Women's Aid has been working in Ireland to stop domestic violence against women and children since 1974. We are a leading national organisation which provides support and information to women experiencing domestic violence. Women's Aid operates a National Freephone Helpline Service and a Dublin based One to One Support Service and Court Accompaniment Service. Women's Aid also refers to local refuges and support services around the country.
Women's Aid is also a political and campaigning organisation which aims to make women and children safe from domestic violence through effecting political, cultural and social change.
Women's Aid receives approximately two thirds of its funding from the Government. The remaining one third is raised from a number of sources including: private donations; funding from philanthropic organisations; fundraising events and the our charity shop.
Domestic violence can be physical, emotional, sexual or financial abuse. Read more about recognising domestic violence.
Physical abuse is the easiest form of abuse to understand but domestic violence also covers emotional, sexual and financial abuse. Women who ring our National Freephone Helpline often simply want to talk about their relationship. It may be something that happened recently that hurt or confused them or it may be something that has emerged over time. Because domestic violence is not a one off event, but rather a pattern which often escalates over time, it can be difficult to see. By having a safe, non-judgemental space to talk about it a woman can begin to explore concerns and fears she has been carrying around for a while, but has been unable to voice.
Domestic Violence is a serious crime that affects 1 in 5 women in Ireland (Making the Links, 1995). Domestic violence occurs in every social and economic grouping of society, all ethnic groups and cultures and among people of every educational background. There is no "type" of woman to whom it occurs, and there is no "type" of home in which it happens. Sadly, domestic violence is a feature of contemporary family life.
The vast majority of the victims of domestic violence are women and children, and women are also considerably more likely to experience repeated and severe forms of violence and sexual abuse.
Over 40 years of data and research have confirmed that men are generally the perpetrators of domestic violence and that women are generally the victims. Irish and worldwide research - as well as data from hospitals and police stations all over the world - reveal a consistent pattern of violence in intimate relationships where men are the perpetrators 90 per cent of the time. This violence frequently results in physical injury, often serious, and sometimes results in death. Of the 209 female homicide victims in Ireland since 1996, 89 women (54% of the resolved cases) were murdered by a husband, ex-husband, partner or ex-partner (Women's Aid Femicide Watch 1996- 2016.)
The 2005 National Crime Council and ESRI research into the domestic abuse of women and men in Ireland found that 1 in 7 women in Ireland compared to 1 in 17 men experience severe domestic violence. Women are over twice as likely as men to have experienced severe physical abuse, seven times more likely to have experienced sexual abuse, and are more likely to experience serious injuries than men. According to the research, women are twice as likely to be injured as a result of domestic abuse; more likely to experience serious injuries; more likely to require medical attention as a result of abuse; and the impact of the abuse in terms of fear, distress and health impacts is more significant for women than men. (NCC & ERSI, 2005)
Since 1974, Women's Aid has existed to support women and children experiencing domestic violence. That is one of our principal objectives and the basis from which we work. Statistics show that in most incidents of domestic violence women are the victims, but we recognise that a small percentage of men experience domestic violence. We are unable to support male victims of domestic violence but there are other organisations that do. If you are a man who is being abused, please access www.cosc.ie.
Statistics from Women's Aid on femicide in Ireland
(Women’s Aid Femicide Watch 1996 – November 2016).
Trends from Women's Aid Female Homicide Media Watch
Female homicide is the extreme end of the violence against women spectrum. International research has shown that homicides involving women have different dynamics from male on male homicide. For example:
( Source: Campbell, Jacqueline C, "Prediction of homicide of and by battered women", in Campbell, Jacqueline C, ed., Assessing Dangerousness: Violence by Sexual Offence, Batterers and Child Abusers, Sage Publications, London, 1995.)
(Source: statistics quoted by Holt, Stephanie, 'A Matter of Life and Death: Intimate Partner Homicide in Ireland', Irish Journal of Family Law, No. 4, Winter, 2007.)
The risks for female homicide were summarised in 2006 by Women Against Violence Europe as including:
(Source: Murphy, Candy & Natalie McDonnell, 'Escalating Violence: How to Assess and Respond to Risk - A Review of International Experience', Aoibhneas, 2008.)
One of the frequent questions Women's Aid is asked is - why doesn't she just leave? We would never tell a woman what she should do. We consider her to be the best judge of her situation. Women stay with abusive men because it is extremely difficult for them to leave. No one enjoys being beaten, threatened and humiliated in their own homes.
There is a growing understanding of the barriers women face when trying to end the abuse. It isn't as simple as telling the woman to leave. As a key national organisation that has been supporting women for 40 years, we know that leaving an abusive relationship is fraught with difficulty.
Whilst the risk of staying may be very high, simply leaving the relationship does not guarantee that the violence will stop. In fact, the period during which a woman is planning or making her exit, is often the most dangerous time for her and her children. Many women are frightened of the abuser, and with good reason. It's common for perpetrators to threaten to harm or even kill their partners or children if she leaves.
Reasons why a woman may not be ready to leave include:
None of these reasons include being addicted or enjoying the violence. To suggest as such is deeply offensive to the women and children affected by domestic violence.
Women may also seek support from family or friends and the quality of the support they receive is likely to have a significant influence on their decision-making. Sometimes women will make several attempts to leave before they can actually leave permanently and safely. Regardless of her decision, it is important that the support a woman receives enables her to increase her and her children's safety regardless of the choices she makes about her relationship to the abuser.
It also is vitally important that women are also supported whilst living with an abuser. If she feels that she will be excluded from ongoing support if she does not leave, she is unlikely to seek help from the same person or organisation again.
And the abuse does not always end when the relationship does. We also know that 23% of women who contacted us in 2015 were experiencing abuse by their former partners including stalking, physical assault and abuse during access arrangements.
In order for women to move on many things are needed - good legal protection, the practical and emotional support of their friends and support of organisations like Women's Aid.
Every day in Ireland women are emotionally and physically abused. They are beaten, raped and trapped in their own homes by those closest to them - their husbands and partners. 1 in 5 Irish women experience domestic violence and it can affect every woman regardless of age, marital status, class or cultural background. It could be your friend, your sister, your mother. It could be you. Without exception, a woman's greatest risk of violence is from someone she knows.
Living with domestic violence is like living in a horrific trap. Women are lonely and isolated. Sometimes there is nobody to tell and sometimes women are afraid they will not be believed. But, thousands of women every year find support from Women's Aid.
Women's Aid received 19,115 contacts in 2016. 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.
For many of those who call our Helpline, it quite literally is, a lifeline.
However, there is good news. Domestic violence isn't like a terminal illness. We hear stories from women who escaped relationships 5 or 10 years ago and have moved on to a loving and stable relationship, which is brilliant to hear.
If it is happening to you, the main thing to realise is that your case is not unusual, and it happens to other women everyday. Talk to someone you trust or call Women's Aid.
Unless you are trying to help a woman who has been very open about her experiences it may be difficult for you to acknowledge the problem directly. However, there are some basic steps you can take to help and support a friend, a family member, a workmate, a neighbour or anyone you know who has confided in you that they are being abused.
Click here to read more about how to support someone affected by domestic violence.
There is no 'typical' helpline call. Each woman's story is unique to her and is an individual story. But Helpline calls can include:
What Women's Aid Helpline Workers do:
Listen and provide information on a range of issues - finance, housing, refuge, children, court orders, social welfare. If a woman needs further support an appointment will be made with our one to one support service workers in the Greater Dublin area: in city-centre, Dun Laoghaire, Coolock, Amiens Street, Ballymun or Swords. The woman will meet with a support worker who will provide support and information as long as the woman requires it. Women's Aid provides non-directive support and information to women and believe that women are the best judge of their safety. We provide support on an on-going basis.
The vast majority of perpetrators of domestic violence are men, who deliberately use abusive behaviour to control their partners or former partners. Abusive men come from all walks of life. They can come from any cultural background, religion, class or area. They may be young men or older men.
Domestic violence is a learned intentional behaviour rather than the consequence of stress, individual pathology, substance use or a 'dysfunctional' relationship. Perpetrators of domestic violence frequently avoid taking responsibility for their behaviour, by blaming their violence on someone ro something else, denying it took place at all or minimising it. This includes blaming an aspect of their childhood. It can be the case that men who grew up in abusive homes in turn are abusive as adults. However, many more men who grew up with domestic violence abhor violence and do not abuse their partners.
The abusive man alone is responsible for the violence. There is no excuse for domestic violence. The abuser has a choice to use violence, or instead they can choose to behave non-violently, fostering a relationship built on trust, honesty, fairness and respect. The woman affected is never responsible for the abuser's behaviour.
Whilst responsibility for the actual violence is the perpetrator's alone, there are belief systems in our society that perpetuate abusive attitudes and make it difficult for women and children to get help. These include:
Research shows that violent men are most likely to perpetrate violence in response to their own sexual jealousy and possessiveness; their demands for domestic services; and in order to demonstrate male authority. Some men also believe that sex is another type of domestic service that they can demand. Violent men will also typically justify or ignore their behaviour by:
Domestic violence is about gaining control, not a lack of control. If an abuser is careful about when, where and to whom they are abusive to, then they are showing sufficient awareness and knowledge about their actions to indicate they are not "out of control". Abusers use violence and tactics of coercion as a way of exercising control and getting what they want.
Research on whether abusive men can change their behaviour is inconclusive.
The majority of children living in a home where domestic violence is present are affected by the abuse. Children are victims of domestic violence both when directly targeted by the perpetrator of abuse and when witnessing the violence directed at their mother. Research has shown that there is a connection between domestic violence and child abuse and that witnessing the abuse is in itself a form of emotional abuse. (Listening to Children: Children's Stories of Domestic Violence, Hogan, F. and O'Reilly M, Office of the Minister For Children, 2007)
Children may witness domestic violence in many ways. For example, they may be in the same room and may even get caught in the middle of an incident in an effort to protect their mother. They may be in the next room or they may be forced to witness sexual abuse. Children can also be directly abused by the same perpetrator inflicting abuse on their mother. While abuse of children is a huge issue in itself, in domestic violence situations, actual or threatened abuse of children is often used as a controlling mechanism over women. The abuse of the mother and children often continues after separation, especially in the context of access visits and joint custody. Read more here if you are concerned about children living with domestic violence.
The statistics about domestic violence and children in Ireland:
The types of abusive tactics used directly against children in domestic violence situations disclosed to the Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline in 2014 included:
Children can experience both short term and long term effects as a result of witnessing domestic violence. These can include:
(Royal College of Psychiatrists Briefing, 2004)
However, it is important to remember that some children may not exhibit any negative effects.
Women's Aid is deeply concerned about the abuse of women during pregnancy and the post natal period. We hear from women who are beaten and raped while they are pregnant, often resulting in miscarriage. We hear from women who are forbidden to breast feed their child, who are raped in the weeks immediately following child birth and women who are beaten while holding their baby.
Pregnancy does not offer protection from domestic violence. In fact, international research has found that 30% of women who experience domestic violence are physically assaulted for the first time during pregnancy (Child Protection and Welfare Handbook, HSE, 2011). The Rotunda Hospital conducted research which found that 1 in 8 women surveyed were being abused during their current pregnancy. (O'Donnell et all, 2000)
The tactics of domestic violence used by perpetrators specifically against women who are pregnant include physical abuse (being beaten, thrown against walls or doors, being strangled, and being beaten to the point of miscarriage) and sexual abuse (rape and sexual assault). These tactics can extend beyond pregnancy into the Post-natal period and can include women not being allowed, or being forced to give up breastfeeding, and removal of stitches.
A percentage of pregnancies are unplanned and are the results of women not being allowed access to birth control and rape. There are many effects of domestic violence on women who are pregnant. Abuse suffered during pregnancy can result in:
|Effect on the woman||Effect on the pregnancy and foetus|
|Physical Injuries||Unplanned Pregnancy|
|Poor sleep patterns||Poor maternal nutrition|
|Death of the woman||Small for dates|
According to research carried out in the UK, 70 of the 295 women who died during pregnancy or in the first 6 weeks after giving birth had a history of domestic violence. 19 of these women (27%) were murdered. (CEMACH, 2007)
As well as the very serious consequences of abuse on women, there can also be serious consequences for the newborn infant too including low birth weight and as outlined in the chart above.
All of these complications bring with them additional challenges to the newborns including poor temperature regulation, poor feeding patterns, and susceptibility to infection. (Women's Aid, 'Maternity Services Responding to Domestic Violence', 2009)
Every day in Ireland women are beaten, raped and trapped in abusive relationships. Women who are in intimate relationships are at risk of domestic violence regardless of their age. Sometimes domestic violence against younger women is referred to as ' dating violence'. There is a common myth in society that domestic violence only happens to older women who are married or living with their partner and perhaps, have children. However, domestic violence has been described as the 'most democratic of all crimes'. It can affect every woman regardless of age, marital status, class or cultural background.
Statistics show that younger women are at risk. In research conducted by Women's Aid in Ireland, 95% of young women and 84% of young men reported knowing someone who had experienced abuse, violence and harassment ranging from being followed, to being forced to have sex, to being hit by a partner. The persons known were mainly young women. Recent research released by the NSPCC in the UK found that 1 in 6 teenage girls who had been in a relationship said they had been pressurised into sexual intercourse and 1 in 16 girls said they had been raped.
Young women tend to have more confidence and that's why society is so surprised when we hear of younger women experiencing abuse. Also, a lot of younger women think that domestic violence is something that only happens to older women.
We get young women calling the Helpline who say that they are not even sure they should be calling but that something just doesn't feel right. Dating violence is something that can just sneak up on someone. Some women will call us about something that happened the night before that's been playing on their mind. But once they start talking they'll see a pattern that's been there all along. Most girls have friends they can turn to, but sometimes it is hard to confide about something like dating violence.
Read about the Women's Aid 2in2u campaign on dating abuse here .
Under 18 - Childline on 1800 66 66 66 or www.childline.ie or www.teenline.ie on 1800 833634 (daily 7pm-10pm)
Over 18 - Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline on 1800 341 900, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Women's Aid is particularly concerned about the rising phenomenon of stalking in intimate relationships, including digitally assisted stalking, and the gaps in Irish law that are leaving women unprotected and vulnerable to abuse. Stalking by a current or former boyfriend is one of the most common forms of stalking but it is not explicitly addressed in current legislation.
Stalking is intentional behaviour that is designed to keep women under great duress, controlled and isolated. Callers to our National Freephone Helpline have disclosed that their stalker is: constantly following them, turning up at their workplaces, homes and social gatherings; damaging property and breaking into their homes or cars; gathering information on them from family and friends; harassing others close to them and threatening to kill them, their families or threatening to self-harm. It can often include physical and sexual assaults.
More and more, Women's Aid is hearing from women using our services about various forms of digitally assisted stalking where technology is being used by abusive boyfriends and ex-boyfriends to monitor and control women, particularly younger women. Women have disclosed abuse such as their mobile phone calls and texts being monitored and social media and technology being used to stalk and control them. Women are also disclosing how they are bombarded with texts and calls often telling them, in explicit detail, how they will be attacked or even killed. Some women disclosed that their current or ex-boyfriends were stalking them on social networking sites.
We hear from women whose online use was being tracked and scrutinised and whose boyfriends demanded access to their private email and social networking accounts. We also hear from women whose boyfriends and ex-boyfriends had placed lies about them on internet sites. We also hear from women who had been photographed and filmed without their consent, sometimes having sex, and having the images uploaded to the internet. Women have told us they feel like they are constantly being watched and that their privacy is completely invaded and controlled. Quite often it prevents women from seeking help as they fear their boyfriend will see that they have rung a helpline, looked at a domestic violence support website or spoken of the abuse to their friends, family or colleagues in an email or text.
While stalking may be perpetrated by strangers or acquaintances, stalking is most often committed against women by former or current partners. Any allegation of stalking should be taken very seriously as it is synonymous with increased risk of serious harm or murder. Stalking was a feature in 40% of those domestic murders reviewed by the Metropolitan Police in the UK and has also been especially identified as a shared feature of murders where there have not been previously recorded incidents of violence. Stalking is included in several risk assessment tools that aim to prevent domestic violence homicides.
There has been no research has been carried out in Ireland on this issue but it is something that Women’s Aid monitors on our National Freephone Helpline and Support Services during key sporting events to see if it emerges as an issue. Big sporting events may impact on women already experiencing abuse due to the likelihood of an increase in alcohol consumption leading to a rise in the severity and incidences of abuse. It is important to stress that this does not cause domestic violence as perpetrators are solely responsible for their actions.
Women are living with physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse throughout the year. We would encourage anyone affected by abuse to ring the Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline for support.
Click here to download a Literature Review on Violence against Women and Sport published by the EVAW Coalition in the UK.
One in five women in Ireland experiences violence and abuse at the hands of an intimate partner at some point in her lifetime, including rape and sexual abuse.
While pornography does not directly cause domestic violence it adds to a culture in which violence against women is widespread. We do know that pornography can be used as a tool to abuse women in intimate relationships. Women who have called our National Freephone Helpline have told us that their partners have forced them to view explicit sexual material and that they have also been sexually abused and raped by their partners who have forced them to re-act scenes from pornographic videos and magazines. Women have also told us that their partner has taken sexually explicit photos and videos of them and posted them on internet sites without their knowledge and without their consent.
The degradation of women is unacceptable in our society and sexual objectification and exploitation must be challenged if we are to create an equal society that supports and encourages safe, healthy and respectful intimate relationships.
Women's Aid is often asked by the media whether incidents of domestic violence are more frequent/worse during the Christmas and New Year period. Often at this time of year, the extra pressures which are placed on women and their families can exacerbate domestic violence incidents. There are specific ways in which the Christmas period impacts on the way women are abused, most notably in relation to financial abuse. Examples of this type of abuse include:
However, domestic violence is an ongoing pattern which does not subside during the holiday season. The Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline experiences the same levels of calls during this time. We know anecdotally from our Helpline that women work really hard to keep the peace and calm during the Christmas season and the lead up to it, especially if they have children. Callers to the Helpline tend to seek support to get through the time rather than active ways to escape the violence. Read our 2015 media release about domestic violence at Christmas time.
Financial abuse is part of the pattern of domestic violence. It occurs during good economic times and periods of recession. Instances of financial abuse have been disclosed the Women's Aid Helpline for a number of years now. In 2016, there were 1,671 disclosures by women accessing our suport services.
Examples of this type of financial abuse include:
These types of abuse were a feature of the domestic violence women face at any time, including at the height of the Celtic Tiger. However, the current economic downturn can be used by the perpetrator of abuse to legitimise his behaviour. Also, certain aspects of the downturn (i.e., redundancy, falling incomes) can act to escalate the abuse women face, however it does not cause it.
The possibility of redundancies, short-term and long-term retirement, means that abusive men will be at home more and therefore the abuse may be more frequent. Increased financial pressure and/or unemployment can escalate stress. They may also lead to the greater use of alcohol and other substances. These can act as disinhibiters and may lead to the abuse becoming more frequent and more severe.
Non-payment of maintenance has always been problematic. Recently, Women's Aid is seeing an increase in women attending court in relation to maintenance and property issues. This increase means that separation cases are taking longer to progress which leaves women in the abusive relationship longer.
The financial turndown can also impact on the support services that women may try to access when experiencing domestic violence. For instance, current cuts in welfare support budgets mean that community welfare officers are becoming more rigid in order to manage their decreased budget.
Women who contacted Women's Aid disclosed 16,946 incidents of physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse in 2015. Women disclosed that they are trapped in abusive relationships and are more vulnerable to abuse due to the recession. Women reported they were experiencing domestic violence before the recession but that the economic downturn was leading to more frequent abuse and more severe abuse. In addition, women disclosed that abusive men were using the recession to excuse their behaviour.
We know that economic difficulty does not cause domestic violence. All forms of domestic violence (physical, emotional, sexual and financial) are a feature of Irish life during boom times and times of recession. But we hear from women living in abusive situations that that their ability to escape domestic violence is being hampered by the recession. Women fear increased impoverishment, losing their home and the effect of poverty on their children. This barrier to leaving is exacerbated by the use of financial abuse by a controlling boyfriend, husband or partner.
No. Men, who were already emotionally, physically, sexually and financially abusing their partners, continue to do so during times of recession. Women disclose that the abuser may start to use his unemployment or financial difficulties as an excuse for the abuse. However, the violence and abuse, including financial abuse tactics, were a feature of the relationship before the recession.
Unemployment may give abusive men the opportunity to increase the levels of abuse inflicted on their partners as they may be around the house more. The abuse may also become more dangerous. Women may experience an escalation of the abuse.
There is no evidence emerging from our helpline that suggests that the recession is causing men, who once treated their partner with respect and love, to suddenly become abusive because of financial difficulties.
The majority of people in relationships who are facing this economic crisis do so within a caring and supportive environment. It is misleading to say that men only abuse because they are under huge stress. This is not the case.
Women are never responsible for the domestic violence they suffer. Sole responsibility for the abuse lies with the perpetrator. However, there may be measures women can take that may guard against financial abuse. These include:
However, it is important to remember that women may not free to make these choices or take these steps to guard against financial abuse as they may already be experiencing physical, emotional, sexual abuse at the hands of their partner.
Women's Aid is often asked if alcohol abuse is the cause of domestic violence. This is a common misconception. It is important to state that while we do see a strong link between alcohol abuse and domestic violence, we do not see any evidence of a causal relationship. Our experience shows us that alcohol abuse greatly increases the risk to a woman and has clear links to increased severity in relation to physical and sexual abuse. For this reason, it is always included in risk assessment procedures developed by agencies such as the Cardiff Women's Safety Unit in Wales. Risk assessment is a crucial tool used in homicide prevention that recognises the role of alcohol in domestic violence situations.
The links between alcohol and domestic violence were explored in the Crime Council Research published in 2005. This National Study of Domestic Violence included a section on 'Potential Triggers for Abusive Behaviour'. Respondents were asked, "Was there anything in particular that seemed to you to set off this behaviour?"
The highest level of respondents at 36% reported that the behaviour seemed to be triggered 'by nothing in particular' or by 'minor incidents' such as 'did not like my attitude' or 'anything could start it'.
However, the next highest level at 34% identified the use of alcohol. Research quoted in the Report by Leonard (1999) states that "..the majority or aggressive episodes occur without alcohol, and men who behaved aggressively with alcohol have often behaved aggressively without alcohol as well. The role of alcohol... appears to be on of a facilitative nature, a contributing cause".
The report went on to explore the issue further but the results were "far from clear-cut, but are not strongly suggestive of a causal link between alcohol consumption and abuse": When asked, "was there ever alcohol involved when your partner behaved in this way?"
Another point in relation to alcohol abuse needs to be stated. As alcohol is a dis-inhibiter, it can be used, and accepted, as an excuse by a violent man for his behaviour. However, in our experience treating or dealing with the alcoholism will not stop the violence and the two issues must be treated separately. Women using Women's Aid services report that their partners have stopped abusing alcohol but have not stopped abusing them.
What our experience in Women's Aid shows us is that:
Women living with abusive partners can develop alcohol problems as a consequence of the abuse that they are experiencing. This can further exacerbate the abuse as the abusive partner can then use this as a way to further control her. For example, threatening to take the children from her if she tries to leave or using her alcohol abuse to discredit her if she seeks a domestic violence order. Violent men can also use her use of alcohol as an excuse for their violence.
Women who are social drinkers can be told by abusive partners that they have a drink problem and are made to feel guilty - some women accessing services need to be reassured that the amount that they drink is normal/non-problematic. Some women develop a drink problem when living in an abusive relationship.
It can be in the abusive partner's interest to keep the woman drinking and they will:
Abusive men will use her alcohol abuse as a weapon against her if she tries to get out of the abusive relationship
Women with drink problems are often reluctant to leave abusive relationship due to guilt, fears about losing the children, fear that they will not be believed/credible in court due to their alcohol problem.
The Women's Aid Helpline is primarily a support service for women experiencing domestic violence from current or former male partners. However when we do receive calls from lesbian or transgender women, as well as men, who are experiencing abuse in their relationships, we provide emotional support and practical information, and also refer to other services for further support.