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40% of women first experienced Domestic Violence during pregnancy or after childbirth

COPE Galway Waterside House highlights the issue of parenting and domestic violence in the run-up to International Day opposing Violence against Women on 25th November 2016.

Parenting can be difficult at the best of times but parenting in the context of a domestic violence relationship can be particularly challenging and traumatising for both mothers and children.  “This is an area of domestic violence that has remained hidden to a large extent, yet the things women tell us can be shocking and upsetting”, says Wendy Heuston of COPE Galway Waterside House.

“He didn’t like me holding the baby too much and I think it was because of that that she cried a lot and then one night he slapped me for the first time, saying that I wasn’t fit to be a mother, because I couldn’t look after her properly …and he couldn’t work with all the crying….” Sabrina, 34yrs (mother of Aoife, 6 months old), who used the COPE Galway Waterside House Domestic Violence Outreach service.

Women can be targeted at all stages of conception and pregnancy, from blaming the woman for either getting pregnant or not getting pregnant, to conception itself being a result of coercive sex, or even to miscarriage if there is physical violence.  The woman can be prevented from attending ante-natal appointments or, conversely, the partner will accompany her to all appointments and stay by her side throughout to prevent her from disclosing the violence to anyone.

After the baby has been born, the perpetrator can try to disrupt the mother and child bond by not supporting her as a parent and leaving all the caring responsibilities to her.  He can keep her short of money and canbecome angry when the baby cries, putting her under constant pressure to keep the baby quiet.  Under this regime of terror, women can become exhausted and depressed and they can sometimes find it hard to be emotionally available to their children, leading to judgements on their ability to parent.

In research* carried out this year by NUIG and COPE Galway Waterside House, 40% of women interviewed said they first experienced domestic violence either in pregnancy (20%) or following childbirth (20%). This figure echoes national and international statistics which estimate that between 20-30% of women experience domestic violence in pregnancy.  Even after separating from their partners, 100% of the women continued to experience abuse post-separation, with children often being used by their ex-partners to undermine the woman’s parenting by presenting themselves as the ‘fun’ parent; telling the children it’s their mother’s fault they are separated; grooming the children to see him as the powerful parent and their mother as weak. “All of this is an intrinsic part of domestic violence and is an overall strategy to ultimately alienate a woman from her children but, unfortunately, it is sometimes not recognised as such”, says Wendy Heuston.

Among the findings of the research were that mainstream parenting courses, to which women are frequently referred, do not take account of the specific circumstances of women who are, or have been in an abusive relationship and that the effects on children can be significant without supportive interventions to address the impact on them.  Co-Parenting is rarely cooperative in the context of Domestic Violence and this can be very stressful for both mothers and children.  

However, when these tactics are recognised for what they are, and not seen merely as a problem specific to the couple; when the woman and the children get adequate ongoing supports; they can and do recover and positive outcomes can be achieved. Accessing support is vital – there is always help available.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, ring COPE Galway Waterside House at 091-565985. If you are worried about the well-being of a child contact TUSLA at 091-546370.

*The research was carried out by NUIG MA Social Work student Sarah Melvin, and COPE Galway Waterside House as part of a Community Based Research partnership under the Community Knowledge Initiative, which pairs up academia with community based organisations. 

As part of the annual global awareness campaign against domestic violence, 16 Days of Action on Violence against Women, COPE Galway Waterside House will release daily statistics & information on Domestic Violence by email and on Social Media. “16 Facts for 16 Days” commences on Friday, 25th November and runs until International Human Rights Day on 10th December. Visit www.copegalway.ie/domesticviolence or follow Twitter @copegalway and Facebook facebook.com/copegalway for more.

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For further information contact:

Wendy Heuston, Manager, COPE Galway Waterside House Tel: 091 565 985

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Note to Editor:

COPE Galway Waterside House is the only 24 hour accessible refuge in the Western region.  It provides refuge accommodation, information, support and court accompaniment to women and their children experiencing domestic violence. There is an Outreach service for women in the city and county who are in abusive relationships and who need support and information on their options. In 2015, COPE Galway Waterside House worked with 380 women & their 180 children experiencing Domestic Violence. The service provided 780 outreach appointments, 205 court accompaniments and answered 1100 crisis calls. The service was unable to accommodate 288 women with 405 children who requested refuge, due to lack of space.

A new refuge, with 50% increase in capacity, is currently being renovated (works due to commence early 2017) from a building that was gifted to the organisation. It is due for completion at the end of 2017.  Fundraising for this renovation is ongoing. Visit http://www.copegalway.ie/newrefuge for more.

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