Women's Aid today (Wednesday, 13th June 2012) announced details of contacts with its Domestic Violence National Freephone Helpline and its Support Services in 2011. Women using the Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline and Support Services disclosed 13,504 incidents of physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse in 2011. Women's Aid has noted 2,076 disclosures of direct emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children in homes where mothers are also being abused. This is a 25% increase on the previous year. In an additional 2,946 calls, it was disclosed that children were bearing witness to the most horrific abuse and violence against their mothers. This in itself is a recognised form of emotional abuse with detrimental effects to children's well-being.
Speaking at the announcement of the figures, Margaret Martin, Director of Women's Aid, said that, "Domestic violence remains a serious problem in Irish society. This year we are particularly concerned about the increasing number of disclosures to Women's Aid of children being directly abused or exposed to domestic violence. Domestic violence is the most common context in which children experience abuse. In 2011, 44% of all callers to the Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline disclosed that children were being directly abused or were present in the home where domestic violence was happening. Women have told us that their children were being hit, smacked, constantly shouted at, and in some cases, sexually abused. Many children will witness their mother being shouted at, threatened, physically assaulted and at times will see their mother being raped. Where they do not directly see the abuse occurring they may overhear abusive incidents, or will see the aftermath of it such as bruises, broken bones, damaged furniture and belongings. At times, the perpetrator of the abuse will deliberately target children as a way to hurt both them and their mother."
Ms Martin added that many women, who call the Women's Aid Helpline, worry about how best to protect their children. She explained, "It is heart-breaking to listen to women who, with their children, are living in a constant state of fear. Many women will seek to leave the abusive situation when they become aware of the risk to their children. Unfortunately, the abuse can continue even when women end the relationship. Far from ending the abuse, this time can be very dangerous for women and children. Many women reported that abusive former partners were continuing to use access visits to abuse both them and children. Abuse during access visits disclosed in 2011 included women and children being physically, emotionally and sexually abused, abusers threatening to kill the woman and the children, abusers calling women telling them that the children were left unattended somewhere and the abusers not picking up or returning children as arranged. Mothers described how they were left in impossible situations because the children return from access visits withdrawn, sad and saying that they don't want to go in future."
Women's Aid welcomed the placing of Children First Guidelines on a statutory basis. Ms Martin said, "We welcome the Children First Guidelines and the recognition that exposure to domestic violence is a form of emotional abuse of children. Women's Aid will continue to highlight the links between child abuse and domestic violence and the best practice principle of protecting the child through protecting the non-abusive parent, usually the mother, who should be seen as the natural ally in child protection situations. Women's Aid believes that this needs to be reflected in any changes to Family Law or Domestic Violence Legislation as well as in any Child Protection structures.
The Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline answered 11,169 calls in 2011. Calls from thousands of abused women living in a constant state of fear. Fear of the next beating, the next attempted strangulation, the fear that the next attack will result in serious injury or their death. Ms Martin said, "1 in 5 women in Ireland are affected by physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse. The sad fact is that it can happen to any woman, in any home and at any stage in her life. In 2011, women disclosed that they were punched, slapped, kicked, held down and strangled and beaten with household items. Women told us that they were constantly belittled, criticised, blamed and stalked and harassed via technology both during the relationship and after leaving. Women reported that they had been raped, sexually assaulted and given no option but to comply with their abusers sexual demands. Women's freedom and options had been curtailed because of sustained financial abuse including being denied household monies, being forced to take out loans in their names only and having their employment jeopardised. All too often, women feel alone and isolated, unaware that help is available.
The 2011 Women's Aid report also indicates that some trends remain alarmingly consistent year to year. Women's Aid remains deeply concerned about the abuse of women during pregnancy and the post-natal period. Ms Martin said that, "No-one deserves to be beaten, threatened, raped and insulted. However, nowhere is domestic violence more stark or disturbing than during pregnancy. In 2011, we heard from women who were beaten and raped while pregnant, which often resulted in miscarriage. We also heard from pregnant women whose abuser deliberately pushed them against their stomach, women who were raped following child birth and women who were beaten while holding their baby."
Despite the harrowing stories behind each of these calls, Ms Martin, speaking directly to women living with abuse, said, "There is help available and that for almost 40 years, Women's Aid has helped countless women and children to go on to lead safe and fulfilling lives. I would like to say particularly to younger women that if something doesn't feel right in your relationship, then you should trust your instincts and get help now. There is a myth in society that abuse only occurs in older and more established relationships. But this is not the case. In many 'going out' or 'dating' relationships, abuse is already a feature but is often not recognised as such by the young woman herself, or her friends. Our experience and national and international research show that young women are at risk from violence and abuse from their boyfriends. We know from the National Crime Council Survey on Domestic Violence that almost 60% of people who had experienced severe abuse in intimate relationships experienced that abuse for the first time under the age of 25. We hear from older women trapped in abusive relationships that the signs that their partner was possessive and controlling were there from the start. In 2011, only 3% of women using our One to One Support Service contacted Women's Aid in the first year of an abusive relationship. The majority of women (72%) had been living with abuse for 6 years or more. Our current 2in2u National Public Awareness Campaign is designed to help younger women worried about their relationship and to help them address the situation before the relationship becomes more established and it becomes harder to leave."
Women's Aid relies very much on donations from the public. Anyone who wishes to donate to their service can do so online at www.womensaid.ie or by sending donations direct to Women's Aid, 5 Wilton Place, Dublin 2.
The Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900 is open from 10am - 10pm, 7 days a week
Launch details: The Westin Hotel, Westmoreland Street, Dublin 2, at 11am on Wednesday 13th June 2012.
Media spokeswomen available for interview.
Pictures available from Paul Sharp at Sharppix from 1pm, Wednesday 13th June 2012. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 086-6689087.
For more information contact Christina Sherlock or Laura Shehan at 01-678 8858 or 087-9192457.