Women's Aid today (Wednesday, 16th September 2009) announced details of calls to its Domestic Violence National Freephone Helpline and its Support Services in 2008. Many callers disclosed that they are trapped in abusive relationships and are more vulnerable to abuse due to the recession. Callers to the Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline disclosed over 15,000 incidents of physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse in 2008. Many women reported they were experiencing domestic violence before the recession but that the economic downturn was leading to more frequent abuse and more dangerous abuse. In particular, women disclosed that abusive men were using the recession to excuse their behaviour.
Speaking at the announcement of the figures, Margaret Martin, Director of Women's Aid, said that, "Domestic Violence is a huge problem within Irish society. This year we are particularly concerned about the impact of the recession on women experiencing domestic violence from their boyfriends, husbands and partners."
She continued, "We know that economic difficulty does not cause domestic violence. It is a feature of Irish life during boom times and times of recession. But we hear from women living in abusive situations that their ability to escape domestic violence is being hampered by the recession. Women fear increased impoverishment, losing their home and the effect of poverty on their children. This barrier to leaving is exacerbated by the use of financial abuse by a controlling boyfriend, husband or partner."
There were 1,900 incidents of financial abuse disclosed to the Women's Aid Helpline in 2008. The tactics of financial abuse included: denying the woman access to the family finances; arranging all social welfare in the abuser's name; arranging all debt in the woman's name; denying the woman money for food for herself and children and money to pay household bills; forging the woman's signature on cheques and forcing the woman to put the abuser's name on the deeds of the house. In situations where women have been able to leave abusive partners, non-payment of maintenance is a major issue.
One woman who called the helpline recently revealed that her husband not only controls all the finances and expects an itemised bill for everything spent, he also checks the mileage on the car if she goes grocery shopping, checks the telephone to see who she calls, checks how much heating has been used and refuses to give her money for any outings with the children. As she said "my world has shrunk to the four walls of the house with my two beautiful children my only company. To the outside world our family probably looks rosy and fine but; to be honest, it feels like my entire self has been eroded away and that I cannot get out or away."
The 2008 Helpline figures also indicate that some trends remain alarmingly consistent year to year. Women's Aid is deeply concerned about the abuse of women during their pregnancy and in the post natal period. Ms Martin said that, "We hear from women who are beaten and raped while they are pregnant, often resulting in miscarriage. We hear from women who are forbidden to breast feed their child, who are raped following child birth and women who are beaten while holding their baby."
Women's Aid is also concerned about the physical, emotional and sexual abuse of children living in domestic violence situations. There were almost 2,000 disclosures of child abuse to the Helpline in 2008. This abuse included children being forced to eat food off the floor; young children and babies being hit; threatened and actual physical abuse; attempted stabbings and children being
pushed down the stairs. Abuse of both the mother and children during access arrangements continued to be a feature of domestic violence in 2008.
Women's Aid is also deeply worried about the impact of the recession on its National Helpline and other support services, "The Women's Aid Helpline is quite literally a lifeline for women living with domestic violence. In 2009 we have experienced cutbacks in funding and 2010 looks even bleaker", Ms Martin concluded.
The Women's Aid Helpline is open from 10am - 10pm, 7 days a week 1800 341 900
For more information contact Christina Sherlock or Laura Shehan at 01-8684721 or 087-9192457.
Launch details: The Alexander Hotel, Merrion Square, Dublin 2 at 11am on Wednesday 16th September 2009.
Women's Aid Domestic Violence Helpline Statistics 2008: Trends and Further Information