Trinity College Dublin: Insights into domestic violence and substance use: report

New research from Trinity College, commissioned by the DAVINA project has been launched. The research report presents the first estimate of the hidden prevalence of women experiencing both domestic violence and substance use in Ireland, in 2020. The study was led by Professor Catherine Comiskey and her research group at the School of Nursing and Midwifery.

Professor Comiskey said:

Women who endure violence in their homes and who use substances are unseen and their needs unknown. They are forced to experience a duality of secrecy for the protection of themselves and their children. This study provides the first minimum estimate of national prevalence and presents evidence on the need for accessible, targeted, and specific interventions.

DAVINA is the only project of its kind in Ireland and was created within SAOL in response to an increased need among the women accessing their service for support around domestic abuse. The pandemic further served to highlight this need and SAOL received funding from Rethink Ireland Equality Fund to run a three-year pilot programme to promote improved access to domestic abuse services for women struggling with substance use issues.

To identify and describe the experience of domestic violence and substance use among women.
To explore women’s access to services.
To provide the first estimate of the prevalence of women in Ireland who use substances and have experienced domestic violence.
To identify the gaps in the research and establish where there is greatest need for further research.
In Ireland, in 2020, at least 11,000 women suffered the duality of hidden domestic violence and personal substance use within that year alone.
Furthermore, at least 48,000 of women who used substances in 2020 had experienced these some form of physical sexual or emotional abuse within their lifetime.
As well as trying to estimate the hidden prevalence the report also explored the challenges faced by these women. Women who use substances are more likely to experience homelessness, poverty and to have had traumatic life experiences, this in turn can lead to mental health difficulties, shame and stigma which make it harder to access support.
Government funding become available to develop services that meet the unique needs of women who experience domestic abuse who also use substances.
Implement policy across Europe that any woman accessing addiction services be screened for an experience of Domestic Abuse,
(and) for this data to reportable, so that we can access more accurate figures about the prevalence of the issue.
Implement an integrated public policy as this issue is impacted by health, education, housing and justice.
There is very limited research into the experiences of women who experience domestic abuse and who currently use substances. Researchers are interested in contributing to this gap by developing a more localised study of these issues which can then be compared to the estimate within this report.

Rachel Fayne, co-ordinator of the DAVINA project said :

Many women who use substances do so to cope with the pain and trauma of the abuse they are suffering. Unfortunately, their abuser often encourages their substance use and uses it as a tool to further control or isolate her. The dynamics that exist within these relationships are unique and make it so much more difficult for survivors to access help and support. DAVINA was set up to bridge the gap between addiction and domestic abuse services so that women and their children can access help and support earlier.

“Catherine Comiskey’s team at Trinity College were a natural partner for us to carry out this research given professor Comiskey’s vast experience of carrying out social research into issues that affect people who use drugs. The DAVINA project would like to see it become universal practice for women accessing addiction services to be screened for domestic abuse not only so that these women can then be offered support but also so that these figures could be recorded. We believe this estimate is just the tip of the iceberg and that the real figure is much higher, if we had access to public data around this issue, we could better advocate for improved service provision.

Professor Catherine Comiskey, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Trinity said:

We have derived this estimate based on the best quality data, but we also know that this is an absolute minimum estimate, and the true estimate is likely to be many times higher. The international evidence also tells us that as a result of this violence, women experience challenges with sexual and reproductive health, fear for their children and stigma.