Media Release: Pandemic is increasing risk of intimate relationship abuse against young women, say Women’s Aid.

15 Feb 2021

Embargo 00.01am Monday 15th February 2021

  • Young women experiencing abuse risk being left behind during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Women’s Aid launches new #TooIntoYou advertising campaign to highlight the signs of unhealthy relationships and encourages young people to reach out for support.
  • Campaign also highlights the new law which makes cyber harassment and image based sexual abuse a crime.
  • Recent Women’s Aid research shows that 1 in 5 young women, aged 18-25, experience intimate relationship abuse including emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
  • Half of young women abused by a partner experienced online abuse including having intimate images taken and shared without their consent.
  • Recent law change making Image Based Sexual Abuse and other forms of cyber harassment is very welcome, however, much more needs to be done to fully protect young women.

Monday, 15th February 2021: Women’s Aid, a national organisation supporting women affected by domestic violence, launches a three week long national public awareness campaign for young women (aged 18-25) experiencing abuse from a current or former intimate partner.  The Too Into You campaign highlights the warning signs of abuse, how to get help and the new law which makes cyber harassment and image based sexual abuse a crime.  According to Women’s Aid, young women who are not living with abusive partners are at particular risk of increased digital and online abuse by their partners or exes during Covid-19.  Alarmingly, reports from other jurisdictions indicate that instances of image based sexual abuse have surged since last March.  Women’s Aid launches a campaign today to raise awareness among this group of young adults, whom it says risk being left behind during the pandemic lockdowns.  A recent study by Women’s Aid showed that 1 in 5 young women experience intimate relationship abuse in Ireland, with 51% experiencing abuse for the first time under the age of 18.  

One of the main focuses of the campaign is raising awareness, for survivors and perpetrators alike, that digital abuse, including image based abuse are now crimes in Ireland.  Women’s Aid CEO, Sarah Benson, says:

“We have, quite rightly, been focused on those for whom home is not safe during Covid 19 because the pandemic has made homes where women and children are in close proximity to their abusers acutely high risk environments. However; we need to remember that you do not need to be living with a partner for them to target and abuse you when this can be achieved through digital and online means. The abuse can beam right into your home. This kind of abuse can disproportionately impact young adults.”

Ms Benson continues:

“We know that the abuse that takes place online can be devastating and ‘all-consuming’ given the ‘always on’ nature of life online. Women tell us how it is utterly draining, can often feel inescapable, and how it can be very difficult to block a persistent abuser from making contact. Some women report constant harassment and monitoring through digital means; having appalling lies about them shared on their personal social media accounts, or intimate images of them being shared without consent online. Today we want to highlight that these actions are now crimes, whether done to cause intentional harm or if the perpetrator is simply reckless of the havoc they may bring to another innocent person’s life.”

The harms and impact of intimate relationship abuse are wide ranging and can be long lasting. Our research showed that 84% of young women said that the abuse had a ‘severe’ impact on them. Young women reported that they had suffered anxiety, depression, low self-esteem as well as being isolated from family, friends and workmates because of the abuse. Some also reported suicide ideation and hospitalisation due to physical injuries.

 Ms Benson explains:

“As a society, we cannot continue to stand over a situation where such a significant number of young women, many minors, are deeply harmed and traumatised at the hands of current or former intimate partners. It is not the entry into adulthood that we want or imagine for our young people. The impact of intimate relationship abuse can mean a young woman dropping out of college or not being able to take up work, experiencing depression, anxiety and attempting suicide.  What is even more worrying, is the fact that over a third of young women who were abused reported that they never told anyone about what is happened because of fear, stigma and shame. It is a very difficult and lonely place to be, and we want that to change for the better.”

While welcoming recent positive developments, the organisation still believes that regulation and legislation still lags badly behind the fast paced digital world.  Ms Benson outlines:

“While the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act 2020 is ground-breaking, additional measures are needed to fully prevent intimate relationship abuse occurring as well as combatting the vast amount of misogyny and vitriol that women in general are subjected to everyday online. It is not a reasonable solution to ask a young person being abused to ‘opt out’ or ‘switch off’ their online presence. This only isolates people even more, and they should never suffer or be further excluded because of the actions of the perpetrator. We believe that an Online Safety Commissioner should be established through the enactment of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2019 and accessible civil remedies in cases of image based sexual abuse and other online harassment be put in place for victims, as a matter of urgency.”

The Women’s Aid Too Into You campaign website provides a range of tools and resources for young people including a relationship health check quiz, signs of abuse, information on legal protection and a guide to staying safe online.  The organisation hopes that anyone affected by intimate relationship abuse or anyone concerned about a friend or loved one will reach out for support to the 24hr National Freephone Helpline or Instant message support service on www.toointoyouie or www.womensaid.ie.    

Ms Benson concludes:

“Young women are particularly vulnerable to abuse because it can be very hard to recognise the signs, especially when you are not in a ‘domestic’ relationship with you partner.  However, intimate relationship abuse is very real and harmful for this age group.  We encourage anyone who is anxious or worried about their relationship to reach out for support.  Remember, if it feels wrong, it probably is.” 

The Women’s Aid campaign includes advertising on Instagram, snapchat and a radio ad on Spotify from Valentine’s Day to International Women’s Day on 8th March 2021.  The campaign is also being shared widely on social media by well know personalities and partner organisations like the Union of Students in Ireland.

Ends.

For more information contact Christina Sherlock on 0879192457 or email christina.sherlock@womensaid.ie

Notes for Producers/Researchers:

  • Sarah Benson, CEO of Women’s Aid, is available for interview.
  • Case study available at https://www.womensaid.ie/about/newsevents/casestudies.html
  • The Too Into You campaign is part funded by the Lifes2Good Foundation.
  • Key messages of the campaign are available at https://www.womensaid.ie/about/campaigns/toointoyou.html  
  • Key Statistics from the Women’s Aid study on intimate relationship abuse:
    • 3 in 5 young people have experienced, or know someone who has experienced, intimate relationship abuse.
    • 1 in 5 young women and 1 in 11 young men have suffered intimate relationship abuse.
    • 1 in 6 young women and 1 in 13 young men have suffered coercive control by a partner or ex-partner.
    • 51% of young women affected experienced the abuse under the age of 18.
    • Of the young women who had suffered abuse, 1 in 2 experienced online abuse.
    • Women’s Aid commissioned Red C research to gain a better understanding and insight into the experiences of young people and the prevalence, nature and impact of intimate relationship abuse. Five-hundred 18 to 25 year olds took part in an online survey from the 8th to the 15th of September 2020. The data collected was then weighted across gender, region and social class to ensure a nationally representative sample based on the latest projections from the Central Statistics Office.

(Source: One in Five Women Report, November 2020, Women's Aid).