Children are the silent, unseen and unheard victims of Domestic Violence

23 Nov 2011

  • Link between child abuse and domestic violence must be acknowledged in new child protection structures and reviews of Family Law and domestic violence legislation.
  • 1,658 incidents of child abuse disclosed by callers to Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline in 2010.

"He would slap the children, he said that children needed to be slapped or they would never learn discipline, but it didn't seem to be about discipline, it was about humiliating them. I will never forget the first time he took Ann into the hall, held her arm so tight and started slapping her on the bottom. I told him to stop, but now I'm at my wits end trying to find ways to protect the children, and I got the look, the one that told me, don't you start." Elizabeth

Women's Aid today (Thursday 24th of November) said that children "are the silent, unseen and unheard victims of domestic violence in modern day Ireland". Margaret Martin, Director, called on the government to ensure that the link between child abuse and domestic violence is understood saying, "The Government needs to apply the best practice principle of protecting the child through the protection and support of the non-abusive parent. This principle needs to be acknowledged and reflected in any new child protection structures and in any review of Family Law and domestic violence legislation."

"I wanted to leave, but he told me time and time again, 'If you ever leave me, I'll make sure you never see your daughter again. At times I thought of killing myself. I felt totally trapped. It's only for my children that I kept myself going." Alison

Ms Martin was speaking at the launch of the 16 Days of Action, a global campaign that highlights gender violence. She said that, "for many women who call Women's Aid, protecting their children is a constant worry. The recession has greatly reduced options for women experiencing domestic violence, with many reporting that they have become more trapped in the violent relationship. It is heartbreaking to listen to women who, with their children, are living in a state of fear."

"The turning point came when my son said to me one day 'Mammy, I'm afraid of my Daddy'. I knew I had to leave." Alison

She continued, "Unfortunately, this situation can continue even when women leave, as children living with domestic violence are often not protected in Family Law proceedings, with Custody and Access arrangements made that disregard the impact of domestic violence on children and the risk of continuing abuse during and after separation. This situation is one of the greatest scandals of modern day Ireland."

"I don't know where this will all end. I can't believe that even after all I've been through to stop him abusing me and the children that I still have to meet him every week, listen to him shouting at the children and telling me that he might not bring them back this time." Elizabeth, caller to Women's Aid

The link between physical child abuse and domestic violence has been clearly established and is very high, with domestic violence being the most common context in which child abuse takes place. Exposure to domestic violence is recognised as a form of emotional abuse, with detrimental effects to children's well-being, as recognised in the very welcome new Child Protection and Welfare Guidelines and handbook.

In 2010, there were 1,658 incidents of child abuse disclosed by callers to the Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline. The kinds of abusive tactics used directly against children included:

  • Abusers smacking and hitting children including with household items
  • Abusers physically and sexually abusing children
  • Children being manipulated against the mother, making children side with the abuser
  • Abusers constantly shouting in children's faces.

In addition to these incidents, in another 3,014 calls it was disclosed that children were living with domestic violence against their mother. In the majority of these cases, it is likely that children will have witnessed or heard the abuse of their mother. On just one day (4th November 2010), a total of 324 children accessed domestic violence support, including 159 children who were accommodated in refuges.

"One weekend he didn't let the kids call me all weekend and at 8 on Sunday there was still no sign of him. I tried calling him and there was no answer from his mobile or from the house. My heart was pounding when at 9 I called the Gardai, they couldn't find him at the house and eventually at 11 he arrived back with them. The children were all crying, Ann said he had been shouting and driving around all evening saying, 'I bet your mother's sorry now'. Now I have to go back to court to try and get the access changed, it seems it will never end." Elizabeth, caller to Women's Aid

Ms Martin said at the launch that she was deeply worried about the impact of Budget 2012 on Women's Aid vital services and on the capacity of the sector in general to continue to support women and children experiencing domestic violence.

Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline (1800 341 900) answered over 10, 000 calls in 2010. It is the only free, national, domestic violence helpline with specialised trained staff, full membership of the Helplines Association and with a Language line facility covering 170 languages for callers needing interpreting services.

She pointed out that refuges and support services have already been impacted, with cuts in each of the last three years, and refuges are increasingly unable to accommodate all women and children that need them. Reducing services at a time of increased need would mean placing women who are being abused and their children at increased risk. Local community groups provide a vital first point of contact and support for women experiencing violence, and an important link to specialist support services. Women's Aid supports many of these groups in the development of local responses. In light of ongoing restructuring and changes in funding and priorities of these national programmes, there is a risk that their role in addressing domestic violence may be lost.

Women's Aid National Freephone service relies very much on donations from the public. Anyone who wishes to donate to their service can do so online at or by sending donations directs to Women's Aid, Everton House, 47 Old Cabra Road, Dublin 7.


The Women's Aid Helpline, Ireland's only national free phone service, is open from 10am - 10pm, 7 days a week
1800 341 900

For more information contact:

Laura Shehan at 01-8684721 or 087-9192457

Niamh O'Carroll on 087 626 6171

Case Study: Available here

Launch details:

On 11am on Thursday November 24th, the eve of UN Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Women's Aid will be staging a Balloon Release outside Dáil Eireann at 11:00 am.

Local groups all around the country, associated with Women's Aid, will be taking part in the One in Five Women National Balloon Action in solidarity with women experiencing domestic violence in Ireland, throughout the 16 Days of Action (November 25-December 10).

Visit for daily updates on the 16 Days of Action and for local event listings around the country.

Note for Editors

Women's Aid

Women's Aid is the national organisation providing support and information to women experiencing domestic violence. It is the only free, national, domestic violence helpline with specialised trained staff, full membership of the Helplines Association and with a Language Line facility covering 170 languages for callers needing interpreting services. Women's Aid also offers a Dublin-based One to One Support Service and Court Accompaniment Service and also refers to local refuges and support services around the country.

The 16 Day of Action Campaign

The international 16 Days of Action runs from 25th November, UN Day Opposing Violence against Women, to 10th December, Human Rights Day. The campaign spans these 16 Days in order to highlight the link between violence against women and human rights. The 16 Days of Action started in 1991. Since then, over 3,400 organizations in approximately 164 countries have taken part. The 16 Days of Action is a time when all around the world, communities join voices to call for changes in attitudes and policies within society that will put an end to violence against women.

As well as the issues outlined above, during the 16 Days of Action Women's Aid plan to highlight a range of issues; including the need for further expansion of protections offered by Domestic Violence Legislation, for example ensuring that Safety Orders should be available to all parties who are or have been in an intimate relationship, as is supported by UN Guidelines on Domestic Violence Legislation.

They will also highlight the additional barriers to safety for migrant women experiencing domestic violence. At present the residency of many migrant women living in Ireland is dependent on their continued relationship with their spouse, whether dependant spouses of migrant workers or of Irish citizens. When the relationship ends, so does the dependent spouse's leave to remain in the country. Migrant women experiencing domestic violence may therefore be faced with the "choice" of having to leave Ireland or stay in the relationship and endure the violence. For many women, returning to their country of origin is not a viable option, for economic, social, safety or cultural reasons.