Monday 16 September 2019

‘It began when I was pregnant’ - young mother speaks about domestic abuse nightmare

Perpetrators of domestic abuse often present no red flags at the start of a relationship. Denise Smith talks to one woman about how she became trapped in violence and then found her way out.

"You are so blinded, you take so much of the guilt and you feel like you are tearing the family up and it’s your fault" - domestic abuse survivor Jennifer Carroll pictured at her parents home. Picture: Caroline Quinn

Denise Smith

There were no warning signs or red flags when Jennifer Carroll (30) began dating her ex-partner.

Having moved to London to pursue a degree in acting at the age of 19, the banker suffered prolonged emotional and physical abuse which began when she fell pregnant with her four-year-old son.

“I moved to London after school for college and that is how we met; we were friends initially and then a relationship formed over time.

“At the beginning, he was kind and gentle, there wasn’t anything amiss. But he was also very possessive and controlling, he wanted to know where I was at every minute of the day. It was my first relationship and I mistook that for love — I was flattered.


"If I didn’t answer his calls, I would be bombarded with messages, whereas, when he went out, he could disappear for hours without letting me know where he was.

“I didn’t realise it at the time, but it started with emotional abuse. He would say things to deliberately hurt me or pinpoint my insecurities to make me paranoid about myself.

“He teased me about everything. He ridiculed my appearance, my friends and even belittled my degree. He was also very jealous — at the beginning, I was flattered. I think that’s how a lot of young girls feel. I just thought that he cared.

“At that stage, he wasn’t physical with me, so I didn’t realise he wasn’t treating me badly but I also knew he wasn’t treating me the way I had always hoped for.

"As I got older and saw my friends in relationships that had trust and respect at their core, I understood what was missing, but I always thought things would get better.”

When the health and fitness enthusiast fell pregnant in 2015, the relationship deteriorated further.

“The physical abuse began when I was pregnant. When we found out we were having a baby, we were both in college. He dropped out but couldn’t get work full-time and became depressed.

“He turned to alcohol and began to drink more and more regularly and that made him aggressive. At the beginning, he was only mentally abusive when he was drinking, but as time went on, that changed.”

Working two jobs to keep the family afloat, Jennifer endured harrowing abuse, all while attempting to keep her unborn baby safe.

Over the course of the pregnancy and the first year of her son’s life, Jen was subjected to violent and prolonged attacks that decimated her life.

Bravely detailing the abuse she says: “He punched, kicked, choked and tried to put a cigarette out on me. He cut my cheek with a key while I was driving and would repeatedly throw things at me, he even threw a metal chair at me.

“He was mostly careful to hide my injuries, so nobody would suspect, but he once threw a hair brush across the room and it cracked my forehead open and he panicked because it bled so badly. He freaked out because it was so visible.

“I lost count of the number of black eyes I had and there were constantly bruises on my body — more so because he knew people wouldn’t see them. A nurse once questioned me about it. She knew exactly what it was, but I was too scared to say what was happening.

“After the first incident, he didn’t touch me again until weeks after. I blamed the alcohol. I saw alcohol as the issue. I did blame myself a lot at the beginning because we had a very open and honest relationship.

"You are so blinded, you take so much of the guilt and you feel like you are tearing the family up and it’s your fault" - domestic abuse survivor Jennifer Carroll pictured at her parents home. Picture: Caroline Quinn

“He was emotionally vulnerable and he opened up to me and told me things that he had never told anybody else, so I always felt like I was the only person that completely understood him and that the way he was behaving wasn’t his fault, he just needed help.

“I thought if I was to walk away and anything was to happen to him, it would be my fault because he was in a vulnerable position.

“I kept it a secret for two years until I finally told a friend. My son came to an age, he was just over a year old, and I knew I had to get us out of the situation. I didn’t want him to witness anything.

“A lot of people will say ‘I don’t know how you stayed there for so long when you had a child,’ but you are so blinded, you take so much of the guilt and you feel like you are tearing the family up and it’s your fault.

“I always felt like I was taking my son’s chance of having a father away and my ex would tell me it would be my fault if our son didn’t have a relationship with him, and that he would hold it against me.

“I believed he could be fixed and it was the alcohol that we needed to remedy, and once that was sorted, things would go back to normal. Of course, that’s not the truth.

“He was never abusive to our son, but it got to the stage that he was physical with me that he had knocked me out a number of times, and if he was under the influence and decided to take our son out of the house, anything could happen.

“My life changed forever when I told my friend. She stayed over with me and rang the police when he showed up, and from then, there was no going back. I knew once I told her, that was it because she was never going to let me go back because I was in danger.”

Making the decision to move home to Ireland, with the support of her parents, Joe and Barbara, and her network of friends, Jen began to slowly rebuild her life.

Setting up an Instagram account @jensjourney, which documented her 12-stone weight loss and her clean-eating regime, the devoted mum began to heal.

“Leaving the relationship was the best decision I ever made. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. Even though it feels like your whole world has fallen apart —and my whole world did fall apart — things will get better.

“I have so much more respect for myself. I am proud of myself. There are days when I think back and feel guilt and sadness because my son was robbed of having a dad, but you have to remind yourself: if someone is that violent, things will only continue to get worse.

“Nobody deserves to live like that — there is no excuse for it and you will have a much better life when you are free.

“There will be a point when you will be happy again, you are stronger than you know.”

Warning signs of an abusive relationship

EVERYONE has arguments and everyone disagrees with their partners, family members and others close to them from time to time. However, if this begins to form a consistent pattern and you feel afraid of your partner, then this in a sign of domestic violence.

You may feel like you have no power over your life and that you are being controlled by your partner. So here, we have listed some warning signs to help you make sense of your situation. Any one of the following signs is serious. You do not need to experience several, or all of them, for your relationship to be abusive.

⬤ You are afraid of your partner

⬤ You are constantly ‘walking on eggshells’ because of their mood swings

⬤ You spend your time working out what kind of mood they are in and the focus is always on their needs

⬤ They lose their temper easily and over minor things

⬤ They have hit you, or almost hit you, and/or your children.

⬤ Your partner has been abusive in a previous relationship

⬤ They criticise your family and friends and/or makes it difficult for you to see them or talk to them on your own

⬤ They call you names and threaten you and/or your children

⬤ They are jealous and accuse you of flirting and having affairs.

⬤ They regularly criticise or undermine you in front of other people — including about the way you look, dress, and/or your abilities as a parent

⬤ Your needs are not considered important or are ignored, and they make the decisions in the relationship

⬤ You find it hard to get time on your own. When you do spend time away, they demand to know where you were and who you were with

⬤ They control your access to basic essentials such as the car, the family finances, food, the telephone and internet

⬤ They have forced you to do something that you really did not want to do

⬤ They have forced you to have sex with them or with other people.

⬤ They have made you participate in sexual activities that you were uncomfortable with

⬤ They have threatened to have you deported because of your immigration status

⬤ They try to control aspects of your life, such as whether you work, and where; who you see and when; what you can spend; what you can wear; what you watch or listen to on the radio or television

⬤ They demand to know the passwords to your email account and social networking pages

⬤ They have threatened to kill you, or to kill themself, if you leave him.

If you are, or think you may be in an abusive relationship, you can ring the Women’s Aid National freephone helpline on 1800 341 900, or the Men’s Development Network on 1800 816 588, for information.

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