A survivor of domestic abuse, Sinead Kavanagh is speaking out so the issue can become part of everyday conversation.
“For many women, the only place they can turn to is the likes of a refuge,” said Sinead. “I know when it happened for me, that’s where I turned to. I left with nothing but the phone in my hand. I had no coat, no purse, no money, no numbers other than the phone and I had nothing to charge the phone with.
“I stopped a taxi and I said: ‘I know there is a refuge but I don’t know where it is and I have no money.’ And that man said: ‘I know where it is and you don’t need to worry about that and we’ll get you there.’
“And I got there and that was the start of me being given back a sense of who I was, because when I knocked on the door of the refuge they gave me back my dignity.
“I don’t say it to shock, it was my reality, I knocked on their door and they handed me back my dignity in the form of a five-pack of underwear and a toothbrush. I could actually sleep somewhere safe that night knowing that when I got up in the morning I could have a shower, change my underwear, brush my teeth, and feel human and begin to figure out where I was going to go from there.”
The mother of one returned to the house where she experienced the abuse one more time after this stay in the refuge, to pack what is known as an emergency bag. It contained her passport, bank statements, her birth certificate, a phone and charger, and items such as underwear and a toothbrush.
“The next time I left was for good and that time I left was because I’d had an incident where I was leaving with the dog for some headspace for a walk,” she said.
“The dog was man-handled from me and my arm was caught in the lead and my hand was very badly bruised and as I got out of the house and walked, I looked at my hand and realised that if that was a child, what would I have done?
“So I was lucky I got out before I had a child in my arms. Some people are not so lucky.”
Sinead spoke out ahead of a fundraiser for Meath Women’s Refuge this Saturday, Walk a Country Mile in Her Shoes. She said that domestic abuse happens to men and women across all of society and it is our shared silence that ensures it continues.
“It’s insidious, it’s pervasive,” she said. “The only way it can stop is if people talk about it but unfortunately, it’s such a grubby, dirty little thing to talk about. By talking about it, you acknowledge it, and you now have a moral responsibility and a civic responsibility to do something to change it.”
She was speaking about her experience on Today FM’s Anton Savage Show yesterday and referred to a text that sums up domestic abuse.
“Someone wrote into the show saying ‘beware of those who treat you like a princess because princesses end up locked up in towers’. And it’s so very, very true,” she said.
“All of a sudden you’ve no one around you, and when you need somebody you’ve turned away or refused the help so many times. There is no one to contact when you really, really need them.”
Sinead, who lives in Meath, is now a full-time student of psychology, works part-time, and volunteers with Meath Women’s Refuge. When it comes to helping other victims of domestic abuse, she says you must first recognise its signs.
“What is the abuse? It’s financial, it’s psychological, it’s emotional, it’s sexual, and it’s physical,” she said.
“If any one of those things happen, if you are told: ‘It’s OK you don’t need to drive, I’ll drive. No sure I’ll mind your phone tonight. You don’t need money, I have money’, that’s abuse.
“All of a sudden, the person you used to be starts to change. It’s like a boa, it’s getting wrapped tighter and tighter until you’re suffocating and you’ve nowhere to go and you cannot loosen the bind that holds and the only way to loosen it, is to run.
“If someone makes you feel fearful for making choices, that is abuse. If they hold the money but you don’t have the €5 in your pocket to get the coffee that you choose to buy, that’s abuse. Emotional abuse is: ‘Let me see how many words I can call you to make you feel like dirt on my shoe’. ‘You’re married to me, you’re my girlfriend, of course you’re going to put out,’ that’s abuse.”
She said a mindset shift is necessary to extricate yourself from an abusive situation.
“It has to get to the point where you realise that nothing here is going to change except what I change,” she said.
“Your strive to be perfect for that person is folly, complete and utter folly. No more will I live in fear. This is not love and you have to love yourself enough to say, enough, for me, for my future, I have to change this.”
She advised that if a loved one is experiencing domestic abuse, keep offering assistance but do not lecture them on what to do.
“Don’t tell what they need to do, just tell them that you’re there. Never ever stop offering,” she said. “Domestic abuse is a reality for far too many people. It has to be in everyday conversation.”
See www.facebook.com/friendsofMWRS or email friendsofMWRS@gmail.com for details on Saturday’s walk.
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