Someone you know
If someone you know or care about is experiencing domestic abuse: they may have told you directly, you may have witnessed it or you have strong grounds to believe they are in that situation.
It is important to remember that domestic abuse differs from a “bad” or “dysfunctional” relationship. The difference is that, in an abusive relationship, one partner fears the other- their reactions; their behaviour or their outbursts.
Domestic abuse doesn’t always have to mean physical abuse. There are many other ways of being abusive- emotional, verbal, financial, sexual and, yes, physical. There is usually an element of control in an abusive relationship: one partner seeking to control the other.
Domestic Abuse may not happen all the time- there are often periods of quiet, leading up to an abusive incident, followed by another quiet period, often accompanied by apologies and promises.
Exposing children to domestic abuse is the emotional abuse of children – even if they are not the targets of the abuse.
Signs a woman may be experiencing domestic abuse…
• She appears to be afraid of her partner and may be overly-anxious about pleasing him
• She becomes distant from her family and friends and may stop seeing them.
• Her partner continually phones or texts her when she is away from him, checking to see where she is and who she is with.
• She may have bruises, cuts or other injuries which cannot be easily explained.
• Financially, she may have little access to cash or 'spending money', even if she is working and/or well-paid.
• Her behaviour may have changed- become more withdrawn; quieter; less approachable. She may become dependant on alcohol, drugs or other substances for the first time or, alternatively, stop drinking or smoking out of the blue.
How to talk about domestic abuse...
Your reponse may make a big difference but starting/have the conversation can be really difficult. The following suggestions may help:
• If you are approaching her about abuse, please find a safe time and space to discuss the matter. Start with saying what you have noticed, i.e. 'I saw/heard...' 'I noticed that...'
• Let her know that you care. You are not accusing her or blaming her, you are concerned.
• Let her know that you believe her- abusers can be very charming and she may believe that no-one will believe her.
• If she does not want to talk (or if she denies it is happening), please respect her decision and do not force the issue. Let her know that she can come to you whenever she is ready- many women will need time before being able to speak about it.
• Let her know that the abuse is not her fault. There are supports that she can avail of when she's ready. Refer her to our website or give her our phone number.
• Focus on how she is and how she is feeling in the situation. Is she coping?
• If there are children in the situation, how is the abuse affecting them? Many abusers also abuse children directly and/ or use children as leverage against the mother. Domestic Abuse is considered emotionally abusive toward the children in the home, also.
• Her safety and the safety of any children in the situation are the most important factors.
• Blame her or find fault with her, i.e. 'why don't you just leave'
• Get frustrated or give up: it is estimated that women try to leave abusive relationships seven times before doing it. Remain patient, supportive and hopeful.
• Minimise her experiences by explaining or dismissing the abusive behaviour, i.e. 'he was drunk' or 'he loves you, really'
• Give her orders or tell her what she needs to do. It's likely that she already feels powerless in this situation- be supportive and be careful with the words you use.
• Make hurtful or negative comments about her partner. It may be your first reaction, but she may defend him from criticism, which will cause conflict and may drive her away. Instead, focus on how she is feeling and the impact that the behaviour is having on her and any children affected.
• Confront the partner. Confrontations can heighten the danger for her and any children in the situation. Stay supportive, yes, but addressing the abuser is always helpful.
Child protection and child welfare is always a priority in Domestic Abuse situations. If you are concerned about a child or children, you can report your concerns. Find out how at the Tusla website. If you have concerns for the immediate safety of a woman or her children, please contact the Gardai directly.