A staggering 43,000 calls were received by Gardaí on domestic abuse incidents in 2020 – an increase of 17% on 2019, according to figures obtained by the Irish Examiner. And nearly two years of pandemic restrictions have had a significant impact on people living in abusive situations. Today with Claire Byrne reporter Brian O'Connell spoke to some women who told him they’ve been failed by the Courts Service and the way in which it deals with domestic violence and coercive control cases. The first woman Brian spoke to is still living with her partner and she told Brian that her partner has engaged in coercive control that sometimes leads to violent abuse. She doesn’t believe that the courts are treating her case with the urgency it deserves. She started by giving Brian a little bit of background on her relationship:
"He told me he loved me after a few months. It was very, you know, if you were to write it on paper what you’d like if you were to meet someone, you know, this was it. It’s very funny – when you’re in it, you don’t see things. I thought we had a great relationship because we never fought."
This was because, the woman believes, her partner walked away from confrontation or turned things around so that she was the one who appeared to be in the wrong. Her partner remains in the house:
"He’s still in the house. He does nothing. Absolutely nothing in the house. He claimed that I was mentally ill. That I was abusive towards him. You know how there’s a term, 'I was pulling my hair out’? I was actually pulling my hair out in pain – the mental pain and the mental anguish I was experiencing."
The law is the law, but this woman believes her fate is down to the judge in the court on the day. This has led to her being stuck in the house with a manipulative man:
"He’s not shouting at me. He’s not throwing me against walls. He’s not telling me I can’t see anyone. He’s doing it in a very passive-aggressive way. So, he’s getting into my head. He made me feel that everyone outside of this house hated me."
As her partner wasn’t physically abusive until the end of the relationship, the woman only gradually realised she was being persistently emotionally manipulated. Then, when she did realise what was happening, she was frustrated by the slowness of the courts system to deal with her case:
"Because I was so confused and I had no vocabulary or words to describe or even talk to anyone why I was so upset and confused all the time. Loneliness was something I never experienced until I got into this relationship."
This woman told Brian that she’s had several court dates adjourned last year because of Covid and also some others because the judge has decided – for whatever reason – to adjourn, leaving her, she says, in limbo.
The second person Brian spoke to secured a conviction against her former partner for an assault which left her with significant injuries, requiring hospital care. She told Brian some of her story:
"I’m a survivor of domestic abuse. I’ve been in the courts system the last year. I feel every time I have entered the courts system, the minute I’ve walk through the doors, I’m just another bystander."
The woman told Brian how she had to build herself up prior to a court date, to prepare herself mentally for weeks for the stress of the day, only to be told when the day arrived, that the case has been adjourned.
"And there’s no consideration to my mental health, how that would impact my weeks afterwards, or that day."
Her ex-partner was given a sentence of two years with nine months suspended for assault. When Brian said that securing a conviction in the first place must have been difficult, the woman told him she hated to say it, but she considered herself lucky because her assault happened after the Domestic Violence Act came into law and it was because of that law being on the books that her ex-partner got jail time. She told Brian about the assault, but while she couldn’t remember what in particular had triggered her ex-partner, she did remember the appalling details of what he did to her:
"I had a laceration over the eye, I had a concussion, I received multiple stitches and I swallowed intense amounts of blood."
Fortunately, the woman had good neighbours, so when she finally got away, she was able to turn to them for support. You can hear Brian’s full report on Today with Claire Byrne by going here.
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, there are contact details for support agencies available on RTÉ’s Helplines page here.