A perception exists that domestic violence is more likely among certain ethnic minorities, particularly Travellers, but charities say it’s not that it is more prevalent but that escaping it is more difficult.
“There is a myth out there that Traveller culture is accepting of domestic violence,” says Sandra Byrne of the Violence Against Women programme at the Pavee Point Travellers’ Centre, “but it’s an issue not so much for cultural reasons as internal constraints.”
Traveller women face greater practical barriers in that, if they live in a halting site with extended family, moving in with a relative may only mean getting metres away from their husband.
The concept of a best friend does not really exist among Travellers so there is no alternative support or accommodation option there, and Travellers tend to have larger families, making the logistics of moving more awkward.
“In the Traveller community, there is a sense that your own affairs are private so there can be a reluctance to disclose abuse,” says Ms Byrne. “And in a very close-knit community, for a Traveller woman to seek support from another family may bring trouble to that family. Also, Travellers place a high value on marriage so there may be pressure to stay within that relationship.”
There is still a degree of mistrust of the gardaí, legal system, and state services, and poor literacy skills and lack of transport can hamper a woman’s access to them.
Women’s refuges have built up a good relationship with Traveller women, another reason Travellers are over-represented among the admissions to many refuges.
“What we really need is to have Traveller and Roma women working within the support services. That would do a lot to build trust,” says Ms Byrne.
For immigrant women, the bar to escaping domestic violence can be even greater, as they often have no independent residency rights.
“If you are here as a dependent spouse or dependent partner, you do not have legal protection,” says Hilkka Becker, lawyer with the Immigration Council of Ireland.
It is possible to apply for residency in your own right as a woman fleeing domestic violence but it’s at the discretion of the minister for justice whether he grants it.
“It comes up a lot,” says Ms Becker. “We have weekly meetings and discuss the cases that we might take — all three cases this week are domestic-violence related.
“The minister is looking at these kind of cases very favourably, but without a specific legal right to independent residency, women are still taking a chance.”
Tomorrow we look at the options and obstacles when moving on from domestic violence — physically, legally, and emotionally — and we talk to Women’s Aid and other groups about what more needs to be done to tackle the problem.
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