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What is Domestic Violence?

The 1995 Domestic Violence Act states that violence can be physical, sexual, emotional or psychological. It can also include financial, and spiritual abuse.

Physical abuse can be, throwing things, hitting, punching, slapping, pinching, kicking, spitting, holding down, urinating, pushing, choking, strangling and using weapons.

Sexual abuse can include rape, forcing sex, making someone do something sexual that they don’t want to, sexual harassment, unwanted touching, forcing someone to watch porn, denying access to contraception, forcing or denying abortion, using sex as a bargaining tool to stop further abuse.

Sexual abuse for children, is any sexual activity including sexual talk to a child under the age of 16.

This type of abuse can be hidden and hard to detect from the outside. It is easy for the victim to feel like the abuse is their own fault or that they are going mad. It occurs over time, it can be subtle or it can be blatant.

Psychological abuse can include threats to harm family members, children or pets in order for the perpetrator to get their own way, controlling what the victim wears, where they go and who they see. Isolating the victim from their family and friends, name calling, threatening suicide, threatening to report the victim to authorities, excessive jealousy, making critical comments, undermining decisions, stalking, using social media to bully or control the victim. Anything that is deliberately aimed at controlling the victim and undermining their ability to think and act freely is psychological abuse.

Financial abuse can include controlling the money, checking spending, limiting access to funds that result in poverty, refusing child support, making someone claim benefit illegally, and refusing access to work or study, putting all finances in the victim’s name to hide criminal behaviour, refusing to put the home or finances in the victim’s name.

Spiritual abuse includes stopping the victim from expressing their spiritual or religious beliefs, not letting them attend worship, criticising or making fun of beliefs, tradition or culture, stopping someone from following their dreams of passions.

Sexual Abuse & Child Abuse

The World Health Organization (Krug et al, 2002) defines sexual violence as “any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting including but not limited to home and work”.

Sexual violence can be sexual contact or behaviour that occurs without explicit consent of the victim. Some forms of sexual assault include:

  • Penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape
  • Attempted rape
  • Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator’s body
  • Fondling or unwanted sexual touching
  • 1 out of 3 girls may be sexually abused before she turns 16 years old. Most of this abuse (90%) will be done by someone she knows and 70% will involve genital contact
  • 1 in 7 boys may be sexually abused by adulthood
  • Young people are statistically at the highest risk of being sexually assaulted; the 16 – 24 year old age group is four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than any other age group
  • People who are vulnerable in some way are also a more common target for sexual abuse, especially those with physical disabilities
  • Untreated impacts of abuse in childhood can continue to impact on survivors as adults in the form of depression, anxiety, impaired interpersonal relationships, parenting difficulties, eating difficulties, and/or drug and alcohol misuse to cope with strong feelings. Therefore it is important to seek counselling. People who seek counselling are better equipped and resourced to heal and less likely to suffer ongoing physical and mental health problems
  • The long-term effects of sexual abuse on children have been correlated with almost every known mental health disorder and most of society’s ‘social problems’ such as early teenage pregnancy, single parenting and lifetime low social economic status
  • A child’s home environment is a key factor in aiding recovery. Early intervention with the family can make the difference between a family that is able to develop an emotionally safe home environment that both heals and prevents future abuse, versus a family that leaves a child isolated and vulnerable in dealing with the aftermath of the abuse

Child abuse is the harming (whether physically, emotionally or sexually), ill treatment, abuse, neglect or deprivation of any child or young person. (CYFS)

Psychological abuse can be criticising, rejecting, degrading, isolating, terrorising, exploiting, and ignoring a child. Neglect may be failure to provide the necessities of life such as food, shelter, warmth, medical care, safety, abandonment, lack of supervision, lack of parenting.

Physical abuse can be punching, kicking, biting, shaking, burning, throwing, and striking with an object. It is never acceptable.

Sexual abuse includes any sexual acts of behaviours towards a child under the age of 16.

Children who are exposed to domestic abuse are more likely to be at risk of being abused than other children. They can be harmed by witnessing violence as well as by physical violence.

  • Talk to your children- Listen to them
  • Try to be honest about the situation but without frightening them. Reassure them that the abuse is not their fault and that they are not responsible for the behaviour of adults.
  • Explain to them that abuse is wrong and does not solve problems.
  • Your children will naturally trust you so avoid breaking that trust by lying to them.
  • Encourage children to talk about their feelings. This can be helped by completing an activity together such a drawing a picture.
  • Children will wait until they feel safe enough to talk about how they feel.
  • Children will feel more safe and secure with one parent in a stable environment that with two parents in an abusive situation.
  • Counselling is available and can help

The chances are that we all may know someone who is experiencing abuse behind closed doors.  Unless you are trying to help someone who has been very open about their experiences it may be difficult for you to help them directly.  However, there are some basic steps that you can take to assist and give support, if someone confides in you that they are experiencing domestic abuse.

  • Listen to them, try to understand and take care not to blame them. Tell them that they are not alone and that there are many people like them in the same situation.
  • Acknowledge that it takes strength to trust someone enough to talk to them about experiencing abuse. Give them time to talk, but don’t push them to go into too much detail if they do not want to.
  • Acknowledge that they are in a frightening and very difficult situation.
  • Tell them that no one deserves to be threatened or beaten, despite what the abuser has told them. Nothing they can do or say can justify the abuser’s behaviour.
  • Support them as a friend. Encourage them to express their feelings, whatever they are. Allow them to make their own decisions.
  • Don’t tell them to leave the relationship if they are not ready to do this. This is their decision.
  • Ask if they have suffered physical harm. If so, offer to go with them to a hospital or to see a GP.
  • Help them to report the assault to the police if they choose to do so.
  • Be ready to provide information on organisations that offer help to victims and their children. Explore the available options.
  • Go with them to visit a lawyer if they are ready to take this step.
  • Plan safe strategies for leaving an abusive relationship.
  • Let them create their own boundaries of what they think is safe and what is not safe; don’t urge them to follow any strategies that they express doubt about.
  • Offer your friend the use of your address and/or telephone number to leave information and messages, and tell them you will look after an emergency bag.

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.