Young people struggle to identify relationship abuse ‘red flags’ - survey

Women’s Aid highlights ‘information gap’ on spotting signs of abuse in a friend’s relationship

Half of those surveyed  were not aware of specialist supports for intimate relationship abuse. Photograph: Getty

Half of those surveyed were not aware of specialist supports for intimate relationship abuse. Photograph: Getty


A majority of young people feel a responsibility to intervene if they are concerned a friend might be the victim of intimate relationship abuse, a new survey has found.

However, very few of these young people believe it is easy to spot the signs of this abuse.

The study, conducted by RedC polling company on behalf of Women’s Aid, asked 500 people aged 18 to 25 about their understanding of intimate relationship abuse.

While 81 per cent said they would feel responsible to intervene if a friend was experiencing this form of mistreatment, only 16 per cent said it was easy to spot the signs of abuse in a friend’s relationship.

For example, young people said they weren’t sure if a partner getting jealous frequently or looking through their phone and asking for their passwords were warning signs for abuse.

These are recognised “red flags” for unhealthy and potentially abusive relationships, Women’s Aid said.

Furthermore, more than half of young people (53 per cent) were not aware that sharing intimate images without consent was now against the law, while 50 per cent were not aware of specialist supports for intimate relationship abuse.

Speaking ahead of UN Day of Opposing Violence Against Women, Sarah Benson, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said young people are “crucial allies” for anyone experiencing abuse in their age group.

“However, the findings of this national research show us that while young people feel a responsibility to look out for friends who might be experiencing abuse, they have concerns around making the situation worse and keeping their friends and loved ones safe,” she said.

“There is an awareness gap on the causes and warning signs of abuse amongst young people. If young people are empowered and equipped, they will be able to start the conversation with friends and help them in a supportive and safe way.”

Ms Benson also launched the organisation’s Too Into You public awareness campaign, which highlights the signs of unhealthy relationships.

Juliana Shiel, an advocate for the campaign and survivor of intimate relationship abuse, said friends and family play a vital role for someone trying to leave an abusive relationship.

“One of the hardest parts of being in an abusive relationship is getting and staying out of it. It took me six tries to get out of mine, and it was the support of my friends and family that helped me stay out,” she said.

“It is likely that someone in an abusive relationship is being manipulated into thinking their partner is the only person that truly cares about them, so showing love and support to someone you think might be in abusive relationship, even if they show signs of pushing you away, is vital.”

Meanwhile, a total of 18 organisations across the State working to combat domestic violence will receive funding increases this year after a “mapping exercise” identified shortfalls in what was needed.

Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, said the €4.5 million package would go primarily to regional groups, including in counties Donegal, Sligo, Laois, Roscommon, Dundalk and Kerry.

“The funding will increase these organisations’ ability to supports victims especially given the rise in those seeking help. This will be done primarily by increasing phone line hours, emotional support, and increased court accompaniment. Most of the funding gaps identified called for increases to regional-based domestic abuse services so the geographical spread of support will be increased.”

The “mapping exercise”, completed in July, identified both geographical areas and categories of victim experiencing needs which were not being met.

The 18 organisations were identified as those to which additional funding of between €10,000 and €50,000 would ensure the provision of increased services to a greater geographical spread of people in need of support.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article you can contact Women’s Aid: 1800 341 900, Dublin Rape Crisis Network: 1800 77 8888, or the the emergency services: 999/112