‘Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today and it remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it’ – United Nations, 2020
Domestic violence is still highly stigmatised to the point that it is difficult to gauge the number of women experiencing such abuse because we know that the many contacts we receive at Women’s Aid are just the tip of the iceberg. Many of those suffering are afraid to speak out because of the stigma and shame that is still very present and because of this, many women don’t get access to supports that are available and many perpetrators remain unpunished.
In 2019, we conducted a survey which 928 women took part in in order to better understand the support needs of women suffering from domestic abuse from current or ex-intimate partners an identify the gaps that currently exist. It was a chance to learn what is most helpful to women and what barriers there may be for them seeking help. We found that 33% of women did not seek any form of help in relation to the abuse they were suffering and 40% of respondents indicated reasons for not speaking out that included stigma, shame and self-shame; not wanting to identify/be seen as a victim; fear of not being believed or feeling isolated. For those respondents who did access support and or information from Women’s Aid they said that a number of barriers still existed with 24% citing stigma, shame or self-shame. Read more about the survey in our Annual Impact Report 2019.
These findings echo the barriers that young women (18 to 25) cite in relation to help-seeking for intimate relationship abuse. Our new report: One in five young women suffer intimate relationship abuse in Ireland shows that young women and men often don’t seek support for intimate relationship abuse because of embarrassment and shame. However, we found that young men are more likely to seek support than young women with 68% of women having sought some form of support for intimate relationship violence compared with 84% of men. 32% of women said that they never spoke to anyone about the abuse compared with 16% of men. After fear of the perpetrator, young women cited embarrassment and shame as the main reasons for not seeking support. In the focus groups, some of the young women felt that a woman may be more likely to stay in an intimate relationship than a man, as women are more likely to have been socialised to tolerate these kinds of behaviours.
‘Women have been conditioned to put other people first; there’s still an element of that and it’s built into the system.’ – Stephanie, young woman with no experience or intimate relationship abuse.
‘If a man cheats, the woman is meant to stay and keep the family together. This hasn’t left our generation yet. Girls are more likely to tolerate it’ - Niamh, young women with personal experience of intimate relationship abuse.
There are many barriers that women suffering domestic violence face in relation to seeking help and support. They are often living in fear of the perpetrator and may have been told that they will be killed if they leave. They may have a lack of emotional support around them or be facing the under-resourced and at times unsupportive legal system. The stigma, shame and self-shame women face as a result of cultural and societal attitudes to women affected by domestic violence can and must end. A woman in an abusive relationship is dealing with an intricate web of factors in trying to keep herself and possibly also her children safe.
Education and public awareness of the seriousness of abuse in intimate relationships amongst young people, emphasising the fact that abuse is not the fault of the victim, is required to empower victims to speak out about their experiences and seek support. Most of all, women subjected to domestic violence need our support and compassion. They need to be listened to and they need to be believed.