People who Engage in Abusive Behaviour in Intimate Relationships

People who Engage in Abusive Behaviour in Intimate Relationships


In a country the size of Ireland, it’s shocking to think that over 213,000 women and over 88,000 men have been severely abused by a partner at some point in their lives.

Either by their husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend or someone with whom they had a previous relationship.

People who engage in abusive behaviour in intimate relationships come from all social classes, all ethnic groups and cultures and from all educational backgrounds.


There is usually a pattern of repeated abuse and controlling behaviours, involving the use of physical or emotional force or the threat of physical force, including sexual violence.

Whilst it’s recognised that domestic violence can be carried out by both men and women, men are more likely to be perpetrators of violence and women tend to suffer more frequent and severe physical assaults.

“Over 213,000 women and over 88,000 men have been severely abused by a partner at some point in their lives.”

 What help is available?


At present, the Government is funding three organisations to deliver a programme to male perpetrators of domestic violence across 18 locations around Ireland. The programme has been developed in order to maximise the safety of female partners, and ex-partners, of the men on the programme and their children.

How can we help?

The people who engage in abusive behaviour, are surrounded by others who may become aware of their conduct, including parents, friends, work colleagues, siblings, etc.

If we suspect someone we care about behaving in such a manner, we may not want to believe it, or we may try to make excuses for them.


While it’s ok to love and care for someone who is acting in such a way, it’s not ok to ignore, and therefore accept, their behaviour.

We need to challenge them on it and encourage them to seek help, for the sake of their victims and themselves.

Types of people who engage in abusive behaviour:

Research into the experiences of victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, has resulted in an increased recognition, that domestic violence covers a wide range of different types of and patterns of behaviour, and that it can change over time.

“The notion of the perpetrator as an out-of-control, violent sociopath, who is easily identifiable, is simplistic.”

Situational Couple Violence:

This type of violence occurs occasionally, when conflict between partners escalates into violence. It usually consists of minor acts of aggression, although it can be severe. It’s unlikely to escalate over time and it doesn’t usually involve general patterns of controlling behaviour. It can be perpetrated by either men or women, or may be mutual.

Intimate Terrorism:

Intimate Terrorism is violence used to establish control in the relationship or violence used in combination with other control tactics, including –

  • Threats and intimidation
  • Economic control
  • Psychological abuse and isolation.

Violence occurs more frequently than situational violence; is usually more lethal, and more likely to escalate over time.

Violent Resistance:

Partner violence that occurs when the victim of intimate terrorism fights back; the victim is not attempting to establish control in the relationship but is fighting as a means of defence, or to end the violence.

Mutual Violent Control:

This category describes relationships in which both partners use violence to control the other and, hence, can be viewed as two intimate terrorists battling for control. This form of domestic violence is rare.

What to do if you are concerned about someone you care about engaging in abusive behaviour:

If you suspect someone you know may be committing acts of domestic violence, turning a blind eye is not acceptable. Finding a supportive way to get involved may seem overwhelming, but it’s ok to be scared we’ve misread the situation.

What’s NOT ok, is to do nothing.

 “If we do nothing, we leave another victim behind.”

 How you offer support will depend on your relationship to those involved. If you’re concerned about someone’s abusive behaviour and there is an immediate threat of serious injury to someone, you should inform the Gardaí immediately. Otherwise, the following suggestions can be used.

How to approach someone:

The first approach you can take, is to make a connection with the person by saying something like:

“Seems like you haven’t been too happy recently. How are things at home?”

 This suggests concern for the person but also for others, i.e. their partner or children.

If they respond by acknowledging their abuse:

  • Remain supportive and non-judgmental.
  • Explore ways of letting the person themselves lead.
  • Suggest the ‘What would you do?’ campaign website.
  • Express concern for their partner and children; wonder what it must be like for them to feel frightened or anxious in their home.

“Shaming the person will only heighten denial.”

 Arrange to speak with them again and/or let the person know you are there to support them but also there to see the situation improved for their partner and children.

“The key message you need to communicate is that violence and abusive behaviour is not acceptable in any relationship and that they are 100% responsible for their own actions.”

 Express to them that violence is a choice that they are making.

How to respond if someone approaches you with an  admission of abuse

The fact that a person is telling you this, is a positive sign that they are unhappy that they did so and are seeking help. Remain supportive and non-judgemental. You can offer statements such as:

  • “Sounds like you are upset about your behaviour and about how your partner and children are feeling”
  • “It feels like you want support to sort out the situation”
  • “Let’s look at it together”.

Again, suggest visiting the ‘What would you do?’ campaign website.

  • Express concern for their partner and children.
  • Encourage them to take action before things get worse.
  • Shaming the person will only heighten denial.
  • Acknowledge the positive step in admitting the violence.
  • Arrange to speak with them again.
  • Let the person know you’re there to support them, but also to see the situation improve for their partner and children.

“Express to them that violence is a choice that they are making.”

 Information on perpetrator intervention programmes

Choices Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programme:

Under the National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence, the Choices Intervention programme is currently being implemented.

The primary aims of the programme include

  • To reduce violent and controlling behaviour by perpetrators for the mutual benefit of victims and perpetrators.
  • The further development of partnership approaches between women’s support services and the services delivering the Choices programme.

Programme Outline

The programme includes:

  • A uniform risk assessment system.
  • One to one work with participants.
  • A rolling 23-week group programme bringing men together in a small group work setting.

Under the programme, participants are challenged to:

  • Take responsibility for their abuse.
  • Are supported in addressing and ending such abusive behaviour towards their partners.
  • And are assisted in being better able to develop respectful, non-abusive relationships.

Programme Rollout

The Choices programme is being delivered in 2017/2018 in up to 18 locations in Ireland, through a combination of non-government organisations and statutory involvement.

Choices is being run by –

  • The MOVE organisation in 11 different locations.
  • The MEND organisation in 6 different locations.
  • An interagency group in Co.Louth, which is being led by the Probation Service.

Current Choices Programme locations

  1. The Choices programme is being run in the following 11 locations by MOVE Ireland (Men Overcoming Violence).
  • Cork
  • Dublin City Centre
  • Galway
  • Kerry
  • Limerick/Clare
  • Midlands
  • Meath
  • North Tipperary
  • Sligo
  • Swords Co. Dublin
  • Tallaght, Dublin

More information on MOVE is available at:

  1. The Choices programme is being run in the following 6 locations by MEND (Men ending domestic abuse)
  • Carlow/Kilkenny
  • Laois/Offaly
  • South Tipperary
  • Waterford
  • Wexford
  • Kildare (2018)

More information on MEND is available at: Choices programme is also being run in the Co. Louth area by the North East Domestic Violence Intervention Project (NEDVIP). The lead partners in this project include the Probation Service, Tusla social work services and Women’s support services in Co. Louth.

NEDVIP can be contacted for information at 042 9359755


Remember, if you suspect someone is being abused - before you get involved, ask yourself if it’s safe and legal to intervene.

If the situation is already violent or looks like its escalating quickly, don’t directly intervene. Call the Gardaí on 999.

The only effective bystander intervention is a non-violent one.

If you see or suspect domestic abuse, visit  or call 999.

Beat supporting Cosc #whatwouldyoudo

Funded by the Department of Justice and Equality, Cosc and the Dormant Accounts Fund.