A few days ago I read an interview with the sons of murdered woman Claire Hart. Her sons Ryan and Luke detailed their father’s history of coercive control, financial and emotional abuse towards their mother Claire and them. In the interview they said,
“We didn’t recognise that he was dangerous”.
Ryan and Luke spoke of their life with a father who would be instantly recognisable as a domestic abuser to anyone who knows what domestic abuse is. It is beyond tragic that no one in Claire or her children’s lives knew the signs and were able to direct them towards help. According to the FRA EU study of Violence Against Women 43% of women in the EU will experience emotional abuse in their lifetime. Yet few members of the public know the signs of emotional abuse and most awareness campaigns continue to focus on perpetuating the ‘battered women’ idea of abuse.
This is one reason why I refer to ‘domestic abuse’, rather than domestic violence. While I see domestic abuse of every kind as an act of violence, I feel continuing to use the term perpetuates the idea that violence must be involved in order for it to be considered domestic abuse.
As Luke Hart says, “We thought, ‘Well, he’s not drunk and beating us every weekend, we’re not failing at school, we don’t have behavioural problems.’ Those were the signs I was looking for, and because it hadn’t happened, we didn’t recognise our suffering, or that he was dangerous. From the outside, we were three healthy, intelligent children. No one seemed concerned that much was wrong, because we were doing so well.”
We are failing the victims of abuse and their children if the children of murderers are unaware that their parent is dangerous. Why when 43% of EU women will experience emotional abuse is EVERYONE not taught how to spot the signs of an abusive person?
A recent study done by the University of Limerick showed that emotional abuse is more damaging to children than physical. This research was carried out by Dr Catherine Naughton who said,
“Importantly, our findings show that it was young people’s exposure to the psychological dimension of domestic abuse which had a detrimental impact on their psychological well-being. Exposure to the physical dimension did not have any additional negative effect on well being.”
I wonder if we started calling it domestic terrorism would people start to care about the lives of women and children? For that is wholeheartedly what it is. It is psychological terrorism. The abusive person tries to break down your personality and control every aspect of your life. But if people don’t know how to spot the signs of abuse then how can they seek help to get out of the relationship?
There are key things to look for in an abusive person. People with abusive mindsets have:
- A core belief in inequality, so they believe that they are superior to others. They are usually very sexist and uphold traditional gender stereotypes. They are very status conscious and usually consider themselves to be high status people.
- A sense of deeply held entitlement. They are entitled to treat their partner like shit. They may feel entitled to spend the household money how they wish, to not help at all around the house, to be waited on, to have access to their partner’s body whenever they please etc.
The difficulty is that most people with abusive mindsets are very good at coming across as a “good guy” (not to say that all abusers are men — but the vast majority certainly are). After the murder of Clodagh Hawe and her sons in Ireland her husband was hailed as a pillar of the community, variously described as “a valuable member of the community”, “very committed” and “the most normal person you could meet”. (It was also erroneously assumed by many in the Irish media that he had a mental health problem). Domestic abuse is a mindset, a belief system. It is a very dangerous and scary mindset that must be extraordinarily common given that 43% of women in the EU are being abused. I have to wonder what percentage of men are abusing?
“That’s the problem — there are many ordinary men just like him. People pretend it was random, because then they don’t have to confront the difficult issues causing it: the way men can behave and what they believe. He was willing to destroy the world before he changed his beliefs.” Luke Hart said of the community who would prefer to pretend this was a one off than to look at the issues that cause domestic abuse.
When will the lives of women and children matter? At what point will we start to address this rot on our society? Does the figure have to go up to 70% of women being abused? 80%? How many need to die? In Australia more than 2 women a week are murdered by their partners or ex- partners. The country has a self admitted toxic masculinity problem. It has a domestic terrorism problem. If we were to teach our children how to relate respectfully and teach them what the signs of abuse are then we could end this in a generation.
This is a non exhaustive list of some signs of abuse, if you recognise any of these in your or anyone else’s relationship please call Women’s Aid for advice help and support:
Consistent, deliberate disrespectful behaviour.
Isolation/Cutting you off from family and friends
Demeaning/belittling you and your contributions
Sexually assaulting you/demanding sex/forcing you to do things you don’t want to do.
Financially controlling you or taking your money.
Shouting at you/calling you names/talking down to you
Spying on you
Physical violence of any kind
Any attempts to control you or your behaviour
I spoke about emotional abuse recently at an event for secondary school aged girls. One 15 year old girl said, “This talk helped me to understand more about emotional abuse and how to spot it in the early stages.”
Every school age child needs this information. Why aren’t they getting it?