‘He said: ‘Look in the mirror, look at how worthless you are’’

A woman speaks out about domestic violence following the conviction of her ex-boyfriend

Laura Parsons urges other women to speak out about domestic violence. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Laura Parsons urges other women to speak out about domestic violence. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

A Dublin woman whose ex-boyfriend was convicted last month of assaulting her has urged other victims of domestic violence to speak out.

Laura Parsons (34) from Blackrock says women should not be afraid to go to court and give evidence against abusive men.

“I know it’s hard and scary and all, but it is important these men don’t get away with it. Then there’s a chance they won’t do it to other women,” she says.

Anthony Fleming (39), with an address at Ballybough Road, Dublin 3, was given concurrent sentences of five months and four months, for assaulting Ms Parsons on two occasions, in April and June 2016.

In 2014, Ms Parsons had just split up with the father of her four children. She was vulnerable, living in homeless accommodation and feeling her life was falling apart. Fleming was living in England and she was friends with him on Facebook.

One weekend he came to visit, staying in a back-packer’s hostel. On the second day, he told her he would stay, not just for their relationship, but to get work in Dublin. Ms Parsons says he paid her a lot of attention.

“He’d say I was beautiful and he wanted to spend a lot of time with me. It was nice, he was very flattering.”

She was fascinated by him and thought she was in love. “Now I don’t think it was love at all; it was all manipulation.”

Two years

His charm soon wore off. He would get angry then blame it on her. He said awful things about her to her family. He abused her verbally in public and she felt “horrible and ashamed”.

“I used to think maybe if I was different, he wouldn’t be like this.”

The relationship with Fleming continued on and off for two years.

In April 2016, while her ex-partner was minding their children, Ms Parsons visited Fleming in his apartment. They drank and argued.

“He came over and grabbed my face really tight and said “if you don’t shut your mouth now I’m going to punch you in the face,” she says.

“I just sat there and he said ‘you’re not going’ and I said I want to go asleep.”

The next morning he tried to tell her nothing happened, but when she reminded him, he pulled her up to the mirror.

“He said: ‘look in the mirror, look at yourself, how worthless you are’. I was crying, it was just horrible,” she says.

He started throwing stuff around the room, he smashed a mirror and pulled his own hair and said she made him want to kill himself.

“I remember just begging him to stop.”

After he’d calmed down, he hugged her and asked why she made him act that way. He walked her to the bus and texted that he loved her.

Ms Parsons told her ex-partner what had happened and showed him the bruises on her arms. He took photos and said she should go to the Garda.

Garda station

She was reluctant at first. But when Fleming threatened to contact her new employer and say she was stealing, she went to her local Garda station and told them everything. They said they’d refer the case to his local station. They suggested she tell her boss what was happening, but she was too embarrassed.

She became involved with Fleming again a short time later and left her job; he had told her she was only a skivvy there.

In June last year, she was with him in a pub and went for a cigarette and spoke to a man outside. Fleming accused her of wanting to leave with the other man.

To prove she did not, she agreed to go back to Fleming’s flat.

“I know it was a very silly thing to do,” she says.

When they got there, he accused her again. She denied it and he grabbed her by the hair.

“He was kind of swinging out of it, and he said ‘admit it, admit it’, and I said no, then he said, ‘if you don’t admit it now I’m going to punch you really hard in the face’, and I said ‘okay’ then.”

He calmed down instantly and let her hair go. She said she had to go home and he got aggressive again and said “you have to make it up to me”.

“He grabbed me and pushed me off the bed and he had my hair again, he said you have loads to make up, you are lucky I’m not killing you.”

Ms Parsons remembers crying for her mother.

“He was pulling me toward the door and pulling me back, he said just go, but his apartment, you needed to unlock it to get out, so I couldn’t just go.”

Then he started hugging her, saying it would be okay, and that he loved her. Eventually, Ms Parsons managed to get away.

‘Wanted to die’

“When I got home and went to bed, I felt like I wanted to die,” she says.

“I wanted to kill myself, I thought I didn’t deserve to live, that my kids deserved a better mother, I felt it was my fault for going back again, knowing what he was like.”

She went to her GP who referred her to a hospital psychiatrist. She was on suicide watch while in A&E.

With help from adult mental health services and other organisations, she began to recover, though she was still entangled with Fleming to some extent. Gardaí contacted her about the first assault and she told them about the second. In late 2016, she was told charges would be brought against Fleming.

She was very nervous going to court and almost lost courage, she says. Her mother died of cancer a week before the court date, in July this year. But friends supported her.

On the day, her best friend went with her and her ex-partner gave evidence. Fleming sat behind her in the court when they first arrived and that was difficult, she says, she could hear him sniggering and it made her feel small.

Prison sentence

When she gave her evidence, she says Judge Miriam Malone was understanding about the mental element of the abuse. When Fleming gave evidence he blamed her bruising on rough sex, she says, and lost his temper in the witness box.

It was a weight off her shoulders when he got a prison sentence.

“Before I went to court I thought he’d get away and laugh in my face, it was such a relief to be believed, it was not my fault and just to know he’s getting punished for what he did.”

She says it took a lot of counselling to get Fleming out of her head, and in the end she had to do it herself. “I’m still healing, but now I feel I’m finally free,” she says.

She recommends Women’s Aid and Sonas for the non-judgmental support they gave her and she found particular help in a support group, where she could talk to women who had been through similar experiences.

Ms Parsons says she wants women and men in abusive relationships to know it is not their fault.

“No matter how much you think you can’t get away … there is always a way out and things will get better,” she says. “I remember at times I thought ‘I don’t want to live’, but now I can see so much and I realise I have so much to live for. My kids need me, I always knew they needed me, but I felt they deserved better. Now I know there is help out there, it’s never your fault, no matter what.”

She urges others to come forward, speak out and go to the Garda and to court.

“I remember for ages I thought it was a waste of time, it went on so long, but in the end it definitely was worth it.”

Women’s Aid: 1800 341 900