Local service provider COPE Galway Waterside House has highlighted the issue of parenting and domestic violence in the run-up to International Day opposing Violence against Women on Friday, 25 November.
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…,’ said 34 year old Sabrina, mother of 6 month old Aoife, 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 can become 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 NUI Galway 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.
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 and information on Domestic Violence by email and on Social Media. ‘16 Facts for 16 Days’ commences on Friday, 25 November and runs until International Human Rights Day on 10 December. Visit www.copegalway.ie/domesticviolence or facebook.com/copegalway for more.