Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland domestic abuse survivors celebrate their escape from fear with Walk of Freedom

By Donna Deeney

For 18 years Vanessa Craig suffered physical, verbal and psychological abuse at the hands of her partner - but four years ago she freed herself and her children from that predicament.

She was one of around 100 people who took part in the Walk of Freedom in Londonderry organised by La Dolce Vita founder and domestic violence survivor Donna Maria Logue.

Walkers symbolically exchanged shoes and walked over the Peace Bridge to the City Hotel where a number of speakers, including SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan and Sinn Fein's Maeve McLaughlin, called for better services for victims.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Ms Logue said: "La Dolce Vita is all about helping people take that first step into freedom.

"People don't understand the difficulties you face with domestic abuse, the challenges you face in trying to leave an abusive relationship.

"Our message to anyone in such a relationship is that they are not alone, and we hope to highlight that through this event, which marks the first anniversary of La Dolce Vita.

"The idea of the Walk In My Shoes Walk Of Freedom came because every single person that we talked to said 'people judge me'. There is too much stigma attached to domestic abuse - it is not up to us to judge a person, but we can walk with them. We will never understand what it is like to walk in their shoes, but we can try."

One woman who says she has walked in those shoes is Vanessa.

She got married at 18 years of age, hoping for a long and happy life as a wife and mother.

Sadly, she said that was far from the reality she faced on a daily basis until one day, four years ago, she began her own walk of freedom.

Ms Craig explained: "For 18 years I suffered domestic abuse, verbal, emotional and physical, until around four years ago when I put my ex-husband out of the house.

"I tried to take my own life, and that was the point that I realised something had to be done. "Even when he was out of the house he persisted in emotionally blackmailing me, but I stuck to my guns because my children had witnessed their father trying to kill me.

"That wasn't what I wanted my children to see, so I contacted Donna Maria and she helped me through everything including the court process, which was horrendous.

"My husband had been arrested numerous times for assault but I would then drop the charges because he made me do it, but he was found guilty."

Audrey Brown said it was seeing the trauma on the faces of her children that gave her the strength to leave an abusive relationship after 16 years.

She said: "I was a mother who thought her children would be better off without her in their lives, that was how low I got.

"The last attack on me took place in front of my six-year-old daughter.

"And that night I saw myself from her perspective, and that was the light bulb moment for me."

Anyone who needs help can contact La Dolce Vita on 028 7137 7272, Women's Aid on 028 9066 6049 and 028 7141 6800, or on 24-hour helpline number 0808 802 1414.

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