I deserved what happened to me, yet I knew I clearly did nothing wong.
“I could cover the bruises and they would soon heal, but the mental scars never healed, and yet to this day I still suffer flashbacks about the evil I endured.
“The last straw for me was on Easter Saturday, 2012. I tried to take my own life. But the thing that will always stay with me is that when I lay on my bathroom floor in and out of consciousness, my then 14-year-old son was crying, ‘Mammy please don’t die’.
“The next thing I remember was waking up in a hospital bed where a doctor told me that I was very lucky to be alive. From that day I knew I couldn’t go on like this. I had to get rid of the root of my problems and that meant getting rid of him.”
Ms. Craig related how a week later she summoned the courage to throw her partner out.
“I was terrified. I was always told I couldn’t cope without him and I believed that He had tormented me with emotional blackmail to take him back but I was reluctant, I knew I deserved better than that.”
She found the courage to contact police and with help from Donna-Maria and the staff from La Dolce Vita, she got through the court process and her former partner was found guilty.
“He was sentenced in July and was given a two year suspended sentence which, I feel was just a slap on the wrist, because for what he did to me has, and will ,affect me for the rest of my life.”
Ms. Craig said that with the help of her counsellor and being given the opportunity to voice her anger in a good way, has helped her understand mostly that it was not her fault.
“God knows, if anyone was walking past the office and heard the swears coming out of me it would have made even a sailor blush,” she declared.
Ms. Craig said she believed children in school should be educated about the good and bad within relationships. “We teach them about sex education; why not this? It could save their lives. The hope I have for the future is that people get educated about domestic violence and talk openly about it.
“Also I would like to see the perpetrators, male and female, getting harsher and longer sentences to show them that what they did was wrong. They ruined lives and, in some cases, tragedy occurred”
She also pleaded with those who might know anyone who was a victim not to judge them, but to offer support and try to help them access support.
Ms. Craig said she now has a new life; a home and a loving partner and she thanked La Dolce Vita and friends for “giving me the tools and support I needed to take my life back” and became not just a survivor but also “a warrior.”
Other people subjected to abuse also shared poems they had penned about coming face to face with the trauma and lasting repercussions they have been forced to endure, and of the freedom and sense of self they reclaimed after emerging from violence.
One woman related how one Christmas after losing her son, she penned the poem following days of drinking. When she read it back while sober she realised it was the first time she had been honest about the abuse and its impact. The powerful poem contained the lines:
“She traces the tracks made over the years,
Each one invisible to the world but she knows them all by name,
Those tears, they were her companions in the hours of no-one.”
Addressing those who had gathered at the conference, Ms. Logue related some quotes from people in the community who were affected by domestic violence and abuse.
Speaking about the local people impacted by abuse who the La Dolce Vita project has been working with over the past year, Ms. Logue said: “81 per cent of the people in our service have also been involved with the PSNI to get Restraining Orders, Harassment Orders or PIN Notices from the police. 51 per cent of our service users have children in the home and have witnessed domestic abuse.
“Every person I have spoken to believes that the current court system in Ireland, does not safeguard you but, in fact, safeguards the perpetrator and re-victimises them.
“85 per cent of the people we spoke to said their family has become divided. There’s torn relationships, trust issues, loss of respect within the family home. 100 per cent, every single person in the past year has a mental health disorder: anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, OCD, this is just a few of the things they are telling me.
“100 per cent again have stated ‘My family just don’t know what to do, we wish we had a voice’. My answer to the people I spoke to is ‘you do have a voice’ and they started by telling their stories to me. They have come on our Facebook page, come into counselling, along to the working group, online support. They are now using their voices.”
Ms. Logue said that La Dolce Vita was growing, with a team of 19 working there today. “There is a need in our society for people’s voices to be heard, and that is why I say your voice is your freedom.”