Law Powerless to Protect Many Women at Risk from Violent Partners

25 Nov 2009

  • Women's Aid Highlights Numbers of Women Abused in Ireland by Intimate Partners on the UN Day against Violence against Women
  • Women's Aid calls for improved legal protection for women not covered by current domestic violence legislation

Today, Wednesday, 25th November at 11am, outside Dáil Éireann, Women's Aid will use a striking visual installation to highlight the underside of intimate relationships for one in every five women in Ireland. Five women, dressed in black and red, will hold placards reading '?'. The question mark will show that domestic violence, often described as the most democratic of crimes, can affect any woman, and women from any walk of life. The five women will be surrounded by others holding placards posing questions like: 'Is she your sister?', 'Is she your mother?' 'Is she your friend?'. Women's Aid will draw attention to the fact that many women are not protected from violence by current domestic violence legislation.

Speaking at the event, Margaret Martin, Director of Women's Aid said: "On the UN Day Against Violence against Women, we are highlighting the fact that one in every five women living in Ireland today are living in fear of those closest to them - their boyfriends, husbands and partners. Domestic violence does not discriminate by age, socio-economic status, marital status or cultural background. It can affect any woman."

She continued: "Women's Aid statistics show that marriage is the most common context for domestic abuse and married women experiencing abuse can avail of the full protection of the law. However, 28% of women who rang the Women's Aid Helpline in 2008 disclosed abuse by current or former partners to whom they were not married (18% current partner and 10% former partner). While many women will meet the strict criteria and are eligible to apply for domestic violence orders, many women who experience domestic violence cannot avail of legal protection from the violence because they do not meet the current co-habitation requirements for domestic violence orders. This includes women who are in dating relationships, not married to or living with their abuser, and women who have only lived with or have separated from their abuser for certain lengths of time."

"Also, we know from women ringing our Helpline that abuse often does not end when the relationship does. 10% of callers to the Women's Aid Helpline disclosed that they were being abused by former partners to whom they were not married. It is a common belief that leaving an abusive partner will end the violence but in many cases the opposite is true. These women are very vulnerable."

One woman who called the helpline recently revealed that she is living in fear of her ex-boyfriend months after she ended the abusive relationship. According to Karen*: "He was totally controlling and possessive. I was very frightened of him. After I told him it was over it just got worse - constant texting, waiting for me after work, following me everywhere I went. He was threatening me and was physically violent. People were telling me to go to court and get a safety order to protect myself. But I found out very quickly that I was not eligible because I had not lived with or been married to Jim. I was so shocked and angry, I felt really let down. I don't feel safe anywhere anymore. If I had gotten a safety order at the beginning then Jim would have known that what he was doing to me would have serious consequences for him - that the courts would deal with him. But now it seems that it is just me, on my own, and that is just the way Jim wants it. I don't have any peace."

Ms Martin concluded: "Domestic violence legislation needs to change to reflect 21st century Irish life and we call for the removal of all cohabitation requirements. This will ensure that those experiencing domestic violence in dating relationships and after separation will be eligible to apply for domestic violence orders. Until it does, women like Karen and thousands more like her will continue to live in fear and the law is powerless to protect them."

The event taking place today launches Women's Aid 'Breaking the Silence around Domestic Violence' Campaign. This is a part of the International 16 Days of Action Opposing Violence against Women (25th November to 10th December). Groups nationwide are highlighting violence against women during the campaign.

The Women's Aid Helpline is open from 10am - 10pm, 7 days a week 1800 341 900


For more information contact Christina Sherlock or Laura Shehan at 01-8684721 or 087-9192457.

Notes to Editors\Producers

  • * Karen's story is based on real accounts as told to Women's Aid. Specific details and circumstances have been changed in the interest of protecting identity and to preserve the confidential nature of Women's Aid Services. We have a number of other case studies available for media purposes.
  • Women's Aid is a voluntary organisation, which provides support and information to women experiencing domestic violence. Women's Aid operates a National Freephone Helpline Service from 10am to 10pm, 7 days a week and a One to One Support Service and Court Accompaniment Service.
  • Women's Aid is also deeply worried about the impact of the recession on its National Helpline and other support services and the organisation's annual Christmas appeal has started. From our experience we know that the Women's Aid Helpline is quite literally a lifeline for women living with domestic violence. In 2009 Women's Aid experienced cutbacks in funding and 2010 looks even bleaker.
  • The International Day against Violence against Women is the first day of the Global 16 Days of Action Opposing Violence against Women Campaign, which ends on 10th December, International Human Rights Day. As part of the 16 Days of Action Women's Aid will run its annual email and online awareness campaign, launch its 'Support a Friend' Phone Charm campaign and other activities. More details on Women's Aid and local events can be found at
  • The 16 Days Campaign is endorsed by Mary Robinson, Laura Whitmore, Sinead Desmond, Claire Byrne, Martina Devlin, Avon, Rebecca Miller, Colm O'Gorman, Fergus Finlay, Senator Ivana Bacik, Ruth Gilligan, and others.
  • Research shows that 1 in 5 women in Ireland experience abuse.
  • The Women's Aid Helpline responded to 10,140 calls in 2008 during which 15,158 incidents of domestic violence were disclosed. There were 9,101 incidents of emotional abuse disclosed, 3,355 incidents of physical abuse, and 1,900 incidents of financial abuse. 802 incidents of sexual abuse, which is traditionally not disclosed by women experiencing domestic violence, were recorded, with 281 rapes within relationships being reported to the service.