New manager of COPE Galway Domestic Violence Refuge & Outreach Service Carol Baumann told SIN how the service wants to raise awareness about how asking women why they don’t leave abusive relationships is harmful for survivors.
“Let’s stop blaming the woman and expecting her to find solutions when she is living under stress and tyranny,” Baumann said in a recent statement released by COPE Galway.
A 2014 study by the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) found 14 percent of women in Ireland have experienced physical violence by a partner, and 31 percent have experienced psychological abuse. According to Baumann, it is important to be sensitive to what such a large percentage of women are going through.
“When this woman… can finally see through the control, the intimidation, and says the words out loud – he’s abusing me, he hit me – how will we react? Will we say, ‘why don’t you just leave’?” Baumann wrote in a statement for The Journal Voices. “Well, where should she go? She knows there is a housing crisis. Very possibly, she has no financial independence.”
Asking a woman in an abusive or violent relationship why she ‘puts up with it’ can be harmful because the issue is often much more complex than just leaving an abusive partner, Baumann said. Sometimes leaving a violent situation isn’t a question of choice for a survivor, rather, one of ability and safety.
“When we ask this question… we are failing to understand the foundation of an abusive relationship: control, intimidation, erosion of self-esteem,” Baumann told SIN.
But the issue is more intricate than just harmful questions, it’s also important to remember that survivors are often asked to recite their experiences to friends, family and help centers. Telling their stories repeatedly can be difficult and taxing, so Baumann suggests giving a survivor support and a space to discuss what happened.
“Next time you hear about a woman being abused or if someone you love discloses abuse, rather than ask ‘why don’t you leave?’, ask her ‘what do you need right now and what can I do to support you?’” Baumann said.
Additionally, Baumann suggests that conversations about domestic violence should change from blaming the woman to questioning the construction of a society that allows abusers to harm survivors and not be held accountable.
“…Let’s begin to ask, ‘Why does he do it?’ or ‘How does he keep getting away with it?’” Baumann said.
Based at Waterside House, COPE Galway is the only 24-hour accessible refuge in Western Ireland. Last year, the organization worked with 338 women who sought help, but were unable to accommodate 258 women and 441 children due to a lack of space.
In her new role as manager, Baumann aims to continue to provide a respectful and loving space for survivors of domestic violence and said COPE Galway is committed to being the best.
“My goal is to continue this excellent work, to continue to support and grow these essential services and to maintain our relationships with organisations and neighbours in our Galway community,” Baumann said. “My goal is to ensure we remain faithful to this mission.”
If you are concerned about your own situation or that of someone you love, COPE Galway Domestic Violence Refuge & Outreach Service can be reached confidentially at 091-565-985.
By Claire VanValkenburg
Photo Credit: Alex on Flickr