In today's Ireland, dating abuse is something that's known but rarely discussed – a silence we at SHEmazing! want to shatter.
We're looking at real life examples of dating abuse, and how the victim fought to make their life safe again.
Here, we look at Cara's fight and how she overcame the control of her boyfriend:
I met Colm in our last year of college when we were both 21. We had the same circle of friends and often saw each other on nights out. One night we got talking and we had lots in common. He was great fun to be with and we hit it off straight away. I was really flattered by his attention and we starting going on dates and spending a lot of time together. He seemed to get me. He was such a charming guy and my friends all loved him.
After college, I started my new job in the bank. I was really excited to be out in the world and earning my own money. I started to make plans and thought about travelling with my best friend Sarah the following summer. It was around this time that I saw some subtle changes in Colm’s behaviour. He seemed really anxious and concerned about where I was going or who I was with particularly after work. He kept saying to me that "you can’t trust other people." He started to demand that I spend all of my spare time with him.
At first I thought that his concern was sweet but it quickly became suffocating. One time, when I wanted to go on a girls’ night out after work he would insist on meeting me first to escort me to the pub. I always said that there was no need but he pushed me to find out exactly who I would be with and if there would be other guys there. I told him lots of times that there was no need to be jealous. I was so embarrassed when Colm turned up as I left work saying that he just wanted to make sure I was safe. This happened every time I went out. He always seemed reluctant to leave me and I was beginning to find it embarrassing and harder to explain to my workmates. I tried to reassure him but he never listened.
When we were together Colm was very affectionate and he told me that I was his whole world and that we should be happy to spend all of our time only with each other. He said that I should be happy to give him all of my attention and started to hassle me about travelling with him instead of Sarah. He started to try to stop me from going out and soon his behaviour got more sinister. When I was out he started to send me text after text and he’d ring me constantly when I didn’t get back quickly enough. He’d guilt trip me when I rang him back, asking who I was with and saying how could I be having a good time without him. He demanded that I phone him when I arrived home. I was always trying to make him happy but it never seemed to work. I could never say or do the right thing.
I became overwhelmed with all of this. I felt Colm didn’t trust me. I didn’t like that he was keeping an eye on me and wanted to know my every move. I really became worried when Colm started to repeat conversations that I had with my friends. At first, when I asked him, he fobbed it off as me being paranoid or forgetful saying I had told him about the conversations. However, I became more suspicious when I had to go away with work and spent a number of days away from him. When I spoke to Colm he began to question me about information in text messages I had received and questioning me about who had I been texting. He denied that he had any opportunity to look at my phone because I was away and that he was just guessing.
That was the last straw. My gut instinct was that it was more than Colm’s guess work that allowed him to have information about my text messages. I felt more and more under his controlling, watchful eye and constant surveillance. I decided then and there that I wanted to end things with him. I told him that the relationship was over and that I didn’t want to see him again. He became very verbally abusive and threatened that if he couldn’t have me no one else would. He bombarded me with text messages and phone calls that night. I switched my phone off to try and get some sleep, but when I switched on my phone the following morning, I was bombarded again. It never stopped. I didn’t want to talk to Colm because I was frightened. I definitely didn’t want to see him again. His behaviour was too overwhelming and unpredictable and I was scared for my life. Even though he never hit me, his words and threats were like a knife. I didn’t know what I had done to deserve this and he kept telling me that it was all my fault.
When I went home to my parents’ house for the weekend I broke down and told my sister about Colm and what he was doing. She gave me a big hug and told me that she had been worried about because I hadn’t been in touch as much as usual. She had also gotten a few horrible messages on Facebook from Colm accusing her of breaking us up. She showed me the Women’s Aid website and she made me take their Helpline Freephone number in case I ever needed it. I also began to talk to my parents and friends about what was happening.
I didn’t phone Women’s Aid at first as I didn’t really know what to say. But some months later Colm began to stalk me as I went to and from work, letting me see him but not getting too close. He was still sending me threatening texts warning me not to see anyone. The texts were nasty and said that I would regret it if I started to see a new boyfriend. I didn’t feel safe and didn’t know what he was capable of doing. I started to hide away at home fobbing off invites from workmates. I was terrified of Colm now and I felt very vulnerable. When I’d least expect to see him – he was there. I became a shell of myself. I was alone, isolated from my friends and felt like I was going crazy. My life was dominated by my ex.
It was at that point that I decided to phone Women’s Aid. The woman I spoke to her was very supportive and understanding. She encouraged me to trust myself and she told me that his behaviour was not my fault. I soon saw that Colm was trying to control and have power over me and it had been working. Women’s Aid said that they would support me if I reported the incidents of stalking to the Gardaí, advising me to keep the records of his excessive text messages and phone calls. She told me that the Gardaí would be able to press charges under the ‘Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act’, and that Women’s Aid would support me through the court process.
The Helpline supported me around contacting my mobile phone provider for support on how I might protect myself and my information from my ex-boyfriend. I told them that he possibly had remote access to my mobile phone, as he had given me the mobile phone as a present. I was advised to get a new phone.
It felt good to be back in control of my own life and to feel supported. My friends and family have been brilliant too. I continue to get support from Women’s Aid, when I feel vulnerable. They support and listen to me about my safety and reassure me that I can contact the Gardaí at any time if I feel unsafe. Most importantly, they believe and listen to me. I don’t feel alone and life is getting better, step by step. I feel safe.
*Cara’s story is based on real accounts as told to the Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline and Support Services. Specific details and circumstances have been changed in the interests of protecting identity and to preserve the confidential nature of Women's Aid services.
To raise awareness of the issue of dating abuse and to raise funds for Women's Aid, we have decided to host a music gig in The Sugar Club on Wednesday July 6, where Róisín O will headline, and more special guests to be announced. If you'd like to support us on the night, you can get your tickets here now.
If you have been affected by dating abuse and would like to share your story to help others please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Feature image: DWS4.ME