‘It’s our responsibility to report it if we see child abuse with neighbours or friends’

Former Mrs Universe Ireland Monica Walsh now campaigns against domestic violence

"I believe everything happens for a reason and now I can't imagine not being involved in domestic violence awareness," says former Mrs Universe Ireland, Monica Walsh.

When the Dublin-based pre-school teacher was representing Ireland in the 2015 Mrs Universe pageant, the contestants were tasked with writing a speech on domestic violence. While researching on the topic, the Polish native started remembering events in her own life and repressed memories started coming to surface.

“When I was looking for information about domestic violence, I recalled that I actually had a similar situation in my family where my aunt was killed by my uncle,” says Walsh, who has taken it upon herself to become a catalyst for change in the area of domestic violence.

Losing her godmother to domestic abuse, as well as her involvement in the international beauty pageant, were two of big motivations in writing her upcoming debut book, Take Me Out of This Hell, which includes stories from a number of domestic violence survivors.

“I always knew that I wanted to write a book, but I didn’t expect it to be about domestic violence. I thought it would be about fashion, teaching, or English as a second language. Everyday I wake up and check my emails and I always have someone messaging me about advice, that’s how my day starts and I wouldn’t want it any different.”

While Walsh recognises the pressure that can come from campaigning for a cause that, according to research, affects one in four women in Ireland, she attributes her perseverance to the countless emails she receives on a daily basis. “Every time when I want to give up, someone reminds me to keep working on it and to try my best and keep going,” she adds.

The mother of one, who has a Bachelor’s of Arts in Early Childhood Teaching and 15 years of experience working with children, believes that children are often the forgotten victims of domestic violence.

“We have to remember that children being in an abusive family, they will think that it’s normal to use physical violence. It’s so important to stop this and let children have a normal house, even if it is a single mother, everyone deserves to have a safe house.”

When speaking on loneliness and the increased risk of child abuse during the early stages of lockdown, Walsh reports that many of her students now inform her of how lonely they were and that one girl in particular felt incredibly isolated because she “didn’t have any sisters or bothers at home”.

“I know that loads of children were saying that the most unhappy situation is being separated from family and friends which is the big lockdown thing especially when the school was closed and they couldn’t see their friends, family or grandparents,” she explains.

Walsh has a positive attitude towards young children being back in school as she believes “they need to socialise and be with their friends,” a sentiment shared by ISPCC Childline Director of Services, Caroline O’Sullivan, who saya “school is a sanctuary for many children and young people”.

“It is important that children and young people can continue their education in safe and supported environments, in line with the public health guidance of the day,” says the director of services for Childline, the listening service which saw an immediate increase in the number of people using its services when schools closed in March.

The Childline listening service answered more than 72,000 calls, texts and online contacts from young people and children between mid-March and the last week of June. Many of those who availed of Childline services spoke about issues relating to mental health, abuse and violence.

Similarly, child and family agency, Tusla, which provides a range of services to children and families in Ireland, saw an increase in the number of child protection and welfare referrals. “We had a referral base of an average of 963 a week in the first four weeks of school closure and social restrictions,” says a Tulsa spokeswoman.

Walsh, who recently completed an e-learning training programme with the child and family agency, believes the responsibility of reporting child abuse lies with the community and “not only with teachers”.

“We [friends and neighbours] have to remember that we are responsible for the actions, we have to inform Tusla about abuse or neglect. It’s our responsibility to report it if we see child abuse with neighbours or friends, it’s better to contact child protection agency.”

She started on her debut book in October, 2016, and Walsh and literary agent Jeremy Murphy are working to have it launched by December, 2021.

"I'm very excited to travel all over the world for my book tour, not only in Europe. I already got invited to America, India and Italy, so if Covid-19 lets us then I would love to do it – to meet with all the victims, make workshops and all the speeches and meetings with the women to raise awareness," says the soon-to-be author.