Emma Murphy: ‘He punched me ... It wasn’t the first time’

‘Emma Murphy Fights Back’ is emotional TV by a survivor of domestic violence

Domestic abuse survivor Emma Murphy meets other women who have been subjected to violence by their partners in RTÉ documentary "Emma Murphy Fights Back". Video: RTÉ

 

When Emma Murphy sat down three years ago, with a fresh black eye, to record a video about domestic abuse, she imagined she was sharing her story with “a few friends and family” on Facebook.

Wiping away tears and speaking intimately – “You think you know somebody, you know?” – she described her partner’s infidelity, her confrontation, and his violent response, confiding in her phone’s camera as though it was a close friend.

“He punched me in the face,” she says, “and it wasn’t the first time.”

The video went far beyond Murphy’s personal sphere (she also shared details of the assault on her partner’s own Facebook account), now viewed more than 10 million times.

Emma Murphy Fights Back (RTÉ2, Thursday, 9.30pm) is the work of a survivor, an activist, a citizen journalist and, in a strange way, a social media influencer.

Interviewing anonymous women about harrowing experiences of abuse, meeting women’s safety campaigners and legal experts, Murphy makes for an emotional investigator, often shown in tears, and always returning to her own campaign for justice: “People are afraid to speak out and that’s why my video went so viral.”

Director Rachael Moriarty accompanies Murphy with a shower of supportive online messages, which cascade down the screen like a busy newsfeed. She includes startling statistics from unfamiliar online publications (90 per cent of respondents to a shemazing.ie poll, for instance, reported abuse in their relationships; 50 per cent of them physical abuse).

This is intercut with bright sequences of Murphy’s fitness routine, jogging outdoors and lifting weights, refusing to be defined as a victim.

To some, this will seem like second nature. Why wouldn’t you report personal trauma to Facebook, or present images of recovery as though living your best life on an Instagram Story?

Others will wonder, more uneasily, if the medium is the message; if the personal comment of self-recording is more persuasive and moving than anything an investigative documentary could reveal?

Often Murphy will empathise with awful stories of abuse, rape, attempted suicide and murder. “My God, she’s inspired me,” she says of Maria Dempsey, bereaved mother to a murdered daughter. “Such a tower of strength.”

Strength, as the title suggests, is the operative word. Murphy readily agrees with a counsellor who doesn’t think abused women need to “build themselves back up”, because, “Once they’re safe from having to deal with the abuser they blossom themselves.” (Anyone who does not immediately blossom would be better advised that there is real strength in seeking support and counselling.)

Social media can be a controlling partner too, preferring the quick fix of inspiration to the slower dawn of realisation, the compulsive shares of positive messages to longer processes of recovery.

Murphy’s film follows almost two-and-a-half years in her life, between that first video and the eventual conviction of her partner for assault.

“To hear those words ‘guilty’ was just complete and utter closure for me,” she says, at home in her kitchen. “I’m finally happy. I’m excited for myself and my kids to live a happy life.”

With that, she turns her phone off.

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