Domestic violence - A sinister corner of our society

Domestic violence is a scourge that afflicts the lives of many people in this country, especially women and children.

In order to develop a better understanding of the problem, the Irish Examiner today begins a two-part series examining domestic violence.

Young, liberated women tend to dismiss the chances that they would become involved in an abusive relationship. They say that they would never let a man hit them without calling the gardaí immediately, or that they would walk out on their abuser so fast that he would not even have time to apologise.

Statistics suggest, however, that one in five women become involved an abusive relationship. Gardaí in Cork investigated 724 instances of domestic violence last year. Only 77 of those cases involved breaches of court orders, so the bulk of those problems were hidden until the victim was compelled to seek garda protection.

The figures for Cork tally with garda figures in relation to such abuse nationwide between 2000 and 2005. A Council of Europe report in 2010 found that one in four European women suffer domestic violence at some stage of their lives. Are the Irish figures better, or is the abuse just better hidden in this country?

Those who do not seek outside help become anonymous victims with virtually no political clout, with the result that politicians have largely ignored the issue. It is vital that as much light as possible is shone on this dark, sinister corner of our society.

Abusers have been compared to paedophiles who groom their victims. These victims are so vulnerable that they mistakenly think they are at fault for bringing the abuse upon themselves.

A perception exists that domestic violence is more prevalent among ethnic minorities, especially Travellers and migrants, but this is not necessarily true. The problem is that victims in these communities have more difficulty in securing help from family and friends, and thus have to rely more on refuges.

Migrant women tend to be particularly vulnerable if they have no residency rights independent of their husband or partner. Women who are the partners of an abusive Irish national, or a migrant from outside the EU, frequently feel that they have little legal protection. If they leave the abusive partner, they fear being deported and separated from their children.

This deficit of rights must be addressed immediately.

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