Reforming Domestic Abuse Education in Schools

“The Department of Education cannot sidestep this important issue any longer”. 

-Cara Hunter

Domestic Abuse crime rates skyrocketed by nearly 1,500 during 2022. Research from NISRA shows that there was 17 incidents of domestic abuse and 12 domestic abuse crimes per 1000 people, compared to 17 domestic abuse incidents and 11 crimes per 1000 people in the same period the previous year. Due to the rises in domestic abuse incidents, Cara Hunter and the SDLP have announced a new policy to include domestic abuse education as part of Relationship and Sexual Education in schools. 

NISRA’s statistics, sourced from the PSNI also show several areas across Northern Ireland where rates of domestic violence have increased through 2022, compared to that of the previous year. In Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, an increase of 466 crimes and 245 more incidents of domestic abuse were recorded last year. The biggest drop off was seen in Lisburn and Castlereagh City, where a decrease of 207 incidents and 226 crimes were seen. 

East Derry SDLP MLA Cara Hunter said: “Since entering politics I have made it my mission to improve the relationship and sex education being taught in our schools. The lack of modern, comprehensive and uniform RSE in our schools is a major failing of our education system and I believe that many pupils are ill-equipped when navigating relationships and other challenges life throws their way as a result. We cannot allow schools to determine themselves what RSE they teach their pupils. Every pupil must be equipped with the same skills and taught about important issues like consent, sexuality, how to handle conflict, domestic abuse and violence, and what is and isn’t acceptable in a relationship. We have many problems in our society around that I believe could be improved if we teach our young people about them and encourage healthy behaviours”. 

“I recently launched a campaign to shine a spotlight on these issues and to build momentum for change around RSE. The Department of Education cannot sidestep this important issue any longer”. 

            Several charities run their own workshops to teach children about domestic abuse. La Dolce Vita Project, a Derry/Londonderry based organisation, run their own workshops to tackle this issue. The organisation’s founder, Donna-Maria Logue, shared details of her organisation’s workshops. “We have Domestic Abuse Awareness. What that is looking at is, what is domestic abuse, what’s the difference between domestic abuse, domestic abuse, sexual violence. We look at emotional abuse, psychological abuse, social, economic, financial, sexual. There’s still a misconception, believe it or not, that you have to have to be hit for it to be domestic abuse or domestic violence”. “We have Domestic Abuse Awareness, we have Domestic Abuse Safety Planning. We’ve also got Life After Domestic Abuse, which is about encouraging and promoting and nurturing family relationships where possible, we’ve got Parental Alienation Awareness, Parental Conflict and Separation and we also run a programme called My Family Matters”. 

Logue also expressed her thoughts on why we need to improve domestic abuse education in schools. “We have been asking through the domestic abuse bill, the stalking bill, the coercive control bill to see that there’s education put into the schools from an early age, because if we don’t, we’re failing to protect children, we’re failing to protect them from the possibility of entering abusive relationships, we’re failing to protect them from disclosing to teachers what’s happening at home. If we do this in a sensitive matter, maybe we will see children and families being protected earlier and more support being put in place to protect them”.  

The charity Woman’s Aid NI attempts to spread awareness and tackle domestic abuse throughout Northern Ireland. Harriet Long, Children & Young People’s Services Manager gave her thoughts on why we need to educate young people on issues like this, as well as what Woman’s Aid do for their preventative education workshops. “We do two pieces of preventative education in schools and community groups. Largely we’re contacted by them and go out to them”. “When there are particularly high profile cases in the media, we would be contacted to come into schools”. “We would go into secondary and do a whole healthy and palliative relationships piece. We would do that with both mixed and one gender groups”.

“We would also be invited into the community and go into women’s groups or young girl’s groups. It’s a really interesting piece of education depending on the gender mix”. “In Primary Schools we would do a more simple and more age appropriate piece around listening to your bodies signals in terms of safety and dangers. We would do a lot around teaching children what does ‘safety’ feel like and what does ‘dangers’ feel like. We would do a whole load of emotional literacy piece with children and getting them to identify feelings, what are ‘safe’ feelings and what are ‘scary’ feelings and what are ‘fun scary’ feelings, like going on a rollercoaster, and what are ‘not fun’, then teach them about support networks and identifying adults they can then speak to if things don’t feel safe and if things are scary at home. We wouldn’t necessarily name ‘domestic abuse’ in those primary age settings, but we would talk about things being dangerous or scary at home. We would get children coming forward about domestic abuse, but we would also get children that would come forward about violence directed at them”. 

“By the time adult women are coming to us because they’ve been in abusive relationships, in some way they’ve been very controlled or very coerced for such a long time they’ve lost every essence of themselves. They’ve lost every sense of their dangerous signals”. “We think that it is very important in early school life and in social contexts, in terms of being with their peers and being with the different genders, to explore how to listen to your body and the signals it gives you in terms of danger and explore support networks, who to talk to when you’re scared and when you give consent and when you don’t give consent. We don’t think consent is just about sex, consent is about feeling safe with a relative, do you want to go and join in with that thing, do you wat to go out and make a fool of yourself at a party, do you want to sit on that person’s knee, do you want that person to keep tickling you, or can you say ‘no, this is my body and I need this space’? We think all of that stuff builds confidence in children and then young people to articulate what they need and what their boundaries are that it becomes harder to have someone come into your life and start coercing and controlling you and abusing you as an adult”. 

Tahnee McCorry, co-ordinator of the White Ribbon campaign, which is designed to irradicate violence against women and girls, have begun using athletes, sports teams and leagues to get their message to young people. “They’re the role models for young people, that’s who young people look up to. To actually get the message out there and to get the message across social media and where young people will hear it, it’s the best avenue to use. When they see their favourite sports person speaking about these issues, they will listen”. “If they’re going to look at Ulster’s GAA page and they’re excited to know results, they’re excited to know about their team, they will see the educational video around consent, they’ll see the issues around consent, where they would not have seen that before”. 

McCorry also suggests the need for an RSE reform in schools. “It’s quite cold and rigid, the education we have. When I was in school, that’s the way it was, it was very factual, very ‘this is what it is, this is what it looks like, this is the end’”. “I just think, what we endeavour to do in our Listen, Learn, Lead youth workshops is have really open conversation”. “You can ask any question you want, we all want to feel comfortable to talk about the issues around it and actually have a proper discussion”. These workshops are done through groups of teenagers. 

Woman’s Aid can be contacted by phone on 02890249041, or by their website Information on La Dolce Vita can be found on their website Information on the White Ribbon campaign can be found via their website