"I thought about cancelling this interview so many times, but I knew I'd regret it if I didn't share my story...I want to help others."
This is Aisling's story as victim and now a bystander of Domestic Abuse:
As soon as I got the safety order for five years, he disappeared. He completely obliterated himself in front of the family court judge - that's the only reason I got a five-year order; they could clearly see just how dangerous he was. But there were other women in worse situations than me who were only getting two and three years because their partners were cleverer in the courtroom. I was lucky he showed his true colours. But now I am worried, as I only have one year left on the safety order, and I don't know if he's going to come looking for me when it's up.
He doesn't know where I live now. But he could find me. He's not paying maintenance for our daughter, who starts school in September. That's the ace up my sleeve - if he comes looking for us, he'll have to pay money as I have a Maintenance Order, and he won't want to give me money. It's a few grand, now, from over the years.
I find it so hard being a single parent, but at least we're safe. I'm her whole world, and she saved me. That's when I left him - when I thought about her and what she was going to witness as she grew up, I had to protect her. Now if she asks about her daddy, I just tell her that he doesn't know how to be a proper daddy, and that's why he's not around. That answer won't be enough, though, soon - especially when she starts school and starts asking more questions.
I am now in a new relationship, for the first time since I left him four years ago. I couldn't trust anyone. In some ways, I thought I didn't deserve happiness; I thought, 'Who's going to take on a single mum with my past?' I was sceptical of any man who was interested in me, as to what their motive was - they couldn't just like me for me. But my boyfriend is the complete opposite to my ex, and my past is not an issue for him. He is kind and patient. We met in college; we met in a place where we were both trying to better ourselves. We were both ready for a new relationship. It is so different and strange to feel love again, real love - because it wasn't love before. I was so young, blinded by my naivety.
I met him when I was 17, he was my first love. He was five years older than me. I had no real relationship experience.
I didn't recognise the warning signs. He started with telling me what to wear. He'd put it in a charming way. He'd say, "You'd look great in this", but it was actually, "That's what I want to see you in" - this was the start of his controlling behaviour. Then, he moved on to my friends - he'd say, "They just want to see you away from me because they're jealous of what we have". He made our relationship sound extra-special - that my friends just didn't get it, they didn't understand how in love we were. Then, he distanced me from my family, too, always finding fault with them.
The violence was emotional, verbal and physical. The psychological abuse was the worst, though; it still affects me today. I mean, I can take a punch - it's the mental abuse that gets in on you, that you still carry around long after your relationship is over.
If he wasn't abusing me to my face or physically, he was doing it by text message. If I didn't respond to his messages, that earned me multiple death threats.
He never felt bad about the abuse. I don't think he ever felt empathy - he just felt sorry for himself.
Then a family member, a bystander of my abusive relationship, recommended a book to me. They sought advice as to how best help me, and this was it - to quietly support from the sidelines until I was ready to leave; that if he tried to break us up, he could push me closer to him and further away from my family.
And while I didn't get the book straight away, when I did, it was the start of the end of my abusive relationship. The book that saved my life was called, How He Gets Into Her Head: Inside the Mind of an Abuser, by Don Hennessy. That was my turning point, where it totally made sense as to what his behaviour was, and I realised he will never change. It was either I leave, or he could end up killing me.
I never reached out for support during the years of abuse, to an anonymous support phone line, in online forums - to anyone. I did afterwards, though. Women's Aid were brilliant. They helped me though all of the legal side of things, all of the court proceedings. They told me what my rights were, what his rights were, and then assured me that if I was in fear for my or my child's safety his rights were waived.
There were so many times that I tried to leave him during our relationship, but I would lose courage or he would convince me not to. It's true what Women's Aid said to me: that a victim will typically attempt to leave her abusive partner seven times before actually doing it. The book was the final push that I needed to leave him for once and for all; to say, "NO I am not allowing this to happen to me anymore."
His favourite form of physical abuse was to use inanimate objects as a weapon to abuse me, like the sweeping brush, where he'd hit me with it. He threatened to stab me with a fork, sometimes he'd just throw things at me; for some reason, he loved to throw the baby's bottles at my head.
I never thought he'd actually kill me. I had convinced myself that he was too cowardly, that he wouldn't risk going to prison. It was only after reading the book and other women's accounts of what I could see were near-death experiences, and some accounts of abuse from therapy sessions with the author who had subsequently died at their partner's hands - that I realised, that could be me. I had underestimated him; my counsellor afterwards said that if he threatened it, then he could do it.
You adapt to a new way of life, you do everything possible in your power to please them; like everything that they've ever given out about - like the house being messy, like the clothes being washed or dry, whatever it was, simple little things. I'd see what his mood was like and adjust my behaviour accordingly.
I never went to hospital, although I should have. Twice he split my head open on the corner of the skirting board. I just saw blood and hid from him.
I was lucky I still had all the text messages threatening and abusing me to show the courts as proof, as physical evidence. Because I never told anyone, and I never wrote a diary detailing all of the abuse. I should have taken photographs of my injuries, but I didn't.
I am the eldest child in my family. I didn't want them to know, I couldn't tell them; I had to protect them. The irony is that my younger sister is now being abused by her boyfriend. Thankfully, they've no kids yet. She now knows my story but still she can't see that she is being abused in her relationship; she says it's not the same.
The closest she got to seeing the light was when she took the Women's Aid dating abuse quiz on their website. The one question that she faltered on was when she was asked if there was ever anything of a sexual nature that your partner made you do, even though you were uncomfortable with it - she answered yes. I was shocked. But still she is with him. And if I push her on it, I'll push her further into his arms. It's heart-breaking. I just have to be waiting in the wings to support her when she's ready to talk and ready to leave him.
I'm just taking each day as it comes now. Trying to create a better life for myself and for my daughter. I know she's going to need therapy at some stage because of all she has witnessed. But I can't afford it. She doesn't trust men - it took her three years to hug my dad. I will teach her to love herself first, to love others second, and to stand up for what is right and assert herself when things go wrong. I want to be her role model.
If you know someone is experiencing emotional, psychological or physical abuse, let them know you are worried for them and that you are there for them. Don't judge or offer ultimatums - you could push them away, and they will never open up to you. Tell them that when they are ready, you will be there for them in whatever way they want you to be. Above all, tell them that the behaviour they are experiencing is wrong, and that nobody deserves to be treated in this way.
Of all people, I know you cannot make someone leave a relationship if they are not ready to do so. But you can still be there for them and point them in the direction of support services they can use to help themselves, when they are ready.
Abusive behaviour is nearly always a pattern of getting power and control over someone else. Validating a victim’s choices and encouraging them to make their own decisions about their life can help to break this cycle of power and control.
Please visit www.whatwouldyoudo.ie,