A couple of weeks ago, Don Hennessy joined Ray D'Arcy in the RTÉ Radio 1 studio to discuss Steps To Freedom — Escaping intimate control, our newest release.
During the interview, Ray asked Don about his career as a relationship counsellor in Cork, and Don had the possibility to explain why and how he specialised on domestic violence. He told that in 1989 the "Cork domestic violence project" was formed: 'We ran a group for five or six years with these men, abusers, and we ran a group at the same time with the women living with these abusers', Don said. 'For the first three years, we thought we were doing great, and then we began to realise that something wasn't adding up, that maybe what we were doing wasn't helpful at all. In some cases, we thought it was being dangerous because what we discovered was that the women being abused were expecting us to change their partners for them, and we realised we couldn't do that. All that was happening was that the men were learning new tricks from each other in the group on how to control their partners.'
They continued to work with these abusers, recording them and trying to figure out what was going on in the background. 'We spent three or four years trying to establish a language to describe what these men were doing. We had some experience working with paedophiles. People who worked with paedophiles on a regular basis came out with a description of how these men operated, and it took us a while to realise that our guys were doing exactly the same thing: targeting, setting up and grooming, exactly the same process. The only thing is that the guys who are doing it to adult women are actually better than the paedophiles in doing it because they can do it in a way that's acceptable in the community.'
Another important topic Ray and Don talked about is the difficulty for women to be believed in court. 'There's a new domestic violence bill coming down the tracks', Ray said, 'and one of the things that it's specified in is coercive control, which is what you talk about here and it means that somebody could present without any bruises or any history of violence but could say that their partner is controlling them—very difficult to prove.' Don confirmed that it's impossible to prove, unfortunately, and added: 'What we have to do is to begin to believe the women, because women in these situations are normally truthful and men in these situations tell lies repeatedly. When they go to court the men's lies are accepted, men are lying in a specific type of way and the women's truth is ignored'.
'For the last fifty years', Don said, 'the services have only met the women. Nobody has sat down with these guys to try and figure them out, and that's what needs to happen: we need to define the problem as a male problem and men need to talk about it.'
He also told how, after publishing his first book—How He Gets Into Her Head—, he got not only positive and grateful reactions but also angry reactions. 'When I went to publish my second book I found it difficult to publish it, so I had to go and sit down with Seán in Liberties Press to get somebody who would do it, and he agreed to do it'. We are indeed very proud of giving you the opportunity to read Steps to Freedom: get your copy at this link.