A time of year when shadow of domestic violence looms large

During his time as a judge, Michael Pattwell saw horrific injuries caused by domestic violence, in his weekly column, he reflects on the issue.
A time of year when shadow of domestic violence looms large
During his time as a judge, Michael Pattwell says saw horrific injuries caused by domestic violence.

I SINCERELY hope that my column this week doesn’t cause too much upset. I have, however, every year for the last six years since I started writing this page, returned to this theme as we approach Christmas.

I do so for the very simple reason that if my words will prevent even one instance of domestic violence and disharmony then my effort in writing it and your effort in reading it will be well worth it.

I have to admit that over the years I became very sceptical about Christmas and I began to question if all this bonhomie, gift shopping and geneality covered up a much darker side to life for a goodly number of people. Not everybody, I freely admit, and there is always a great enjoyment of the season for very many people.

Through all the years I worked as a judge in the District Court, dealing with family law, I came to dread the weeks leading up to Christmas and even more so the weeks that followed.

The pressures that come into play as the season approaches can do untold damage. Not least is the pressure to provide expensive gifts for children that a family just cannot afford. A visit to any of the big toy stores these days will see thousands of euro being spent when the family is already hard-pressed to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. This in turn leads to arguments and rows, prolonged silences and in many cases even to violence.

The next pressure that comes into play is the effect of excessive alcohol consumption. Too many people associate Christmas with nights out, expensive meals and, most unfortunately, too much drink. My late mother was a great woman for the “sayings”, as she called them. One such was: “What’s inside sober comes out drunk.” How right she was.

One partner comes home from “the Christmas party” and for everyone that comes home merry and happy there is another who comes home aggressive, cranky and up for a fight. One word borrows another and before long the house is in uproar.

Uproar it is. Cross words are exchanged between the adults; the children wake up to the sounds of conflict; they shudder and shake with fright in their beds; sometimes they get out of bed and creep downstairs or across the landing and often are just in time to see the blow and hear the sharp sound of a slap. The parent assaulted is crying, the violent one is even more angry now and begins to blame the victim for ”making him do it”. (I did say “him” but it could also be “her”, though to be truthful — and I am almost ashamed as a man to have to say this — it is more often than not the male who is the aggressor.)

I have seen women come into court with horrific injuries. Scalded skin where boiling water or freshly made tea has been poured over them; eyes discoloured to black and yellow; bruises on faces and other parts of the body; bald patches where the hair has been violently pulled out in handfuls and wounds caused by the use of implements, including broken glass and delph.

There may be a good reason why I haven’t ever seen injuries to the same seriousness on men. Men, it is suggested, are very slow to report domestic violence. They are, it is said, afraid they’ll appear weak and “unmanly”. That having been said, I can only go by the evidence I have seen and all-in-all that does not favour the male of the species.

Strange though it might seem, I would have to say also that it is often in the cases where there were really bad injuries that the complaint is withdrawn by the victim before it gets to a full hearing. “I know now he didn’t mean it”, I have heard victims say. “I still love him”, another says. “I know I got a Barring Order but I missed him,” is often heard too. The aggressor gets another chance and sometimes another and another.

Why is that, I often wonder. Is it because the victim is emotionally dependent; is it because she is economically dependent or are there other social pressures that militate against a victim standing up for herself.

I can, in most cases, accept giving somebody a second chance. The problem, however, is that in most cases the second, third and fourth chances were already given before the victim got the courage to seek help. I’m all for second chances — where the consequences of the violence aren’t extreme — but where a “second chance” isn’t availed of there is clear evidence the culprit is not genuinly contrite and cannot be trusted again.

There is often a spin-off from a complaint of domestic abuse. Even though more and more gardaí are now being trained to deal with domestic issues — and that can only be a good thing — gardaí are often reported to be very reluctant to get involved and as a result one hears of complaints having been made and allegations following that it was not properly investigated. One time it was common enough to hear the phrase, “It was just a domestic”, but perhaps not so often now. It must be very trying for a garda to put great effort into an investigation, preparing a file and then turning up in court only to be told that the victim is not willing to proceed.

There have been frequent cases too where investigating gardaí have been victims of assault, sometimes serious assault. Which of us is unfamiliar with the dreadful story of the shooting dead of Garda Tony Golden near Omeath, Co. Louth, two years ago when he went to investigate a report of domestic violence?

An alleged instance of domestic disharmony surfaced recently in the Charleton Tribunal. I would like to think, arising from that case, that politicians will have learned to be more careful about the “causes” they champion.

I hope that those of you who have read this poem of mine before in this column won’t mind if I include it again this year.

It actually represents real events as they occurred in a number of cases, though I hasten to say that it does not represent a single event.

Thankfully, incidents of domestic violence do not always get to that stage but the reality is that some do.

On average, one in every two women murdered in Ireland dies at the hands of their partner or ex-partner.

According to the organisation Women’s Aid, 78 women have been murdered by their former boyfriend or husband in Ireland since 1996.


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



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

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