Domestic Abuse

This section is for young people who are concerned about domestic abuse.

It may be something that is happening in your life, or to someone that you know and care about. Or maybe it is something you want to understand better.

The facts about domestic abuse aren't easy reading, but it can affect anyone. Many young people grow up seeing a parent being hurt or living in fear and may be victims themselves. It doesn't just happen at home. Domestic abuse also includes abuse by other relatives, boyfriends, girlfriends or ex-partners. If it is happening in your life, it probably means you are living with a lot of stress, fear, anger, sadness or guilt.

Did you know?

No one should have to experience or witness domestic abuse. Help is available. The information you find here will help you to understand more about domestic abuse and show you where and how to get help and support.

  • No one has the right to abuse another person.
  • You have the right to be safe.
  • Abusive behaviour by other people is not your fault - you are not to blame.
  • You are not alone. Domestic abuse is common, though usually hidden.
  • If you are concerned or worried about domestic abuse or if you are not safe, talk to someone you can trust.


Your rights

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (which Ireland signed up to in 1992) provides many rights to all children and young people. It declares:

You have the right:

  • To be protected and live free violence, abuse or harm.
  • To be brought up by your parents in a family, unless it is not in your interests.
  • To express your views and to have them taken into account in matters affecting you.
  • To have decision affecting you made in your best interest.
  • To be treated with dignity and respect.
  • To be free from discrimination.

What is domestic abuse?

  • Q: What is domestic abuse?

    A: Domestic abuse (or domestic violence) is when abuse or violence is used by one person to hurt, bully, or control another person in a relationship.

    Domestic abuse is more often used by men against women, but it can also be used by women against men. It can also happen in same sex relationships between gay or lesbian couples.

    Domestic abuse can happen in relationships where couples are married, living together, going out with each other or even living apart.

    It is often a pattern that starts early in a relationship and gets worse over time.

    It can be:

    • Physical - hitting, punching, pushing, hair-pulling, shaking, kicking, strangling or using weapons.
    • Sexual - being forced to have sex at times or in ways you do not want to, being raped.
    • Emotional - being put down, cursed at or criticised, being called abusive names or being threatened. Not being allowed to see or have contact with friends or family. Being forced to stay silent about the abuse.
    • Financial - not being allowed to have or to manage money.


    It can also be things like harassment and intimidation such as stalking, making abusive phone calls, emails or texts.

  • Q: How much does domestic abuse happen?

    A:  It happens a lot. A study in Ireland in 2005 found that 1 in 7 women and 1 in 16 men had experienced abuse from a partner at some time in their lives. (www.crimecouncil.ie) link broken

    Other research has found that domestic abuse happens even more than that - in about 20% of families. However, as domestic abuse is usually hidden within families and relationships, it's true extent it probably not fully known.

  • Q: Are some people more likely to be abused than others are?

    A: Women are more likely to be abused than men. Irish research (in 2005) found that women were:

    • Twice as likely to experience physical abuse.
    • Three times more likely to experience emotional abuse.
    • Seven times more likely to experience sexual abuse.
    • Twice as likely to need medical treatment.
    • Ten times more have to stay in a hospital.


    Children and young people who live in families where domestic abuse happens are more likely to be abused themselves than other children or young people.

    Adults whose parents were abusive have more than double the chance of being abused themselves.

    Abuse is more likely when people are isolated from family and neighbourhood supports.

    People who have a serious disability are almost three times more likely than others to experience serious abuse.

    People, particularly women, who are members of minority groups such as Travellers, immigrants or other groups and who experience domestic abuse may be more isolated and find it harder to get help and support.

  • Q: If it's so common, why do more people not know about it?

    A: Like a lot of abuse, domestic abuse tends to happen in secret. Often people who are abused are afraid or ashamed to tell anybody. Sometimes abusers use threats to make them keep it a secret.

    One of the best ways to stop experiencing or witnessing domestic abuse is to tell someone you trust, who can help you.

What's an abusive relationship?

  • Q: How would you know if a relationship is abusive?

    A:

    • In healthy relationships, each partner is equal and people treat each other with respect. No one person tries to control the other.
    • Each person feels safe and able to be themselves.
    • Each person takes responsibility for their behaviour.
    • People listen to and respect each other's opinions, even if they don't always agree.
    • People trust and support each other.
    • People value the other person and want them to be happy in whatever ways they choose.
    • People are open, honest and sincere with each other and do not try to manipulate their partner with threats, lies or blame.
    • People talk about their feelings and deal any issues openly and co-operatively.
    • People accept that their goals, interests and priorities may sometimes be different.
    • They can agree to differ or reach a compromise or agreement acceptable to both.


    In abusive relationships, one person tries to be in control and to hold power over the other person. This might include:

    • Using violence, intimidation or threats.
    • Using gestures, facial expressions or words to frighten or put down.
    • Shouting, name calling, criticism or blaming.
    • Forcing the other person to have sex or do things they do not want to do.
    • Controlling who the person sees, talks to or spends time with.
    • Controlling money or if the person works.
  • Q: Don't all families fight sometimes?

    A: Yes, many families can have fights or arguments from time to time or people may not always agree. The difference in domestic abuse is that one person always tries to dominate or control the other and uses violence or abuse to get their way. This becomes a pattern and often the violence or intimidation gets worse over time.

  • Q: When my Dad gets drunk, he picks fights with my Mother and sometimes he hits her. Is that domestic abuse?

    A: Sometimes people blame alcohol or drugs for their behaviour and in some cases people behave differently when they are drunk. No one has the right to hit another person and being drunk does not cause it or excuse it. People are responsible for their behaviour and cannot use drink or drugs as an excuse to hurt or abuse another person.

Is it against the law?

  • Q: Is domestic abuse against the law?

    A: Yes, some forms of abuse are against the law, but not all. Physical violence or intimidation is a crime. Emotional abuse is not necessarily against the law but can be just as damaging as physical abuse.

    The law provides protection against domestic abuse and recognises people's right to safety and to live free from violence. Courts can order a person not to use violence or intimidation in the home (this is called a Safety Order) or they can order the abusive person to leave the home (this is called a Barring Order).

  • Q: If my parent is abusive, does that mean I will be too?

    A: No, it doesn't have to be that way. How you behave is a choice you make. Some people who have experienced domestic abuse go on to abuse others, but many others in the same situation do not. It is common to feel anger or other strong emotions if you have witnessed or experienced domestic abuse, but this does not mean you will abuse others.

    It will help to talk to someone you trust about your worries and concerns. Sometimes seeing a family therapist or counsellor can help young people who have lived with domestic abuse to understand and deal with their feelings. This can help in developing healthy relationships in the future.

  • Q: If there is abuse in my family, am I more likely to be in a violent relationship when I'm older?

    A: Not all young people who experience domestic abuse go on to have violent or abusive relationships, but some do. Violence in dating relationships can be more likely where either or both young people have experienced abuse. This can be because young people have come to expect and accept violence as a part of couple relationships and think that this is normal. In other instances, abuse or violence can be triggered in response to stress, rejection or jealousy.

    If you are concerned about the possibility of abuse in any of your relationships, think about how you are feeling in the relationship and ask yourself. Am I being abused? Am I being abusive? Remember it is always helpful to talk with someone you trust.

My parents won't talk about it

Home and School

Signs of abuse

  • Q: How would I know if a friend was being abused?

    A: It can be hard to know if someone is being abused. Often you might notice a number of things that would make you concerned. It might be something in the way someone looks or behaves, in the way they interact with other people or if they seem withdrawn. These are some of the things that might alert you to abuse.

    Physical Signs
    • Injuries such as bruises or broken bones
    • Self-harm
    • Eating difficulties
    • Having to leave home, friends, possessions
    • Alcohol and substance abuse
    Emotional Signs
    • Anger towards abuser, other parent or siblings
    • Introversion, withdrawal
    • Fear, tension, stress
    • Sadness, depression
    • Mood swings, irrational behaviour
    Behavioural Signs
    • Acting out anger, aggression
    • Being protective, trying to stop the violence - putting themselves at risk
    • Trying to protect siblings
    • Running away from home
    • ‘mitching' from school
    • Sudden change is school results/performance
    Social Signs
    • Social isolation
    • Low self-esteem
    • Difficulty trusting others
    • Poor social skills
    • Being bullied
    • Aggression towards others
    • Violence in dating or intimate relationships

What can I do?

  • Q: I don't want my family to break up, but I can't stand the violence. What can I do?

    A: It is completely normal to feel torn between feeling love for one or both parents and anger at their behaviour. No one wants their family to break up, but sometimes it is not safe for people to continue to live together. Lots of families break up for lots of reasons. 

    It does not mean you cannot continue to have a relationship with both your parents if you want to. Family break-up is a major change in a young person's life but there are organisations that can offer help and support.

    Check out the section on separation for more help.

  • Q: Why doesn't my parent just leave?

    A: There are many reasons that someone might not be ready to leave. They might:

    • Feel they have nowhere else to go.
    • Feel it's worse to break up the family.
    • Feel too afraid or that the abuse might get worse.
    • Still love their partner and hope the abuse might stop.
    • Be too ashamed to tell anyone and get help.
    • Be confused and not know what to do.
  • Q: What can I do to make it stop?

    A: You are not responsible for making the abuse stop. Abuse is never your fault. The person who abuses is responsible for their behaviour and only they can change it. Parents and other adults have a duty of care to children and young people.

    Secrecy keeps abuse from being discovered and stopped. Letting someone you trust know what is happening is the best way to get help and support for you and your family.

    It can be difficult to speak out about the abuse, particularly if the abuser is someone you care about. But, if you, or someone else in the family, don't tell someone about the abuse, it is likely to continue.

  • Q: I just want to get away from it all, I feel like running away. What should I do?

    A:  It's understandable that you want to get away from the abuse and running away might seem like a solution. But unless you have somewhere safe to go you could put yourself in more danger. Many young people who run away from home, without somewhere to go or the means to support themselves, run the risk of becoming homeless. If you feel like running away, it's important to talk to someone you trust. Talk about all your options. Find out what support services are available to you. Plan how they, and others, can help and support you with your situation.

    Tell someone

    If you are living in a family where there is abuse or if you are worried about your own safety or that of your family, the best thing you can do is talk to someone that you trust. It might be a relative like a grandparent or an aunt, a teacher, or another adult in your life. Keeping abuse a secret is what helps it to continue. Sometimes it can be difficult to find the right person to talk to or the right service for your situation. If this happens to you, it is important not to give up.

    If you can't tell anyone you know, contact a service that can give you information, advice and support.

    • Childline Freephone Helpline: 1800 666 666
    • Samaritans Callsave: 1850 60 90 90
    • Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline: 1800 341 900
    • A.M.E.N. (for male victims) Tel: 046 9023718


    Get Help

    If the abuser is living in your home then you might need a safe place to live for a while. There are refuges for victims of abuse around the country. The Gardaí or the local HSE duty social worker can support you to get the help you need.

    • Contact the Gardaí at your local Garda station
    • Talk to a duty social worker at your local HSE health centre. For details try: HSE Infoline Lo-call 1850 24 1850

    If you are ever in danger:


      * Call the Guards on 999
      * Contact an adult that you trust immediately


    Information on other organisations where you will be able to get help and support is provided here. If you know or suspect that someone you care about is experiencing domestic abuse, this information may help you to help them.

  • Q: No one knows what my life is like. I feel so alone.

    A: Living with abuse can make you feel very isolated and alone, particularly as the abuse is likely to be hidden. Many people will understand what you are going through and can help and support you. Talk to a trusted friend, someone else in your family or another adult - a teacher, sports coach or a friend's parent or check out the Finding Help section.

My parent has left

  • Q: If one parent leaves, will I still be able to see them?

    A: A lot depends on the circumstances in which a parent leaves and on what is agreed between the parents or sometimes through the courts. Where there has been violence or abuse in your family, your safety will be the priority. This might mean that your contact with a parent is supervised by an independent person to keep you safe or that you don't continue to see a parent if it is not seen to be in your best interest.

    As a young person, you have a right to have a say in decisions that affect you. The most important thing is to make sure that any contact you have with either parent is safe.

    Guidelines for continued contact:

    Your safety and welfare is the primary consideration in any decision to allow or arrange ongoing contact so the first step is to ask: 

    • Is it safe for me to have contact with my parent?
    • Will contact or access place my family or me at risk of more abuse?


    Where continued violence, threat of violence or intimidation exists, contact should be limited, supervised and only take place in a safe venue.

    Any existing Barring Orders, Safety Orders or injunctions must be upheld and not breached to facilitate contact.

Your safety

  • Safety Tips

    If you want to talk to someone about your situation, make sure that it is someone you can trust so that the information will not put you at greater risk. Violence often increases if the abuser knows they are going to be challenged or if their partner decides to leave. If this is the case you may need to be extra careful and not draw attention to your plans.

    If you are contacting any services for help or information, you may want to do it from somewhere outside your home, or from a phone from which calls cannot be traced. Delete text messages or call logs on your phone.

    If you are using the internet to get information, make sure you clear your search history and temporary files before you log off. (Most sites dealing with this issue will provide instructions on how to do this.) Your local library can be a very useful source of information and most libraries have internet access also.

    Think about a developing a safety plan for yourself. Keep emergency or important phone numbers somewhere you can get them quickly. Some of the resources and links from this site will help you to think about a safety plan.

  • Remember
    • Domestic abuse is not your fault - you are not responsible for it happening, or for making it stop.

    • You have the right to be safe and to be treated with respect. Violent and threatening behaviour is illegal and no one has a right to hurt or frighten you - not parents, not friends, boyfriends or girlfriends, not other adults - no one.

    • Talk to someone you can trust about the abuse - such as a teacher, a grandparent or other relative, a friend or a friend's parent.

    • There are people and organisations who are concerned about your safety and well-being and who are willing to help and support you.