Fr Kevin Hegarty
Roddy Doyle’s novel ‘The Woman Who Walked Into Doors’ is about a woman who is abused by her husband. It takes its title from the excuse many women give to doctors and nurses when presenting with their injuries: “I walked into a door.” They are afraid or ashamed to tell the truth.
Doyle powerfully evokes what the character Paula experiences from her husband, Charlo: “Shoulders, elbows, knees and wrists. Stitches in my mouth, stitches on my chin. A ruptured eardrum, cigarettes burns on my arms and legs. Thumped me, kicked me, pushed me, burned me…...raped me for seventeen years. He threw me into the garden, he threw me out of the attic. Fists, boots, knee, head, bread knife, saucepan, brush. He locked me out and he locked me in. He killed parts of me. He killed most of me. He killed all of me. Bruised, burnt and broken. Bewitched, bothered and bewildered … There wasn’t one minute when I was not afraid. He demolished me. He destroyed me.”
Every year, on the first weekend of October, the Catholic Church in Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland has ‘A Day For Life’. This year, Church leaders have chosen to focus on domestic abuse as theme of the day. They ‘wish to raise awareness of the prevalence of this issue across our countries’.
One in four women and one in six men experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. Forty-one percent of Irish women know someone in their circle of family or friends who has experienced intimate partner violence. According to the Women’s Aid ‘Femicide Report’ of 2018, almost nine out of every ten women murdered in Ireland are killed by a man known to them. The report asserts that the ‘dangerous patterns’ present in abusive relationships are often not taken seriously, which can put women at risk of assault or homicide.
Statistics can be revealing but often sound sterile. The information pack for A Day For Life includes Laura’s story, which enfleshes the gruesome reality of domestic abuse.
“My name is Laura, and I’m 43 years old. I have three daughters aged 22, 18 and 10. Naturally every parent will worry about their children. However, in my case, I feel I have even more concerns. I worry about their physical health, but more importantly, I worry tremendously about their emotional health.
“My daughters experienced a lot growing up, due to the fact that my husband was extremely violent towards me. Although he almost never assaulted me in front of the children, they undoubtedly heard an awful lot. They heard things that no child should ever be subjected to.
“During my many years of marriage, I was horrifically and repeatedly abused in every way imaginable. I had my jaw broken, teeth broken, was strangled to the point of unconsciousness on countless occasions. On one hospital visit, where I had obviously lied about what had happened, I was told that I had whiplash and significant injuries similar to that of a car accident victim.
“Despite knowing that his behaviour was unacceptable, I desperately wanted my marriage to work. I was scared 24 hours a day, not knowing when I would be beaten, degraded sexually or financially and emotionally abused. When my husband beat me up really badly in front of our then three-year-old daughter, I decided enough was enough….
“My husband left the family home, but he continued to stalk me and terrorise me for a long time after. During a weekend contact visit, he attacked our then five-year-old daughter. She was black and blue. I felt dreadfully responsible, and I still do. I hadn’t told many people due to feelings of embarrassment and fear, but after this attack on our child I finally gathered the courage to go to the police.”
This year’s A Day For Life is on the October 6. It is an opportunity to highlight what is often a hidden pain in our community. It is also an opportunity to be supportive to organisations like the Mayo Rape Crisis Centre and the Women of Strength group in Erris, who offer advice, care and protection to those wounded by domestic abuse.