New 'Don't Be Afraid' campaign urges victims of domestic abuse to speak out
One in five women in Ireland continues to experience abuse at the hands of their partner, according to a leading organisation.
Women’s Aid, which has just launched its ‘Don’t Be Afraid’ campaign, also said that one third of women never tell anyone about what is happening to them.
The public awareness campaign encourages women living in an abusive situation to speak out and seek help.
Women’s Aid receives calls from more than 30 women on an average day, and received 11,167 calls throughout 2014.
But Margaret Martin, Director of Women’s Aid, said that a “huge stigma” still remained in relation to domestic abuse.
“It’s much more difficult to leave a relationship when you are in a relationship with children,” she said.
“If you are in a relationship with someone who abuses you, people ask: ‘If it’s that bad, why hasn’t she left him yet?’”
Ms Martin also pointed out that domestic abuse could take various forms, such as physical, psychological, financial and sexual abuse.
“It’s very seldom that you’re going to come across physical abuse and you’re not going to come across emotional abuse,” she said.
In 2014, those who approached Women’s Aid said they had been punched, slapped, kicked, held down, strangled and beaten with household items. Others told counsellors they had been belittled, criticised and stalked during the relationship and after leaving.
Ms Martin also said that some controlling partners would go through receipts in order to track the movements and expenses of the woman, and undermine her independence.
Ms Martin said that contacting a helpline could make a “huge difference” and that Women’s Aid were “ready to listen” – even if the victim found it hard to express themselves.
“It might be a silent call. They might struggle and falter,” she said. “For some women, it might come gushing out.”
She also urged friends and families of victims to take time to listen to them, instead of advising them too soon.
“All too often, the response to her is: ‘Just leave him,’” she said. “What we know from research is that the time when a woman is thinking of leaving is the most dangerous time.”
“There may not be room in a refuge, and there’s a homeless crisis,” she added. “She may end up sleeping on a floor or sofa of a friend.”
“Friends can be a huge support. If the woman is in court, a friend could pick up the kids from school or just go for a cup of coffee with the victim.
TV3 presenter Elaine Crowley has also lent her support to the campaign, which will also send fresh information packs to nearly 500 professionals who support women affected by domestic abuse.
“I know women are famous for talking to each other about all that life throws at us but in the case of domestic abuse, many women feel unable to tell even their closest family or friends,” she said.
“Others do not even know how to start to describe the terrible abuse they are suffering.”
If you need to speak about your experience, call the Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline on 1800 341 900. The campaign also invites people to share the helpline number using the hashtag #DontBeAfraid.