AN INSPIRING Cork woman is speaking out on National Child Abuse Prevention Awareness month, five years on from the day she reported her stepmother’s horrific mental and physical torture.
Cora Desmond had suffered disturbing mental and physical abuse at the hands of her then stepmother Bridget Kenneally, aged 49, from the age of six to 16 at their home in Youghal. Ms Kenneally was jailed for two years in November on a charge of assault causing harm to Ms Desmond.
Cora had been assaulted with a poker, brush handle, hoover handle and other items. She was also forced to consume chilli powder, mustard and vinegar as punishment tactics. The Youghal native told of how Bridget had referred to her as Cora-Ella because-just like Cinderella — “I was the one that was not wanted or love.”
While Cora said the pain of her childhood will never go away she remains determined to use her story to help others and call for improvements in the detection of child abuse in homes.
During Childhood Abuse Prevention Month — taking place all through April-she is encouraging young people experiencing abuse to break their silence.
“This is happening all the time. It’s happening in the house next door to you, it’s happening to your best friend at school. It’s crazy how well an abuser can manipulate a person into hiding something. My advice to children would be to tell someone they trust, even if that’s the local shopkeeper.”
She emphasised how the idea that mothers aren’t capable of abuse is a dangerous myth.
“Nobody ever suspects that a mother would do this. Sometimes we don’t realise that it’s the people that are closest to us who are the real danger. “
She described how each of her physical scars tells a story.
“I have scars all over my body from her. I remember the story behind each one. it’s amazing how vivid the memories are. Sometimes I look at a scar and wonder ‘how did I survive that day?’”
The retail worker described the effects of the abuse on her mental health.
“I was on suicide watch up ’til two years ago,” she said. “Things went downhill and I suffered a lot mentally. I couldn’t handle a lot of the memories. Even though I’d pushed them back I was reliving the trauma. My family would take shifts watching me in my bedroom. I had to have someone sitting outside the bathroom. I was timed in the shower to make sure I didn’t try to hurt myself. Even though the abuse is over it doesn’t mean that you’re fine again. People have told me to ‘get on with your life’ or ‘get over it’ but this isn’t something that really leaves you.”
She reminded abuse survivors that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“Sometimes the courts can be more difficult than some of the days of abuse you go through. However, it’s such a relief to be believed. I’ve had to tell my story over again to solicitors, to police and so many others. It’s gotten easier to own it. Now I can say this is part of my story and while she took my childhood she won’t define my future. I’ve taken back my life now.”
Cora said that since her father remarried life has taken a more positive turn. She added that her new stepmother has been extremely supportive and kind since entering their lives.
“I went from having a wicked stepmother to literally one of the nicest stepmothers you could wish for,” she said.
Cora shed light on the invaluable support she gave her leading up to her former stepmother’s sentencing.
“She used to sit with me and talk for hours. If I didn’t feel like talking she would just sit with me. It was her who helped me with my victim impact statement. She drove me to court that day and was there to meet me with my own mother after it finished. It was nice to have them both.”
For information on how to report suspected child abuse visit www.tusla.ie/children-first.
Children and young people in need of someone to talk to can contact Childline. The charity comes under the umbrella of the ISPCC (The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children). Children can contact the service on (0818) 277 477.
They can also chat live on the website or send a text to 50101. To find out more visit www.childline.ie/about-us/