“Much of the country will be turning purple on April 29 as people show their support for victims of domestic violence. Go Purple Day is an initiative begun in 2020 to raise awareness of the support groups available – and Tusla is at the forefront of funding frontline domestic violence services.
Although women make up most of the victims and typically face greater levels of violence and harm, both men and women can be victims as well as perpetrators of violence in the home. The toll of such abuse includes loss of dignity, or self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, and not knowing where to get help.
People will know about Tusla’s core work in supporting children and families, but the agency’s Domestic, Sexual & Gender-Based Violence team provides national co-ordination, funding and support to almost 60 specialist services that assist women, men and children who are victims and survivors of domestic, sexual or gender-based violence.
Speaking about Tusla’s role, Kate Duggan, Director of Services and Integration (Deputy CEO), Tusla, said: ‘We are fully supportive of all efforts to provide improved and consistent services for those who have experienced domestic, sexual, or gender-based violence.
‘Over the last two years we have continued to prioritise DSGBV services, increasing funding and working collaboratively with 60 service providers to ensure they were further supported to continue their services through the challenges of the pandemic. The real impact of collaboration among services is seeing people like *Amelia (below) receive the support they need, when they need it.”
‘I could make no decisions. He dictated what food I ate, the clothes I wore and the makeup I put on’
The supports that Tusla has in place can make a huge difference in people’s lives, as Amelia* (20s), from Eastern Europe, can testify. When she came to Ireland from her homeland, Amelia had already been in a long-distance relationship with her husband for seven years. Also from Eastern Europe, he had been living here since he was a child. Despite their marriage, he would constantly make excuses about why he couldn’t obtain a visa for her to join him in Ireland.
When she eventually did come over, the reality of life in her new marital home in Dublin hit hard.
‘It began the very next day after my arrival,’ she says. ‘I was not allowed to leave the house unless in the company of his parents. For a year I only went to Dunnes and Lidl. I didn’t even know other shops existed.’
Amelia was being subjected to coercive control – emotional and financial abuse that completely undermined her.
‘I never felt that it was my house. I could not control even one euro. I was living there as a third party,’ she says. ‘I could make no decisions. He dictated what food I ate, the clothes I wore and the makeup I put on…’
Despite his bullying, she always found reasons to excuse his actions.
‘I blamed myself. I made excuses for his behaviour – “he’s tired; he has no other way to express his emotions…” As a victim, you blame yourself; you don’t want to see what’s really happening,’ she says.
Feeling guilty at the failure of her marriage and not wanting to disappoint or upset her parents back in Eastern Europe, Amelia kept the abuse to herself.
It was only when she witnessed her husband bully her brother that she realised he was repeating the abuse all over again, and that things weren’t going to change. That feeling crystalised shortly after she gave birth to their child.
‘I wanted him to go for counselling with me, but he refused. Then he would throw things. There was one time he threw something, and it almost hit our child. I ran over to protect the baby and glared. He looked at me as if he had done nothing wrong.’
For 18 months Amelia put up with the abuse, which included being slapped, but finally she’d had enough. When she left her husband, she did so with her new-born infant.
‘I moved from one B&B to the next, one day at a time because I couldn’t find a place that had not been booked by other people. It was very stressful. I couldn’t afford to eat. For two weeks I ate just bread and cheese.’
Her husband would phone her and threaten to take their child away unless she returned to the family home.
‘He always said, “your child”, not “our child” – he never engaged as a parent,’ Amelia adds.
Shaking and crying, and weakened by lack of food and from breastfeeding, in desperation she walked into Rathmines Garda Station seeking help. It was only then that her life began to change for the better.
Amelia was referred to the Tusla-funded Sonas domestic violence charity, which is the largest provider of domestic abuse support services In Ireland.
‘They gave me food, shelter, clothes… a place of my own. For the first time I felt I was not alone. The one thing that all abuse victims say to themselves is “No one will believe me”. Well, they gave me the emotional support.
‘They helped financially, helped with court documents; any visits I had to make to offices they would accompany me, if I wanted. Every time I asked for something – no matter what the hour – they were there for me.’
Speaking about that support, Sonas Head of Services, Siobhan Ferguson says: ‘Every year we work with hundreds of women and children that experience domestic abuse. Their experiences remind us every day of the toll domestic abuse takes.
‘Their courage and resilience also remind us that, with support, domestic abuse can be overcome. This is made possible through funding received from Tusla, The Child and Family Agency.
‘Sonas applauds Tusla for their ongoing and unwavering support to Sonas and the entire Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence sector. Their timely response to Covid-19 enabled Sonas to respond to the increased level of need for our services during the height of the pandemic.’
Thanks to the support she received, Amelia is brimming with self-belief as she tells her story.
‘I lost confidence when I came here, but with help I have been able to rebuild my confidence and return to my old self. ‘I was told: “You will go further than this”. It was having affirmations like that which helped build me up.
‘Sometimes I can’t believe how long I stayed with him. If I hadn’t got help when I did I would either be back in my homeland or out on the street,’ she adds.
That support from Tusla and Sonas has inspired Amelia to study for a career in social care. She has just completed her Level 6 qualification and hopes to work for Tusla in the future.
Amelia’s journey is, unfortunately, all too common. She hopes by telling it that she will inspire other women who are in the same situation.
‘Talking about it helps me recognise where I was and where I am now.’ Amelia urges those harmed by domestic abuse to ‘believe in yourself. Don’t be fearful.’
There are women in all parts of the country who are trapped in violent, abusive and controlling relationships and afraid or not knowing how to seek help. For Amelia, thanks to the support of Tusla and Sonas, the outcome was positive.
‘It was just like a miracle. I was lucky.’”
*not her real name
If you are experiencing Domestic Violence and need help, support is available from the following services:
An Garda Siochana 999 /112.
Women’s Aid 24-hour Freephone National Domestic Violence Helpline 1800 341 900 (or go to www.womensaid.ie).
Dublin Rape Crisis Centre24-hour National Sexual Violence Helpline 1800 778 888
Men can call the Male Advice Line on FREEPHONE 1800 816 588 or Men’s Aid Ireland confidential helpline on 01 554 3811