16 Days of Action: Intimate Partner Violence (Day 12/16)
The following is an interview conducted by Aurora from Women’s March Milan, with Irma P., a survivor of intimate partner violence from Italy. This is a heartbreaking and emotional interview so please be warned about potential TRIGGERS!
MASSIVE TRIGGER WARNING:
We do the interview at my place. Irma P. sits on my bed, I take a seat at the desk. It’s a little tense: “But will you ask me the questions …?”. I calm her down by letting her see the recorder. We will put everything on audio track, no need to worry about being precise at this stage. She seems to relax slowly and distractedly cuddles my dog who has curled up next to her, and she begins to talk.
The first time he was violent, it was that time I went to my cousin to get my nails done. We had been together for two months. Having spent the afternoon with her, outside Milan, I had not really made myself available to contact. When I got back to the city, and he saw the nails, he tore them off by his teeth in the middle of the street while he took me to his apartment. When we got to his place he closed me inside the house. He did not want me to go out, he forced me to do things … he spit on me * she says laughing with an embarrassed laugh, as if she were to be ashamed of that gesture* he then started making a scene, “I love you …” and so on. I went away and left him. He insisted to try again. I gave him another chance, and this then went on for six years.
He was violent practically from the beginning?
In a way, yes. At first, he did not put his hands on me, but he isolated me from my friendships. Every time I introduced him to someone, he would say “I don’t like them …”. Without him, I could not go out, but if I went out with him it weighed on me and I was too worried, so it was not worth going. Then he had erased all the numbers of my male friends * she laughs, perhaps because of the absurdity of the thing *. I took it, I can’t justify it, but you know … six years ago we did not talk about gender-based violence as we speak about it now, there was not all this information. I associated his behaviour with love and I endured it at the time, and then I continued on.
So even when he wasn’t hitting you, was his attitude always so violent?
There were some good moments, but in principle yes. A year and a half into our relationship we went to live in a small apartment in Lambrate (a neighborhood). The worst six months of my life. If he did not put his hands on me, he would verbally abuse me or beat the dog. I went to work in the morning and when I came back in the evening there was always something to argue about. If he did not like dinner, he threw food into the toilet; if we argued about what to watch on television, he would open the sofa bed but he would not let me stay on it: I had to sleep in the corner, without blankets. Once he closed me out on the balcony. In November, with short sleeves. He even put down the shutter … And then it was always all excuses. According to him, while apologising, we had to forget everything. I continued on because I was in love, but these things leave a mark on you. Even in a new relationship, your head tells you: “But if I do this, what will he do to me?”. You always live with the fear of the other person’s reaction, because you’ve been through it … in fact, I do not know if I’ll be able to find someone else.
When did you decide to leave that house?
I threatened to leave so many times. Every time he would taunt me: “Ah yes? You want to go eh …”, and he emptied out my wardrobe. Clothes, CDs, all my stuff was hurled on the floor. Then it turned out that I needed an operation on a cyst. I had asked him to help wax me before my hospitalisation, but that day we had a fight, so I had it done by my sister. When I came home that night and told him I had already resolved it, he forcefully bent me over his knees bit my behind. I went to the hospital the next day for the operation with a big bruise so on my butt and I had to explain it to the doctors. Of course, I lied, I said I had fallen and obviously they didn’t buy it. After the operation I had to take care of myself, I was afraid that with his blows the wounds would open up, so I decided to leave. In response he left a letter in the house on the day I went to get my things. He said he would kill himself, because of me. He said that I had to be the one to tell his mother. I left. It was April.
And then what happened? You got back together?
Yes, you know, I left him, but not because I did not love him anymore. I left him a little for fear, a little because I saw other happy couples and I understood that we weren’t, but love always made me go back. I returned to my parents’ house, thinking that if we didn’t live under the same roof, he would not put his hands on me, but I was wrong.
We had gone to spend a weekend camping. We argued over something stupid. It was a bad atmosphere so I told him: “If we have to remain angry, it is useless to stay here”. I told him he could even leave, I would have finished my vacation, since, as always, I had paid for it. He started shouting at me: “Whore … shitty lesbian …” then he took a kitchen knife and ripped open the tent. In order to stop me from finishing the holidays, he ripped open the tent. He broke my cell phone because I tried to call my mother. He punched me in the back, slapped me, hit me and hit the dog. People got scared and called the police. It was the first time I ever reported him.
And did reporting him change things?
He never put his hands on me after that time. But perhaps more than the police report, the words of my father stopped him. One evening he stopped at my home and apologised for how he had behaved with me. My father told him he would forgive him because forgiveness is given even to beasts, but if he saw me coming home with a bruise, he would send him into a wheelchair.
You managed to stay with him anyway? Did you think about leaving him permanently?
We kept dating. Things changed on my birthday three years ago. Just hearing him on the phone now made me feel sick. He had come to my house to celebrate, but I left him. He went crazy, he really was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. When he got angry, his face changed. He ripped up our pictures and spit on me, but in the end, he left. Only after that … I did not get my period A few days later I took a test and I was pregnant. Stupidly I told him.
And then how did it go? Did you keep the baby?
My family did not want me to keep it, but when you have something inside of you … Given the situation, I felt obliged not to keep it, and he leveraged on my indecision. On the day of admittance for abortion, he came. He made me a thousand promises. Having been born into a united family, I thought he would change with those promises. We went to an “Aid for Life” center which gave us a home. After the child was born there were events that I will never forget … after the birth, I had a strong, sudden change with my hormones and I found myself crying without knowing why, which is normal, and he, instead of comforting me, got angry because I did not explain what was wrong. At night, if the baby cried I always woke up, and if I had to breastfeed I had to go to another room because he had to sleep undisturbed. I had to do everything myself. He did not even want me to go to my parents’ house to get help from my mother. One morning I was in the bathroom and I heard him screaming at the 15-month-old baby in the other room. I went to see and he was basically scolding the baby because he wanted to be picked up by his father, but he had to finish rolling a joint. It was eight o’clock in the morning.
What did you think when you saw how he treated your child?
As long as I was the one to bear these things, I could. But my son … I couldn’t stand for that. In the past, I had left so many times, every time I reacted and told myself that I did not want this kind of love. But when the blows no longer hurt and only the kind gestures remained … and I saw them coming “Sorry love … I love you”, threatening to kill himself if we were not together … being in love I gave him every possibility. Then when you have a child, you say “Enough”.
And when you realised you wanted to leave, how did he react?
At first, I tried to explain to him that I was tired, that I lacked so many things … Remember that we still had to beg for money to buy diapers for the baby because my salary was not enough and he was fired a month before I gave birth. He was looking for work by sitting on the couch looking at the online ads. I began to deprive him of everything, there was no relationship and I thought only of my child. I went to the lawyer to protect my son. At that point, I felt more protected and I was able to give him an ultimatum because when I had asked the police before for help they could not do anything. Basically, if he hadn’t put his hands on me or my child, they could not intervene. Obviously, he did not leave in a nice way: he made a mess, he threw the nightstands in the air … but in the end, he left. It was over after almost six years. Finally.
Now what kind of relationship do you have?
Now he is an absent father, economically. Emotionally they see each other every twenty days. But honestly, I’d feel better if he didn’t see the baby. I do not trust him. Also because he had a bad example of a father growing up. When he spoke of his father he talked about him in a horrible way. His father and mother were like me and him, probably if I endured him as his mother did his father her whole life, I would have a son who in turn would be violent. Those who have no respect for their mother can hardly have respect for any other woman. But this I should have understood before.
Thanks P. Is there anything else you would like to say? A message that you would like to send with this interview?
I hope girls put love aside and … * P’s voice breaks, with a lump in her throat* Men, must respect women. At the first sign let go of everything because … * the tears are now falling down her face * it’s really not worth it.
In Italy, 31.5% of 16–70 year-olds (6 million 788 thousand) have suffered some form of physical or sexual violence during their lives. 13.6% of women (more than 2 million women) have suffered physical or sexual violence from partners or former partners. Rapes are committed in 62.7% of cases by partners, 3.6% by relatives and 9.4% by friends. Physical violence is more common among foreigners (25.7% compared to 19.6%), while sexual violence is more common among Italians (21.5% against 16.2%). Foreigners are much more subject to rape and attempted rape (7.7% vs. 5.1%).
Find the Italian version of the interview here.
Today is the twelfth day of 16 Days of Action to End Violence Against Women. For the remaining 3days, Women’s March Global will have posts dedicated to the various forms of violence face by women all over the world and raise awareness to #EndViolenceAgainstWomen.
Tenzin Kyisarh is the Communications Manager for Women’s March Global.