by Denzil McDaniel

What does the term “domestic violence” mean to you? Do you even think about it, believing it will never apply to you?
Aside from my belief that, morally, we should never “pass by on the other side”, think again if you don’t consider that this could never come to your family’s door.
In times past, domestic abuse conjured up the image of a man with a few drinks too many or in a bad mood about something, coming home and physically hitting his wife.
Too often it was ignored. It was, and is, never acceptable and has never been taken seriously enough.
In 2019, domestic violence means that and much, much more. It’s increasingly also about men – still mostly men – playing mind games and manipulating their partners and controlling every aspect of their thoughts and behaviour.
In the movie “Sleeping with the enemy”, Julia Roberts plays a woman living in an idyllic beach front home with a charming, handsome and wealthy husband. But behind the romantic utopia, her husband cynically and gradually controls her in a physical and emotional way. 
The plot makes for a psychological “thriller.”
Sadly, it’s not a movie plot for many women in Fermanagh. It’s incredibly close to reality, without the wealth but with all the sinister controlling behaviour. For hundreds of women every day, this is real life. It could be happening to someone you know, or someone living close to you who is putting on a brave face. Never mind their occupation or social class; it’s happening to all kinds of women.
And unlike the movie where everything works out, the stories of women here do not end well. In some cases, tragedy ensues.
It’s a shameful blot on our society, and a dirty secret we need to waken up to and realise the extent of it. We need to understand what these women are going through by talking about it and changing our attitudes to women.
Nearly three years ago, I remember reading in horror about the deaths of Clodagh Hawe and her three young sons in Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan at the hands of her husband, Alan. I felt at the time that coverage of the case (and I hate even calling it a “case”) in the press was either too favourable to Alan Hawe or not robust enough in covering the issues. 
I wrote an article expressing my thoughts, and it made me realise the depth of the problem of narcissistic controlling men and the way they manipulate their partners and children. I began to find out more, such as what the term “gaslighting” means.
“Gaslighting” is defined as a “form of persistent manipulation or brainwashing that causes the victim to doubt themselves and ultimately lose their own sense of perception, identity and self-worth.”
As I discovered, gaslighting is common in relationships throughout the world. This, and other forms of controlling behaviour, is causing widespread damage within families, including women and children in our own county.
The effects are varied. Some women try to live with it, and go through living hell every day just to keep their family together. Others seek help, and ironically we’re told that when they try to get out of the relationship, that is when they are at most risk. And, of course, there are cases that we know of, even in Fermanagh, which end in horror, tragedy and death. In all cases, families are torn apart.
Last week, when news emerged that three people died in Newry, including a man, woman and her daughter, many of us had the gut reaction that this was another “domestic.” It’s telling that this was one’s initial reaction because it shows how commonplace such trouble has become.
Personally, I think that many of the agencies tasked to deal with this are struggling themselves to fully understand it and handle it. There is a deviousness and cynicism by the perpetrators which “the system” is poor at combatting. Secrecy is his friend. 
It’s why an initiative by Fermanagh Women’s Aid is so important. A conference on Coercive Control is being held in the county next month, and FWA’s training co-ordinator, Michelle Alonso is leading the way with an extensive training programme to help many agencies combat the manipulative and insidious nature of abuse and the emotional control behind it.
We, as a society, need to recognise this problem and support those working in the sector. It’s awful, really, for example that the lack of an Executive at Stormont means that a law on coercive control hasn’t been passed, while such legislation exists in Britain and the Republic of Ireland.
After writing the piece on the Hawe family a few years ago, I began to recognise the continuing work that Fermanagh Women’s Aid and other such organisations across the country do. 
Last week, I sat and spoke to a couple of their key workers for articles which appear elsewhere in this newspaper. If I had any doubts of the depth of the problem, they would certainly have been dispelled by what they told me of the changing trends of increasing abuse. I am full of admiration for the work they do.
Let me say, also, that we should very strongly dispel the myth that Women’s Aid is “anti men.” I listened to a discussion on BBC Radio Ulster a few weeks ago, and within minutes a phone call came in suggesting the panellists were anti-men. This is such nonsense, and in some cases, takes attention away from the fact that these organisations are there simply to help and protect women. Why would any man object to women in danger being protected from the monsters who inflict this on them?
There are still other ingrained attitudes which don’t help. I heard a story about a case a few years ago where a woman being abused was taken to her local clergy, who encouraged her to stay in her marriage because of his religious belief; she did return home and was brutally raped by her violent husband that night.
Hopefully, such attitudes in the last couple of paragraphs are becoming a thing of the past as people are educated about the nature of domestic violence.
As the problem increases in scale and becomes ever more darker and controlling, we need to take away the stigma, encourage women to come for help and we need to recognise and address that this is not a gender issue. It is a compassionate one.