Domestic abuse is a serious and pervasive problem. It has devastating consequences for its victims, their families and friends and the wider community.
Almost one third (30%) of all women, across the world, have experienced physical and / or sexual violence by their intimate partner. As many as 38% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners, according to the World Health Organisation.
In Ireland, 1 in 3 women have experienced psychological violence from a partner at some point in their lives and 1 in 6 have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner since the age of 15.
1 in 4 Irish women have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner or non-partner since the age of 15.
A vast body of research has unequivocally established the impacts of domestic abuse on women’s physical and mental health.
In the short-term, women may suffer bruising, lacerations and burns, cuts and broken bones, Or, more serious injuries leading to disability.
Women in abusive relationships are at a higher risk of unintended, or unwanted, pregnancies. They are also at risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
Domestic violence does not have to be physical, many women experiencing it will never have any bruises or physical injuries. It can take many forms including emotional and psychological abuse and the impacts can be as, if not more, severe and long lasting.
The lasting effects of trauma may cause chronic physical problems throughout life. Undergoing trauma, or witnessing trauma, are associated with a risk of:
- Cardio-vascular disease
- Arteriosclerosis or hypertension
- Gastrointestinal disease
- HIV, AIDS
Abused women are twice as likely to experience chronic physical health conditions than non-abused women.
Women who have experienced domestic abuse also report higher levels of:
- Anxiety and stress disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder
- Eating disorders
- Low self-esteem
- Self harm and suicide attempts.
We know that domestic abuse and poverty are intricately interwoven. Costs borne by individual women because of the violence they experience, include health care costs, housing and shelter costs, and legal costs, can force women into poverty. Poverty, in turn, makes it more difficult to end domestic abuse and heal from its effects.
Domestic abuse can directly result in homelessness for women and children. When a woman decides that the abuse cannot continue, fleeing her home may be the only option. Unfortunately, when sufficient support services are not in place, women are often faced with the decision to stay in the abusive situation or leave and face homelessness.
The impacts of growing up in a household with domestic abuse are complex. Children do not have to directly witness the abuse to know that something bad is happening. They may overhear an argument or see their mother’s injuries. Or, pick up on the tension between their parents, which is scary and confusing for children.
Studies have shown that children who grow up in homes with domestic violence are up to 15 times more likely to be physically and/or sexually assaulted than children who don’t.
Children may react differently depending on their circumstances. Often, however, children will have a range of emotional, physical and developmental difficulties.
As young children are developing their brains are creating the foundations for how they understand emotion and their role in society. Emotional stress caused by living with abuse can disrupt that development.
Children who have lived with domestic abuse may experience depression, severe anxiety, poor concentration levels and focus. They may have difficulty learning and limited social skills, exhibit violent, risky or delinquent behaviour.
The impact of being physically abused by a parent goes beyond the physical injuries. It has huge implications for the psychological wellbeing of the child, with many children living in a constant state of fear and dread.
Cycle of violence
The biggest predictor of children growing up to become perpetrators of domestic abuse, or victims, is growing up in a household where there is abuse. By witnessing abuse, children learn powerful (and potentially destructive) lessons about the use of violence to maintain power and control.
Studies show that in homes where there is intimate violence, on average 40% of the children are also abused. Children may react differently to the violence, depending on their age, sex, frequency and extent of violence and the types of role models that surround them. Growing up in a household with domestic violence has significant impacts on a child’s developmental progress. Although children may have been removed from abusive situations the result of living with domestic abuse can have a lasting impact throughout the life cycle. (Buckley et al., 2006). Research has also indicated that in homes with severe physical abuse, sons are at more risk of child abuse than girls.
Domestic abuse has a significant impact on the economy. Firstly, there are the costs of direct services to treat and support abused women and their children. These include social services and hospitals for example. Secondly, there are many costs in bringing abusers to justice, such as An Garda Siochana, the court system and more. Finally, the economy is suffering because of missed days at work and the loss of productivity.
Domestic abuse is costing the global economy an estimated $8 trillion annually (Copenhagen Consensus Center, 2014). It is estimated that domestic abuse is costing the Irish economy €2.2 billion annually (Cosc, 2010). SAFE Ireland is currently undertaking a “Cost of Violence Study in Ireland” in partnership with Dr Nata Duvvury in NUI Galway.