Understanding and ending domestic violence

We are on day 3 of Women’s Aid’s 16 days to highlight and end violence against women and children. The statistics of women dying at the hands of a current or former partner are chilling.
In an attempt to gain an insight, I was recommended Don Hennessy’s book “How He Gets into Her Head – The Mind of the Intimate Male Abuser.”
It’s not a light, enjoyable read.
But it did give me a history of the author’s work with the Cork Domestic Violence Project, established in 1991, to intervene and help families where intimate abuse was a pattern.
The author has no hesitation in branding the behaviour of the men he studied as “evil”; a word that is very seldom heard in mainstream discourse today.
He describes a process of brainwashing that leaves the woman doubting her sanity: “skilled offenders have a talent for slightly adjusting the memory of any incident to their advantage. Target women begin to accept their abusers’ recall of events and to question their own memory. Gradually this apparent loss of memory may convince the woman that she is losing her mind. This process is more frightening for a woman than any physical assault.” p.38
“He has a sense of entitlement before he meets the woman. His entitlement is based on his belief in male sexual priority… This woman must put his needs before her own.” p.26
“I have never met a group of people more adept at acting the victim than the skilled abusers who are about to be found out.” p.52
“Years of professional therapy have been used by some skilled offenders to generate more reasons why they are abusive rather than any reason why they need to stop.” p.53
“The goal of all his tactics is to have his sexual needs met without negotiation. We need to remind ourselves that all skilled offenders could kill.” p.102
“The skilled offender knows that a positive social image is an invaluable asset in helping to avoid ever being challenged for his evil behaviour.” p.176
“Our tolerance of male sexual priority is underpinned by our culture. Male abusers support all interventions that do not challenge this priority.” p.219

Probably the stupidest, least informed question we ask is:
“There is an old Irish prayer that wishes that the person may be dead for a few weeks before the devil finds out that they are sick. My prayer for my clients is that if they are going to leave, they will have found a new security before their partner knows they have gone. Sadly prayer alone will not keep a target woman safe.” p.236
“He will threaten suicide or murder… Some of my clients have been murdered while attempting to withdraw from the intimacy that was expected of them.” p.236
So let’s stop playing the boring old tune, “blame the victim”.
We can do better.
We can ask:
Why do men hurt their partners?
“Being unable to understand does not excuse us from trying to protect.” p.126


Keeping my nerve on a road less travelled

When I first thought about home education, my son was 9 months old. I had met only one family, with a toddler and 2 children under 10. I knew no home educated teenagers or adults. Before this family loaned me their John Holt books “How Children Learn”, “How Children Fail”, “The Underachieving School” and their Education Otherwise (UK) newsletters, I hadn’t thought about the concept of children continuing to learn at home within the family, just as they learn to sit, crawl, walk and talk. Because I was born in Brisbane, I had a vague notion about the Australian “Schools of the Air” where children on remote farms maintained radio contact with a teacher and worked somewhat independently on their studies. We moved to Ireland when I was 6 and my parents’ idea was “the more education, the better” and for them, education=schooling.
I have to credit La Leche League and the concept of “mothering through breastfeeding” with giving me enough courage for each day’s challenges. My mother breastfed all 6 of us and I’m the eldest. There was never any formula in our house. I remember one brother having a bottle of diluted blackcurrant as an older child and that same lad, 21 months old when his “baby” status was displaced by another, asking for a soother. My mother got him one and it was soon discarded. No drama, no fuss.
La Leche League also hosts an annual conference, which has become an unmissable highlight in our year. There are often talks relating to education as part of the programme. Some of the most encouraging talks have been from parents who are home educating, telling their stories, being honest about what worked and what mistakes they made on the journey of accompanying their child’s learning. The conference bookstall has been a source of much take-home inspiration: Agnes Leistico’s books: “I Learn Better by Teaching Myself”, “Still Teaching Ourselves”, and Mary Griffith’s “Homeschooling Handbook”
We were weaned early, though. I first met a breastfed toddler when I was 16. I was highly impressed that when I took this child, aged 18 months, to the corner shop he asked for “babu” – his word for apple – and ignored the rows of chocolates and sweets. His mother loaned me her La Leche League book “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” 3 years later, when I was having my first baby. There was so much love and wisdom and many powerful, gentle examples in that book. It’s still a book I return to, and recommend highly to anyone seeking reassurance in following her/his heart in parenting.
So wobbly days, questioning myself days, wondering if this unusual path is really right for us? Dara Molloy from the Aisling Árainn network on Inis Mór, organised an “Alternatives in Education” day in Clonmacnoise in the summer of 1988 and from that, a list of home educators in Ireland grew and a newsletter “Sa Bhaile” (Irish for “At Home”). It gave a vital link to other people in Ireland whose children were learning at home and was a crucial channel of support and inspiration.
It’s funny how our ideas can grow and develop. I thought all my children would get a college degree. Eddie thought they would all do the Leaving Certificate (exam taken at around 18 years of age, on which access to college is largely based). So far, with 3 adults, we’ve both been wrong! The eldest did a few Fáilte Ireland courses in bar skills and hotel management after he sat the Leaving Certificate exams. The next did Leaving Certificate and 2 years of acting courses. The third is in third year of college (studying for a degree in music) without having attended any school or sitting the Leaving Certificate. He gained entry to college by studying piano at home and then attending a one year course, aged 16, in a local college and achieving a FETAC (Further Ed. and Training Awards Council) Level 5 in Music and doing well in the college entrance exam and audition.
I am amazed now at my daring, really. There have been times when I did the soul-searching: “Is this really the best path?”
“Am I cutting off some possibilities from their futures?”
When Darragh, now 27, was home from his travels, I had one of those moments and enough humility to ask him:
“Did I do ok? Did I give you enough? Do you regret the home educating?”
His reply was one of those “real Mother’s Day” gifts:
“Mam,” he grinned, reassuringly, “I LIVE in Hawaii!”