Domestic violence is still considered a taboo in certain demographics of Irish society at home in Ireland and within Irish American communities.
Last year the NYPD responded to 250K Domestic Violence complaints. Research shows that 70% of this type of violent crime go unreported in our nation. This means that in NYC alone there are more than 800,000 domestic violent crimes perpetrated annually on innocent, defenseless victims.
Deputy Chief Kathleen O’ Reilly, head of the New York City Police Department’s Domestic Violence Prevention unit, spoke recently about her department's efforts to break taboos surrounding partner violence and encourage people to speak up.
O’Reilly is a first generation Irish American, her parents hail from Co Cavan and Co Mayo, and she spent many a summer in Ireland as a child.
Now as one of the most respected members of the NYPD, she says one of the most frustrating parts of her job is a statistic they have little power over:
“Seventy percent of the victims killed in domestic violence incidents never contacted the police...
We all know Domestic Violence is an underreported crime, there’s a pool out there that are still afraid to come in and report or that we’re not able to reach.”
Speaking to IrishCentral, the Deputy Chief added “ the next goal is to reach out to people and let them know that we have these wonderful services and that there is hope and that we’re here to help.”
New York is not alone in underreporting, of course. In Northern Ireland police respond to a case of domestic abuse every 20 minutes. But on average, a woman is attacked 35 times before she goes to the police.
Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior used to generally establish power and control over another person through fear and intimidation, often including the threat or use of violence.
The preferred term now days is ‘partner violence’ as it represents violence against men and women in relationships. It can affect anyone regardless of income, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
Studies have shown that one in four women will experience partner violence in their lifetime. Although domestic violence was traditionally seen as happening to women, domestic violence also occurs in same sex relationships in which men can be victims as well.
O’Reilly urged those undocumented people experiencing violence in a relationship to seek help. She reiterated a little known fact that you will be protected under law if you are the victim of crime.
“Emigrants who are undocumented are protected under law if they are the victim of a crime. As long as the victim is willing to cooperate with officers in the department, there are safeguards in place.”
The chief acknowledged that there are many reasons why a victim may be reluctant to seek the assistance of the authorities. In the Irish community in New York religious reasons would be a big one, especially within the older generation as the church encouraged couples to work through difficult times.
She hopes her department can continue to breakdown the stigmas attached to shame and guilt and work at safeguarding victims from more violent and emotional attacks.
On any given day the NYPD responds to 680 calls in the Domestic Violence Unit. Friday evenings and Saturdays experience the highest volume of calls. One of the strongest messages coming from the NYPD is not to ‘judge the victims,’ but to be encouraging to a victim if they are wary of seeking help.
In efforts to help the NYPD, O’Reilly urged victims and people aware of a domestic violence situation try to gather evidence that can be used as testimony and photographs, but also help without putting the victim in any direct danger.
The NYPD responds to over 250,000 Domestic Violence incidents a year. The unit’s prevention officers can’t visit every home, but it seems the unit’s 75,000 yearly home visits are doing good. In the past year, there was a 28% reduction in Domestic Violence homicides.
The Aisling Center is one of the largest Irish immigrant resource centers in the tri-state area and the main provider of services such as counselling and care advice for those suffering Domestic Violence in the Irish ex-pat community. “There is always a reluctance when people are documented here to come forward and to speak out on domestic violence,” says Elizabeth Donnelly a social worker at the New York based Aisling Center.
Donnelly, who has worked at the center for over six years, acknowledges the fact that Irish illegal aliens often suffer in silence for fear of deportation.”
“There is a terrible sense of shame surrounding domestic abuse, particularly with the older generation of immigrants,” added Donnelly.
"The shame often times from the sense of Catholic guilt of why is this happening to me? People don’t want to let the public know what is happening behind closed doors.”
The Catholic Church traditionally encouraged people to work through marital issues and this has led to an ongoing culture of sweeping problems under the rug. These stigmas are uphill battles the NYPD and the Aisling Center face in getting victims to speak out.
Donnelly adds, “It takes an awful lot of courage for a victim to come forward, but they must be encouraged to do so, particularly if there are children involved in the situation.”
The situation is similar in Boston and most likely every Irish American community in the United States.
Danielle L. Owen a Substance Abuse Counselor, based in Boston spoke to IrishCentral about her experiences of domestic abuse in Boston.
“As a victim, you are extremely vulnerable no matter what age you are, it’s hard to seek help.”
“It comes back to the culture of being kept under the thumb, which we are trying to veer away from, and encourage those experiencing distress to come forward.”
Owens told IrishCentral of one woman’s story. She was being subjected to emotional torment as her husband kept her in isolation as she was unable to drive. This is one classic element of the power surge men often times hold over women.
The Substance Abuse Counselor also spoke about an increase of cases of partner violence in same sex couples in Boston, many of whom are Irish.
“Some men in same sex relationships are very afraid to seek help. Many moved to the United States because they couldn’t be who they wanted to be at home in Ireland.”
The greatest fear of immigrants suffering from Domestic Abuse is “How will I survive?” Many have lived here for many years and built a life and they feel trapped in the situation and country. They have no immediate family here to rely on.
“Frequently we encourage Irish folks (here in MA) to reach out and chat to me at the IIIC to explore all their options before they make any decision, so they can build their confidence with someone from home.
This then helps them take the next steps towards their safety. We always refer people to 911 or the safelink numbers above. Suicide can also be a risk factor in these situations so we share resources like the Samaritans too” added Owens.
“We here at the Center are able to offer an outpatient crisis counseling/ case management appointment within a day or two of the initial call for support from the Irish citizen (thanks to the DFA Irish Government grant we receive) which can make all the difference. We also offer aftercare counseling and case management support once the individual or family is safe.”
The message coming this Christmas season for anyone suffering in silence is to seek help and remember “There is hope.”
The following are a list of services available to contact if you are a victim of Domestic/Partner Abuse. Confidentiality is assured. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
Safe Horizon’s Domestic Violence Hotline Call 800-621 or text (HOPE) to 6473, 24 hours a day, 7days a week.
The Aisling Center New York http://www.aislingcenter.org/Mind_yourself.html
(914) 237 5121
(914) 237 7121
Danielle L. Owen LADCII Substance Abuse Counselor,
Director Wellness & Education Services
Irish International Immigrant Center
Phone: 617-542-7654, ext. 14