Survivor story: ‘I didn’t want to ask for help. I felt stupid’

For 10 years, Kate was in a relationship where she was abused physically and emotionally, to the point where she tried to take her own life.

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Three years on, she’s telling her story in the hope that other women suffering like she did will see that there is a way out.

“If I could just say one thing to women like me, it’s that I know it’s hard to ask for helpto get out of an abusive relationship, but ask,” she said.

“I didn’t want to ask. I felt stupid because I thought, here I am, an educated woman, a woman who had a career — I wasn’t supposed to let this happen. I have no excuse. I felt such a failure.

“But I could not have stayed as I was. I would have eventually been dead because there was no way I could have lived like that much longer.”

It is estimated that every year in Ireland, gardaí respond to up to 11,000 reports of domestic violence but that the behind-closed-doors nature of most attacks mean many more go unreported.

In 2011 alone, more than 42,000 helpline calls were answered by local and national domestic violence services, and 1,686 women in danger were admitted to refuges.

The devastating impact on family life is revealed in another startling statistic: Over the past four years, refuges have had 14,500 admissions of children and babies.

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However, in 2011, women and children were denied emergency accommodation on 2,537 occasions because there was no room available in their local refuge or no refuge in their locality.

Women’s Aid, which responds to more than 11,000 helpline calls each year, will be 40 years old next year and its director, Margaret Martin, says that while our recognition and understanding of domestic violence has improved greatly in that time, the tools to tackle it are still lacking.

“Forty years ago, there were no refuges,” said Ms Martin.

“Women who had nowhere else to go had to get the boat and go to England or walk the streets. But there are still women who sleep in their cars because they are frightened.

“When you have women who are really high risk and you cannot get them into a refuge tonight, it’s a major worry.”

It was the Women’s Aid helpline that provided Kate with the support she needed to think through her options and eventually gain the confidence to break free from her abuser.

“There was always this little voice in me that knew things were wrong but it was drowned out by his voice. His shouting, his relentless put-downs and threats. All I could hear was him. Women’s Aid let me hear another perspective.”

The services mentioned in the Irish Examiner today and tomorrow are all open to taking calls and providing information, advice and practical help to anyone suffering domestic violence, but they are struggling with cuts to their budgets and a drop in public donations.

Kate says she could not put a price on the new life she and her children are leading since escaping violence in the home.

“I go to sleep at night in a peaceful home. I have laughter in my home. It’s normal, and normal is so beautiful after the turmoil the whole family went through. The fear of poverty is not nice and it’s not going to be a walk in the park but it’s not as hard as the hell you’ve been living in. Nothing will be as hard as that again.”

*Women’s Aid: 1800 341 900

*www.safeireland.ie

Day twoTomorrow we look at the options and obstacles when moving on from domestic violence — physically, legally, and emotionally — and we talk to Women’s Aid and other groups about what more needs to be done to tackle the problem.

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