By Mark Lynch
A Women’s Aid campaign is offering guidance to young women experiencing dating abuse and cyber harassment.
Women’s Aid, a national organisation providing support and information to women experiencing domestic violence and dating abuse since 1974, has launched its #TooIntoYou campaign. The campaign focuses on abuse in dating relationships that many young women may be experiencing and signposts key danger signs of dating abuse.
At the beginning of 2019, new laws brought under the Domestic Violence Act 2018 mean that women experiencing abuse in dating relationships can now apply for Safety and Protection orders. However, Women’s Aid believe that many young women are still unaware of the change or how to go about getting the protection they need. In a national survey on domestic abuse carried out by the National Crime Council in 2005, almost 60% of people who had experienced severe abuse in intimate relationships experienced the abuse for the first time under the age of 25. In an EU-wide survey carried out by the Fundamental Rights Agency in 2014, 39% of young women (aged 18-29) in Ireland had experienced emotional abuse by a boyfriend or partner.
The #TooIntoYou campaign directs young women who may have concerns about their relationship to the website toointoyou.ie. This website is a vital source of information for young women, as it helps them to spot the 10 key danger signs of dating abuse, take a relationship health check, provides information to combat online stalking and digital abuse and shares young women’s stories. A young woman using these tools may recognise there’s a chance that her partner is too controlling and that her relationship is not healthy.
Women’s Aid is hearing from women using their services about various forms of stalking where technology is being used by abusive boyfriends and ex-boyfriends to monitor and control young women.
Sarah Benson, CEO of Women’s Aid says, “For 45 years, Women’s Aid has supported many thousands of women experiencing domestic violence, and, while harassment/stalking has always been one of the forms of abuse that women reported to us, with the development of information and communications technology, new forms of harassment have become common and we increasingly hear about cyber-harassment/stalking and image based sexual abuse”.
Ms Benson continued, “In our experience women who are victims of partner harassment often experience a mix of “traditional” and cyber-harassment, which may target the woman directly and/or indirectly. for example he may follow and watch her, access and modify her on-line data, post graphic and humiliating lies and/or intimate images on the internet without consent, make threatening communications of various types (letters, sms; phone calls, posts), or install spyware on her personal electronic devices”.
Women’s Aid heard 20,722 disclosures of domestic abuse against women and children in 2018, while there were 19,089 contacts with Women’s Aid direct services in the same year. According to the organisation, “The most common form of cyber-harassment we hear about are harmful untrue rumours being spread about women both personally and professionally, sexually explicit/pornographic pictures of them uploaded both on Facebook and the internet more generally, and advertising them as escorts without their consent or knowledge. Women’s Aid welcomes the current joint Oireachtas justice committee hearings on online harassment and harmful communications which Women’s Aid made a submission to. However, urgent action is needed and this must happen now”.
Ms Benson added, “Abusers also use the internet and mobile phones to monitor where a woman is, what she does and whom she meets, at times even resorting to specific software packages to spy on the victim and find out about internet and bank account passwords or her whereabouts. Consequences for victims can be very severe both psychologically and practically. At the time their physical safety may be seriously imperilled. Women need full protection urgently from this insidious and harmful abuse”.
Ambassador for the campaign, Bláthnaid Treacy, RTÉ TV and radio presenter, encourages every young woman to give the quiz a go. “The dating landscape has changed a lot, even in just the last few years and Women’s Aid has adapted too with the #TooIntoYou campaign. I am honoured to be an ambassador for this campaign as it is specifically aimed at young women. We want to let young women know exactly what dating abuse is and to be able to recognise the signs, so they know whether or not they are getting into a healthy or unhealthy relationship. We are encouraging all women to listen to their intuition, because if it feels wrong, then it probably is wrong. The website TooIntoYou.ie has loads of helpful tips including a relationship health check quiz, which is really enlightening, and I think every young woman should take it, whether they’re seeing someone or not. With this campaign, we want to start the conversation and for us all to open our eyes and ears to dating and domestic abuse. We want young women to know that we have your back, so if you need a chat, Women’s Aid is just a free phone call away.”
Women’s Aid encourages young women who are uncomfortable or worried about any aspect of their relationships to contact the Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900 or talk to someone they trust.
The Women’s Aid 24hr National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900 is available 7 days a week.