If you’re a victim of domestic violence, don’t suffer in silence

In his work as a judge for more than 21 years, Michael Pattwell has seen many cases involving domestic violence
If you’re a victim of domestic violence, don’t suffer in silence

"Through my work as a judge for over 21 years, including working in the criminal courts as well as many days in the Family Law courts, I have, unfortunately, seen very many cases involving domestic violence," says Michael Patwell.

I HAVE written on this page several times over the years about domestic violence. I have also written stories in which it featured and even written a couple of poems on the subject.

It hardly seems necessary to define it but just in case there is any confusion about it, domestic violence includes physical, emotional or psychological abuse, sexual abuse and financial abuse. I have seen it defined as “a pattern of coercive/ threatening, controlling behaviour used by one person over another within a close or intimate relationship” but I would have some difficulty with that definition, particularly the words, “a pattern”.

“A pattern” for me seems to infer some regularity or frequency of the abuse, but to my mind infrequent or occasional abuse is as much domestic violence and, indeed, I find it hard to excuse even one incident of abuse.

Through my work as a judge for over 21 years, including working in the criminal courts as well as many days in the Family Law courts, I have, unfortunately, seen very many cases involving domestic violence.

In the main the perpetrators seem to be men but not exclusively so. In fact, only a very small number of cases in which men are the victims come to notice but it is my belief that there are probably many more that never come to light because of male pride — or to put it another way, a misguided sense of shame in many male victims.

Having said that, I must admit to sometimes feeling shame myself as a man when I hear about some of the awful things that men have done to women. Some are quite excessively violent and others are more insidious, consisting of gradual and subtle behaviour but with very harmful effects.

Some of the behaviour I have heard about includes the throwing of hot tea over the victim, pushing the victim down the stairs, punching, kicking, twisting arms and deprivation of liberty, to name but a few.

Among the psychological abuse there is the ridiculing of partners about their appearance, comments about the victim’s level of intelligence and even her level of education, allegations of inability to cook or do other household tasks, keeping total control over the family budget, even to the extent of the husband insisting on doing the shopping himself.

It isn’t as if we have to be reminded about these things — so horrific are some of the stories that they are never forgotten — but it all became a general subject for conversation in recent weeks after the Claire Byrne Live programme named Her Name Was Clodagh. That told the story in graphic detail of the familicide of the whole Hawe family in Co. Cavan in August 2016.

Clodagh Hawe was the victim/mother of the family and her direct family, the Coll family, have been campaigning to get more information about the awful incident.

It was announced late last week that following a meeting between Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, and Clodagh’s family at Garda Headquarters in Dublin recently, it has been agreed to set up a serious case review into the circumstances surrounding the killing of Clodagh Hawe and her three sons, and the suicide of the husband/father, in Co Cavan. That, I hope, will answer the questions that the bereaved family have been asking.

It would also appear that the Minister for Justice, having met with members of Clodagh Hawe’s family last week also, is to establish independent research into family homicides. That has to be a good decision. I’m sure there must be many questions swirling around in the heads of bereaved families that require answers.

Whether such enquiries will help prevent such events happening again remains to be seen. Sad and upsetting though the Hawe story is, it is not a unique story. There have been several like it down the years.

Closely related to familicide is filicide — which is the killing of a child or children by a parent. On the panel following the Claire Byrne Live programme was a woman, Katahleen Chada, whose children were murdered by her husband.

In that case Sanjeev Chada, from Bagenalstown, Co Carlow, pleaded guilty to killing Eoghan, aged 10, and Ruairi Chada, aged five, at Skehanagh Lower, Ballintubber, Co Mayo on July 29, 2013. Their bodies were discovered in the boot of Chada’s car, which he had crashed not far from Westport.

Mr Justice Paul Carney imposed two life sentences to run concurrently.

The court was told that Chada had decided to kill his children to spare them the shame of his fraudulent behaviour — he had embezzled €56,000 from a community centre to pay debts from online trading.

In Clonroche, Co.Wexford, in April, 2008 a father, Diarmuid Flood, killed his wife and children, aged five and six, before setting fire to their home and killing himself. Lorraine had represented Wexford in the Rose of Tralee in the early 1990s.

We in the Cork area also recall the anguish we felt in November, 2010, when a man living in the Ballycotton area took his own life as well as the lives of his two little girls.

The children were found dead in their home while the father was found deceased a couple of miles away.

The reason why I mention these historic cases is to show that both familicide and filicide, though thankfully not very common, do happen regularly enough. In one statistic I saw, it appears that 16 children died in Ireland at the hand of a parent within a six-year period in this, the 21st century, alone.

I’m not sure that any enquiries or post-facto investigations will improve the situation. There is still too much concealment of what goes on within families.

I don’t know whether that is because of pride, an over-active sense of shame, a misplaced sense of dependence or even fear. What is clear is that very many people, and a huge proportion of them are men, are not fit for marriage or long-term partnerships.

I know that education about relationships, the dignity of individual people and the right to individuality even within relationships, could help but the problem is, as far as I’m concerned, how to make up for the deficit.

I can only ask that victims do not suffer in silence. If you feel that your partner has made just one mistake and you want to give him/her a chance, do so, but always let somebody else know what is going on. In particular if, having given a perpetrator ONE chance and the behaviour is repeated, it is time to get out. By staying in an abusive relationship you are putting yourself AND YOUR CHILDREN in grave danger of harm.

Regular readers of this page have probably seen it before, but here again is my poem born of what I have heard in the Family Law courts.

THERE WILL ALWAYS BE FLOWERS

In the beginning

There were flowers,

Red, yellow, and pink roses,

Daffodils trumpeting love messages,

Exotic orchids in delicate china vases,

With cards, toys and tokens,

Vivid coloured sashes,

Lilies with gold and scarlet flashes.

On the first St. Valentine’s Day,

Twelve long stems and a real vellum card.

Delivered by a liveried man

In a white limousine.

In the good days

Sprays and bouquets,

Wrapped in lace.

Spring brought

Golden tulips

Struggling for space

In cut crystal.

Summer was

Sun and intimacy.

Blue forget-me-nots,

Woven game-keeper style,

Gave witness to ecstasy.

Three children later

True love hides its face

In the depths of red weals.

Blue and ochre eyes

Spill tears of pain

From wounds make-up conceals.

He doesn’t mean it.

I see his sorrow.

He cannot help it.

We’ll be grand tomorrow.

Making up with

Never-again promises and

Petrol-station posies.

Followed by cruel reality

Bringing new pain

In predictable seriality.

At the end

The veins in his arms

Stood out, purple and prominent.

The pale ivory of her skin

Turned pink,

Then never-to-be-forgotten blue.

Crimson crescents of blood

In her finger-nails

Betrayed her fight to live,

As the colours of the spectrum

Flashed,

Dimmed

And faded to black.

Come Eros, come Cupid,

Come out from your bower,

Come tend to her grave.

Let her memory empower.

Bring seeds and bring roses,

Bring sunshine and showers,

So that year after year

There will always be flowers.

(Contact Michael at pattwellsverdict@eircom.net)

SUPPORT CONTACTS

You can call Women’s Aid on 1800 341 900.

Mna Feasa, Cork on 021 4211757, Monday to Friday, 10am to 4pm.

Samaritans on their free confidential 24/7 helpline on 116-123.

You can email j o @ s a m a r i t a n s. i e or contact Pieta House National Suicide Helpline on 1800 247 247 or text HELP to 51444.

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