By Tracie Joyce
Wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a world where every woman and child could look forward to living a life free from abuse? As we enter 2017, sadly, studying the shocking statistics, that situation doesn’t look set to be a reality any time soon as it appears domestic violence is still being reported more and more to agencies all over the country, with the Women’s Aid helpline receiving hundreds of calls from abused women, year in, year out!
However, what is encouraging is that more women are finding the courage to seek help, with some of these survivors coming from the Traveller community. However, Linda Smith, Manager of Women’s Aid’s 24 hour National Freephone Helpline explains, “Only a small number of these women identify that they are from the Traveller community,”
With that in mind, in an effort to raise some awareness around this problem, Travellers’ Voice chatted with Linda and put together some information and advice for those readers who may need it, and remember, all calls are confidential.
“We hope that any woman who is experiencing any form of abuse – emotional, physical, sexual or financial, know that they can contact our Helpline. The Women’s Aid Helpline is confidential. We won’t ask any questions or tell you what to do. We will listen to women and provide any support and information that we can. We talk to the woman about whatever she needs to talk about.” Linda adds, “Anyone who is being abused can call us at any time. It is free and available all over Ireland. The number is 1800 341 900. If a Traveller woman contacts us we will support her as best we can and link her in with other services who can also help.”
It’s a sad fact that when most people think of domestic violence they tend to think of someone being physically hurt, however, according to Linda, “The Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline receives 41 calls each day from women who are frightened, isolated and trapped in their own homes. We hear from women throughout the year who are being hurt physically and emotionally. Emotional abuse and controlling behaviour is the biggest issue disclosed to our Helpline but it can be the hardest part for women to describe or for people to understand. One of the key parts of emotional abuse is isolation from friends and family. The abuser might also criticise what the woman is especially proud of, such as her parenting or her job. That, combined with isolation from people who treat you with respect, will erode confidence. Then it becomes part of your normal day. One of the signs of a relationship like this is the feeling of walking on eggshells around the abuser.”
The most important thing a woman can do initially is talk to people they trust
As most cases of domestic violence and abuse go unreported with many victims trying to justify their abusers’ actions, convincing themselves their situations will improve, Linda advises, “The most important thing a woman can do initially is talk to people they trust. What gets women through it is the support of friends and family. When they begin to talk about it, they start making sense of it. Making a call to Women’s Aid is a safe way of talking about what is happening. We understand that picking up the phone and talking about what is happening can be very difficult. Women may also be afraid of their husband/partner finding out that they called us or have looked at our website. We would encourage women to use their gut instinct about contacting us and find the safest way possible, when they feel it is safe for them to do so.”
Something that is not often talked about is dating abuse, however, a service that is aimed at younger women, the 2in2u website is available for anyone who feels they are being abused by a boyfriend/girlfriend. Log onto www.2in2u.ie for more information.
In addition, if you suspect someone close to you is being abused, Linda has some basic tips where you could help.
- Listen to her, try to understand and take care not to blame her. Tell her that she is not alone and that there are many women like her in similar situations. Acknowledge that it takes strength to trust someone enough to talk to them about experiencing abuse. Give her time to talk, but don’t push her to go into too much detail if she doesn’t want to.
- Acknowledge that she is in a frightening and very difficult situation.
- Tell her that no one deserves to be threatened or beaten, despite what her abuser has told her. Nothing she can do or say can justify the abuser’s behaviour.
- Support her as a friend. Encourage her to express her feelings, whatever they are. Allow her to make her own decisions.
- Don’t tell her to leave the relationship if she is not ready to do this. This is her decision.
- Tell her about the Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline
- Give her mobile phone credit so she can make calls in case of emergency.
- Ask if she has suffered physical harm. If so, offer to go with her to a hospital or to see her doctor. Suggest that it might be useful in future to have records of any injuries as abuse frequently escalates over time.
- Help her to report the assault to the police if she chooses to do so.
- Go with her to visit a solicitor if she is ready to take this step.
- Agree a code word with her which she can use if she is in danger and needs help.
- Plan safe strategies for leaving an abusive relationship. Let her create her own boundaries of what she thinks is safe and what is not safe; don’t urge her to follow any strategies that she expresses doubt about.
- Offer your friend the use of your address and/or telephone number to leave information and messages, and tell her you will look after an emergency bag for her, if she wants this.
- Give her a small amount of money to put away in case she needs a taxi or bus in an emergency to leave the house and go to family or refuge.
- Remember to look after yourself while you are supporting someone through such a difficult and emotional time. Ensure that you do not put yourself into a dangerous situation; for example, do not offer to talk to the abuser about your friend or let yourself be seen by the abuser as a threat to their relationship.
Women’s Aid. PH: 1800 341 900. It’s a National Freephone Helpline operational 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Please call if you need help and remember, in an emergency dial 999!