The Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline (1800 341 900) responds to over 17,000 calls every year. This figure is shocking but we know that this is just the tip of the iceberg. National research conducted by the National Crime Council in 2005 on domestic abuse in Ireland found that only a small percentage of the women surveyed had accessed support from a Helpline or support service. The same research found that 1 in 7 women or approximately 213,000 have suffered severe domestic violence.
That means that there are thousands of women in Ireland suffering in silence and who are alone. It is important that any woman who is being abused feels she can talk to someone, whether that is a family member or a friend, a colleague or a support service like Women's Aid. No one deserves to be beaten and no one should suffer in silence.
There are many reasons why domestic abuse can remain hidden for so long.
The nature of emotional abuse and control is that it is so deliberate, constant, and targeted, that it can often be invisible to an outsider. Abusers often reserve their abuse and mental torture for their partner or family inside the home only, perfectly able to act normally and respectfully to the outside world. We often hear from women on the helpline that their partner is a ‘pillar of the local community’, and that they fear that not even their own extended family would believe what is happening.
Additionally, abusers can deliberately isolate women from family and friends. Over time, this can mean that women lose touch with their support network and may feel too embarrassed or ashamed to admit what is happening to them. We hear from women that their partners want to spend all their time together, ask her to stay at home with him rather than having to go out, suggest that she should only need him to be happy. Or that a woman’s partner criticises her friends, saying they aren’t good enough for her, or tells her they are talking about her behind her back. An abuser might make a woman feel guilty every time she spends time away from him, accuse her of being unfaithful if she is out without him, or actually accompany her every time she leaves the house.
Domestic abuse can also remain hidden because a woman is living under violent threats of what her abuser will do if she ever tells anyone what is happening, or if she leaves. She might constantly hear that what is happening is her fault and even begin to blame herself.
You can learn about warning signs of an abusive relationship here.
A woman called Siobhan spoke to us the abuse she experienced from her partner,
I'd gone from being a strong, independent woman to this quivering wreck with no friends, no job, and no confidence. I felt so low, I searched the house for pills for an overdose. But fortunately, I rang Women's Aid instead. The woman on the end of the line just listened. And when I'd finished she said four simple words: "That's what they do." She didn't mean men. She meant abusers.
And she wasn't just referring to that one punch. She meant the ongoing mental cruelty, humiliation and emotional manipulation I'd lived through. It was a real shock to discover I'd been in an abusive relationship for two years without having realised.
I still think of that day as the day my life changed. After calling Women's Aid I went straight upstairs, packed my things and left. I never looked back.
Read more of Siobhan's story here.
If you are worried about any aspect of your relationship, or you know someone who may be being abused, you can ring the Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline on 1800 341 900 and speak to someone who understands, in confidence.