This was the first commissioned article I wrote for the Farmer’s Journal. It looks at issues around domestic violence against women. It’s old, and so some of the info is out of date!
In the Journal we often get telephone calls from women who are being abused by their husbands. Many of them have never spoken to anyone about the abuse and do not know what their rights are. Here, Cork psychologist Sally O’Reilly looks at the problem of domestic violence and outlines the options open to women who are being abused:
Don’t take the blame
When it starts most women who are hit or abused for the first time do not report it. She often feels that she is in some way to blame for it. She feels disbelief, she is shocked, scared and sincerely believes him when he says it won’t happen again, especially if he’s tearful and shocked himself. When it does happen again, she feels even more guilty (“he was so sorry that last time I must have really upset him for him to do it again”), more afraid, as the second and subsequent beatings usually get progressively worse, and more stupid for not having reported it the first time.
At this point she may stop inviting her friends and family to her home for fear that they may find out. There are many reasons why women stay in abusive relationships. The thoughts “where can I go? What will I do for money?” are utmost in the minds of women who want to leave. When abused women stay long enough, they come to believe that they deserve no better. This is not true. No matter what excuses the abuser uses, he has acted inappropriately and illegally and can be reported to the Gardai for doing so.
Your legal rights
There are two main types of orders: A Safety Order is a court order forbidding the violent person from further violence or threats of violence. It does not oblige the person to leave the family home. A Barring Order requires he person lo leave the family home. To get a Barring Order you must go lo your District Family Court and apply for one.
While a person is waiting for the court to decide on an application for a safety or barring order, a protection order can be put in place. It has the same effect as a safety order. In exceptional circumstances the court can grant an interim barring order which is an immediate order requiring the violent person to leave the family home until the hearing for a barring order is heard.
With a barring order the judge can order the abuser to leave the home for up to three years. It is advisable to have a solicitor and any evidence or witnesses to help you prove allegations of physical abuse.
If the abuser breaks the order they will be arrested and charged, possibly with a prison sentence.
A barring order is more complicated when a farm is involved. The farmer can be barred from the house but because the farm is his workplace, he will be working near the abused woman. Because he has a right to access to his workplace, only in exceptional circumstances will the judge rule that a man cannot enter his farm.
Of the solicitors I spoke to, not one of them had heard of such a ruling. As in many areas, the judge uses his discretion. Agreed boundaries should be worked out between the couple, and if this is not possible, the woman and her solicitor should agree on boundaries and put it to the judge. Occasionally, the woman might find that the judge will not award a barring order to her. Mental abuse, in particular, is hard to prove and if the judge feels that a barring order is not justified, he will not award one. Incidentally, a parent can apply for protection against a violent child aged over 18 and a barring order, unless the child has greater ownership rights than they do.
You can also take out a Maintenance Order to obtain the financial support for your children. You will both be asked to give evidence of your income and the judge will decide what support you are entitled to. If your partner fails to pay, you can bring him to court, or if he is employed get an Attachment of Earnings Order, which means the money will be deducted by his employer and paid directly to you. You also have a right to apply for Supplementary Welfare Allowance from the Community Welfare Officer nearest to your home. If you are separated from your husband for three months you can apply for Lone Parents Allowance. If you wish to be re-housed at this point you are eligible for housing as a one parent family. If you need emergency refuge ring Women’s Aid and they will inform you of a safe place near you.
A Custody Order may be taken out to gain custody of your children. Access to the other parent is decided by the judge. If one parent has been abusive to the children you can request supervised access. All these orders can be taken out on your own and are free of charge, but it is advisable to have legal representation for hearings etc.
Talk to someone
ANY WOMAN in an abusive relation ship will at sonic stage feel terribly alone. My advice to women experiencing this is to talk to someone, be it a friend or a professional counsellor. Women’s Aid is a wonderful organisation. Any approach to them is confidential. They run a helpline, an advisory service, crisis and second stage refuges, ongoing support, educational events and workshops and training for those working with women involved in abuse. They have also set up a housing association, Sonas, which provides longterm housing for women and children.
Legal Aid Board:
Your local Gardai.
Your District Court.
Your Local Health
Who abused women talk to
Friend – 50%
Relative – 37%
Doctor – 29%
Garda – 20%
Solicitor – 16%
Priest/Religious Minister 16%
Courts – 12%
Casualty Unit – 4%
Social Services – 3%
Women’s Refuge – 2%
Other – 5%
Source: Report of Task Force