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Ulster Teachers’ Union


20th Mar 2017


Disproportionately high numbers of teachers are living in abusive relationships, a Northern Ireland teaching conference will hear today.

As the number of recorded incidents of domestic violence reaches its highest level since 2004, members of the Ulster Teachers’ Union are discussing the issue at their annual conference in Newcastle, Co Down.

“In the last 12 months a staggering 29,191 were recorded by the PSNI in the 12 months to December 2016, a hike of almost 3% on the previous year,” said Avril Hall Callaghan, General Secretary of the UTU

“One woman in four will experience domestic violence and because of the high numbers of women in this profession the problem can only be more widespread in teaching than in many others.

“Domestic abuse isn’t the preserve of poorer, less educated women. It makes no difference between class, creed, race, profession or age yet professional women tend to feel a heightened sense of shame that they have become victims.

“They feel they shouldn’t have got themselves into this situation, they should have ‘known better’. There often isn’t the same support network within their community which might allow them to confide in someone and seek help.

“Often, they’re holding down demanding jobs and fear that to admit to being a ‘victim’ of domestic abuse would somehow reflect negatively on their ability to do that job.

“Domestic abuse is not just a woman’s problem. Society has a responsibility, employers have a responsibility because if someone is being abused that is bound to have a negative knock-on effect on their work.

“What we need is an integrated, multi-agency approach to both preventing and prosecuting domestic violence.

“The UTU is committed to supporting any members – male or female – facing this kind of abusive behaviour. But we need the employing authorities too to shoulder their responsibilities in ensuring their employees have the support they need to do their job.

“As a first step we’re asking the employing authorities to add a clause to the Teachers’ Attendance Procedures to treat appropriately absence due to domestic violence.”

Marie Brown, director of Foyle Women’s Aid in Derry/Londonderry welcomed the UTU’s highlighting of the issue.

“We work with a range of public sector bodies to educate employees in the workplace about the issue as it affects all women, including those in the professions – nurses, doctors, teacher, solicitor, police officers,” she said.

“We support women from all these professions and where an employer has a policy in place to support employees facing domestic abuse we find that levels of absenteeism are reduced.

“Women in a crisis situation will often take a block of time off, whereas if she can be supported, if she feels she can seek help at work, the situation can be better managed and long-term absences potentially avoided.

“We work with many schools educating children about acceptable behaviour but how hard must it be for a teacher who is in a violence relationship to have to stand by while we discuss all this, yet feel powerless to talk about her own very personal issues?

“We can assure teachers and any professional women who approach us that we maintain absolute confidentiality. One to one sessions can be organised rather than group work, for instance, in case a teacher fears seeing someone from the community in a group setting – a parent perhaps.

“If people in the workplace are educated for signs to look out for that a woman may be in an abusive situation, the same way teachers look out for signs that children may be abused; if an employer has a structure in place so a woman can get the support she needs when she needs it, then it can only be a positive thing for employer and employee.

“We at Women’s Aid welcome the UTU’s raising of the issue at their annual conference today and ask that the department of education might find funding to support more training for teachers in this area.”