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The following information has been kindly provided by Belfast Women's Aid.

Throughout this section we use the term 'friend'. The information provided is also useful to family member, neighbours and workers in the field.  Helping our friends and family live free from physical abuse is only part of the solution to the problem of domestic violence.  Heightening community awareness and speaking out about the need to protect victim's rights are critical.

Thousands of women in Ireland are physically and emotionally abused by their husbands or partners each year.  Chances are, someone you know-your mother, sister, friend, co-worker or neighbour-is a victim of domestic violence.

Perhaps you feel your friend's problem will "work itself out".  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The violence will not end until someone takes action to stop it.

Your support and encouragement can be of tremendous value to a friend involved with an abusive partner.  You can ease the isolation and loss of control she may feel by listening to her, providing her with more information on domestic violence and helping her to explore her options.

But I didn't know 

All intimate relationships have their problems, and sometimes it's difficult for other to decide when it's appropriate to intervene.  Maybe your friend has mentioned "trouble" at home, and you've dismissed her comments by saying all couples have problems.  Ask yourself how you've reacted in the past to these possible signs that your friend is being abused and need your help:

  • Have you readily accepted your friend's explanation for visible injuries, such as black eyes, bruises, or broken bones?  Do you tend not to press her further about frequent "accidents" that cause her to miss work?

  • Does your friend's partner exert an unusual amount of control over her activities? Are you reluctant to discuss his control over family finances, the way she dresses, and her contact with family and friends?

  • If your friend's partner ridicules her publicly, do you and others ignore his behaviour or join in the laughter at your friend's expense?  Think about why you might not be willing to stand up for our friend.  Do you already sense the volatile nature of her partner's comments?

  • Have you noticed changes in your friend's or your friend's children's behaviour?  Does she appear frightened, exhausted or on edge?  Do the children seem to be easily upset?  Are they experiencing sudden problems in school or other activities?

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What You Should Know About Domestic Violence 

The first step you can take to help your friend is to team more about domestic violence. Society's lack of understanding about the dynamics of domestic violence often is the greatest obstacle an abused woman faces in her efforts to end the violence in her life. With this in mind, here are some thoughts and questions you may have. 

I shouldn't get involved in a private family matter.

Domestic violence - also called spouse abuse, battering, women abuse, wife beating - is not just a family problem.  It is a crime with serious repercussions for your friend, your friend's children and the entire community.

The violence can 't really be that serious.

Domestic violence can involve threats, pushing, punching, slapping, choking, sexual assault, and assault with weapons. It can include psychological threats and verbal abuse that make a person fear for her safety. It is rarely a one-time occurrence, and usually escalates in frequency and severity over time. 

Any act of domestic violence is something to take seriously. Domestic abuse of women can result in more injuries that require medical treatment than rape, car accidents, and muggings combined. Domestic violence can be deadly.  

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That kind of behaviour doesn't 't go on in my neighbourhood.

Domestic violence occurs among all ages, races and religions, and classes. It happens to people of all educational and income levels. 

My friend must be doing something to provoke her partner's violence.

Your friend is the victim of abuse; she is not to blame nor does she ever deserve such treatment.  Whatever problem exists in a relationship, the use of violence to resolve them is never justified or acceptable.

If it's so bad, why doesn't 't she just leave?

For most of us, the decision to end a relationship is not an easy one. An abused womans' emotional ties to her partner may still be strong, supporting her hope that the violence will end.  If your friend has been financially dependent on her partner and leaves with the children, she may face severe economic hardship.  She may not know about available resources.  Perhaps social and justice systems have been unresponsive to her in the past.  religious, cultural or family pressures may make your friend believe it is her duty to keep her marriage together at all costs.  When your friend has previously tried to leave, her partner may have used violence or the threat of it to stop her,

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Doesn't 't my friend care about what's happening to her children?

Your friend is probably doing her best to protect the children from the violence.  She may feel that the abuse is only directed at her and does not yet realise it's effect on the children.  Perhaps she believes that her children need two parents, or lacks the resources to support them on her own.  The children may beg to stay, not wanting to leave their home or their friends.  Your friend may fear that if she leaves she will lose custody of her children.

I know my friend's partner - I really don 't think he could hurt anyone.

Many abusers are not violent in other relationships. They can be charming and lovable in a social situation, yet display extreme violence in the privacy of the home.

He must be sick.

Violence is a learned behaviour, not a mental illness. The abuser's experiences as a child and the message he gets from society in general, tell him that violence is an effective way to achieve power an control over his partner's behaviour.  people who use violence are accountable for their own actions.  Viewing them as "sick" wrongly excuses them from taking responsibility for their behaviour.

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