'We have to begin to believe the women' — Don Hennessy on The Ray D'Arcy Show

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.

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The home is the most dangerous place on Earth — Don Hennessy on Newstalk

Our newest release Steps to Freedom — Escaping intimate control is out next Friday, and a couple of weeks ago Don Hennessy had a chat with Seán Moncrieff on Newstalk about the main topic of the book: domestic violence.

Seán explained that 'the term "domestic violence" can often describe something beyond domestic violence: it can describe a highly dysfunctional relationship where one partner effectively controls the behaviour of the other. Both women and men can find themselves in such relationships, and the numbers in Ireland are thought to be in the hundreds of thousands.'

As Don put it during the interview, 'the home is the most dangerous place on Earth and there are lots of different forms of violence going on within the home, and lots of psychological and emotional abuse as well.' Domestic violence is not just about physical violence, but also about all those kinds of violence based on the desire to control the other person in the relationship.

What are the signs that indicate we are dealing with an abusive relationship? Don pointed out that 'the primary thing that happens is that the target person takes the blame for what's going on. Instead of looking at his behaviour, she examines her own actions and she begins to tell herself "if I don't say that, if I change my approach to that then he won't be upset and then I'll have a reasonably good relationship." She tries to improve herself rather than condemn him.' 

It is very difficult for the victims to realise what's actually going on, to realise that they're victims. Seán read a message of a listener that proves this perfectly: 'My friend is in an abusive relationship. We have all tried to warn her, help her, but she refuses to believe anything is wrong. She's in love. We're all worried she'll end up dead.' Don, who's been a relationship counsellor for several years, told: 'the person who's being controlled may never know. I've met women in their eighties controlled all their lives that defined the relationship as difficult or up and down, but when I say "no, you've never been in charge of your own life", it becomes a shock to them to realise that any decision that was ever made in the relationship, if it was a big decision, was made by him.'

The whole interview can be found on Newstalk's archive. If you want to know more about domestic violence, abusive relationships and how to find a way out of it, get your copy of Steps to Freedom.

'A Violation Against Women' Opening Speech by Dr Harry Barry

Dr Harry Barry officially launched A Violation Against Women: What Happened to Me at Our Lady of Lourdes by Kathleen Ward. Dr Barry is a medical doctor based in Louth and specialises in the area of mental health and, in particular, depression and anxiety. He is the author of several bestselling books, including Flagging the Screenager. We've reposted Dr Barry's introduction below.

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'It is a great pleasure to be asked to launch Kathleen’s book – ‘A Violation against women’. Kathleen is an extraordinary woman and it has been a privilege to know her.

It is entirely appropriate that we are launching this book in Drogheda – as the Lourdes Hospital has unfortunately become synonymous nationally with a particular period of history of poor obstetric care, lack of appropriate supervision, followed by a shameful lack of accountability by those responsible at many different levels for the safety and well – being of women in their care.

Is there anything more important than the emergence of new life into the world – the birth of a child and the safety of the mother who brings this miracle about? The least women who enter our hospitals to deliver new babies into the world should expect is kindness, honesty, dignity and above all respect.

And yet during this dark time in our history and indeed for similar periods in the not too recent past – women have not received this level of care and indeed their lives and bodies have been put at risk by levels of care which are often not acceptable.

Out of this darkness – Kathleen has shone a light and has been a brave and often solitary voice for so many women who have not been treated with the dignity and respect and levels of care that should be the normal in any civilized society.

This book is an extraordinary story of one woman’s fight for recognition and justice against a system which in many cases shamefully tried to side- line and push into a dark corner the injustices carried out by those people hiding behind systems of power and control on unsuspecting women who made only one mistake – that of trusting that those who were tasked with the proper running of our obstetric services at every level.

She was a lone voice crying in the wilderness and all the more to be admired for her courage and bravery in continuing her battle against all the odds. Her book is also the story of what it was like to be reared and live in the Ireland we have all but left behind – the good and the bad.

But most of all for me – it is a wakeup call that the violations against women that have been perpetuated in the past must never be allowed to be repeated and it is the responsibility of us all to make sure this never happens again.

Kathleen you are an extraordinary woman and your family and friends who are here tonight to share this launch will testify to this truth. You have finally, shown a mirror to every man and woman in the Ireland we love so well, reflecting back to us values such as truth, honesty, human respect and dignity that we should all both aspire to and demand from those we allow the privilege of caring for us when we are most vulnerable.'

- Dr Harry Barry, Thursday October 29, 2015