Powerful new play inspires victims of domestic abuse to escape their home hell
By SHANE DORAN
DOZENS of victims of domestic abuse have come forward to seek help since a powerful new play about one family’s harrowing experience was brought to life on stage this month.
Some Names Have Changed is based on the life real story of Priscilla Grainger and her 21-year-old daughter Ainie, who are also the founders of Stop Domestic Violence in Ireland (SDVII), a support organisation they set up to help other victims.
Staged in a parodic documentary format, the play features actor and compére Manus Halligan (pictured below) conducting an interactive narrative about what appears to be the tale of a marriage gone bad. But the premise of the play dramatically changes direction in the final 10 minutes when it dawns on the audience that it is, in fact, a story of domestic abuse and violence, and the lies and warped narratives abusers exploit to mask their behaviour.
The Ross Dungan-scripted play received repeated standing ovations every night of its week-long run at the Project Arts Centre as part of the 2019 Dublin Fringe Festival. The mockumentary project, by 15th Oak Productions, was one of just six out of the 77 festival plays nominated for Best Production.
The play also stuck a powerful chord with victims of domestic abuse. Since opening night, no fewer than 82 abuse survivors have contacted Stop Domestic Violence in Ireland seeking help. Almost all these cases involve women, and some men, who have suffered years of violent abuse at the hands of their spouses and partners.
“We’re overwhelmed by the response we’ve received,” Priscilla Grainger said after the curtain came down on the show’s final performance.
“Members of the audience came up to us after the show and hugged us. Some of them whispered in my ear: ‘I suffered just like you. I was silenced.’”
But she added: “This is just the tip of the iceberg. Domestic violence affects almost one out of every three families in Ireland, but in most cases the victims are either unable or too afraid to get the help they need to escape.”
Priscilla understands, from very painful experience, just how difficult it is to get out. The Dublin woman and her daughter Aimie suffered years of appalling violent abuse and mental torture at the hands of her husband.
Young and madly in love, Priscilla believed she had married the man of her dreams. But her fairy-tale bubble burst in terrifying fashion on the second night of her marriage after her new husband beat her senseless on their honeymoon in Florida.
Like many victims of domestic abuse, Priscilla told herself it was a “once off”. He just had too much to drink. Things would get better.
But the abuse continued. Priscilla tried, without success, to leave him. Then she became pregnant with Ainie.
The abuse escalated. He beat Priscilla twice while she was pregnant, the second time so badly it forced her into early labour.
“The abuse got worse after Ainie was born,” Priscilla recalls. “He was jealous of the baby and said his needs weren’t being taken care of.”
Eventually, when Ainie was just nine months old, Priscilla summoned up the courage to escape. It was late, in the early hours of New Year’s Day, while he was out drinking. Priscilla bundled Ainie into the back of the car and frantically drove around the city, trying to keep her baby warm with hot water bottles.
Despite having “nowhere to go” at the time, she managed to stay away for a week. After repeatedly pleading with her to come home – even threatening suicide – Priscilla relented and went back.
“He almost killed me,” she said. “He beat me within an inch of my life. He threw me against a radiator, and I fell and broke my jaw. My ribs were badly injured. I thought this is it – I’m going to die.”
The final straw eventually came when Priscilla discovered her husband was having a string of affairs. She secured a safety order and hired a security company to help her get him out of the house.
Today, eight years later, Priscilla and Ainie have dedicated their lives to helping others, not only to escape domestic abuse, but also to rebuild their lives.
It can be an exhausting existence for Ainie, a 21-year-old young woman who works for a travel company during the day. However, she says helping others in similar situations is a great source of strength and in turn helps her to come to terms with her own traumatic upbringing. They also have each other. Ainie describes Priscilla as “my best friend” and the deep bond between mother and daughter is apparent as soon you meet them.
The success of the play has encouraged Priscilla and Ainie to step up their campaign to have domestic violence recognised as a crime. They said a meeting with the former Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, in 2016 promised much but ultimately yielded little. However, Priscilla praised Fitzgerald’s successor, Charlie Flanagan (pictured above), for his “far more proactive” approach to the issue than previous ministers and is hopeful the growing societal recognition of the scale of the domestic abuse problem will eventually be reflected in legislation.
“This issue is simply too big to ignore and sweeping it under the carpet or trying to pretend it’s not happening simply won’t wash anymore. It’s going to be a hell of a fight, but we believe we can win,” she added.
Priscilla’s inspirational story has earned her a nomination for the Graham Norton Inspiring Person of the Year Awards, which take place in Cork later this month.
Priscilla said the organisation wants to raise enough money for a purpose-built “safe house” for victims of domestic abuse. The centre would give refuge to survivors and their children and provide in-house counselling, holistic therapy and, crucially, 24/7 security and protection.
“Having the house would mean survivors can escape abusive and dangerous relationships with just the clothes on their back. To know there is a place for them where they are safe and they won’t be hurt,” said Priscilla.
SDVII, with the help of a band of dedicated and highly experienced survivors, provides vital and practical assistance to help victims plan their exit from abusive relationships.
“We support them in any we can,” Priscilla explains. “We have an in-house solicitor, Sandra McAleer, who is on hand to provide expert legal advice. The family court process can be long and hard for survivors, so they need that legal and emotional support. We provide free counselling, give them food if they’re hungry, clothe them, anything we can do to give them back the life of safety and security that they’re entitled to.”
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, log on to www. stopdomesticviolence.ie or visit the facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/pg/stopdomesticviolenceinireland/about/