Migrant women experience high level of domestic violence

One in three new Women’s Aid clients were migrants, agency says

Migrant women experiencing domestic violence continue to feature significantly in calls made to Women's Aid, director Margaret Martin has said. "One-third of the new clients Women's Aid saw last year were migrant women."

The issue of domestic violence in migrant communities is “no different” from in native communities, she said, “but sometimes more recently arrived women are living at significant risk because they are very isolated.”

Women’s Aid’s Telephone Interpretation Service guarantees that a caller can speak to someone in their own language within a minute.

“You need to be able to say, or to get someone to say, what language you speak, you are put on hold and we ring an interpretation service based outside the State. They will be on the line within 60 seconds.”


Following contact via the helpline, a women will be seen by her key worker with an interpreter if she so wishes.

In 2013, 67 per cent of callers who used the Women’s Aid telephone service spoke a range of EU languages including Hungarian, Italian, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian and Slovak.

Polish speakers were the biggest group. They are also the largest minority in the Irish State at 2.7 per cent of the population. The non-EU languages included Amharic, Arabic, Bengali, Dari, Farsi, Georgian, Kurdish, Mandarin, Russian, Somali, Thai and Yoruba.

“The language issue is huge,” Ms Martin said. “We were looking to get the service up and running for a long time. It’s about breaking down barriers. You need to be able to talk to a woman directly in a language she understands, is comfortable with and can make herself understood. It reduces confusion and means we can treat every woman as an individual.”

Women’s Aid were surprised by the range of languages they encountered, said Ms Martin. “We were told we needed five or six languages, so we made sure we had access to them, then our first call was in Albanian, and we didn’t have it,” added Ms Martin, who believes all languages are now catered for.

Ms Martin points out that domestic violence is not culturally specific. “It cuts across cultures and it is not the case that any particular sector is more likely to experience domestic violence.”

European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) research found that in Ireland in 2012, 14 per cent of women have experienced physical violence by a partner (current or ex); 6 per cent of women have experienced sexual violence by a partner (current or ex) and 31 per cent of women have experienced psychological violence by a partner (current or ex).

Some newly arrived women are encouraged to find there are legal protections here to which they are entitled. Difficulties arise, however, when a woman flees her country of origin to escape partner violence and her partner follows her here, Ms Martin said.

“Women who don’t meet the conditions of Habitual Residency may go to a refuge, but that refuge will not be entitled to any payment for her, so she can’t remain there.”

Women’s Aid Telephone Interpretation Service can be accessed via the National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900 from 10am - 10pm, seven days a week. It is a confidential service and is free.

Anthea McTeirnan

Anthea McTeirnan

Anthea McTeirnan is an Irish Times journalist