Women's Aid today (Wednesday, 12th June 2013) announces details of contacts with its Domestic Violence Direct Services in 2012. Last year, the Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline and One to One Support Services heard 16,200 disclosures of physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse of women. The national charity also noted an additional 3,230 disclosures of child abuse. Research and Women’s Aid’s own experience shows that domestic violence is a very common context in which child abuse takes place and that the more severe the domestic violence is against the mother, the higher the risk of abuse against the children in the home. Women’s Aid calls for greater recognition of the links between domestic violence and child abuse and says that the Government can take steps to immediately increase the safety of vulnerable women and children. The figures from Women’s Aid show that threats, abuse, intimidation and violence are a daily reality for thousands of women and children across Ireland.
Speaking at the launch of the 2012 Annual Report, Margaret Martin, Women’s Aid Director, says: “Domestic violence is a serious crime against women and children in Irish society but one that is hidden and minimised. I am very concerned about the increasing number of disclosures to Women's Aid of children being directly abused and exposed to domestic violence. In 2012, women told us on 3,230 occasions that their children were being hit, including with household items, smacked, constantly shouted at, and in some cases, sexually abused. Children have witnessed their pets being abused, kicked and thrown against walls. At times, the perpetrator of the abuse has deliberately targeted the children as a way to hurt both them and their mother.”
In addition to the disclosures of direct child abuse, in 1,211 calls it was reported that children were bearing witness to the most horrific abuse and violence against their mothers. Exposure to domestic violence is recognised in the Children First Guidelines as a form of emotional abuse of children with detrimental effects to their well-being. Ms Martin adds: “Many children have witnessed their mother being shouted at, threatened, physically assaulted and at times have seen their mother being raped. Where they have not directly seen the abuse occurring they may have overheard abusive incidents, or seen the aftermath of it such as bruises, broken bones, damaged furniture and belongings.”
Women who called the Women's Aid Helpline in 2012 were worried about protecting their children. Ms Martin says: "It is heart-breaking to listen to women who are living in a constant state of fear for their children and themselves. As much as they can, women work hard to protect their children and to keep their children’s lives as safe, stable and normal as possible despite the domestic violence at home. These mothers should be seen as the natural ally in child protection situations. They are vital to their children’s well-being and the key to a different life, free from abuse and fear. They are best placed to know what is in the best interests of their children and themselves. Their voices should be heard and respected.”
Women’s Aid believes that custody and access arrangements in Family Law proceedings often disregard the impact of domestic violence on children and as a result risk continuing abuse of the children as well as exposure to abuse of their mother during the hand over period. Ms Martin adds: “Child contact should not outweigh child protection and safety should be prioritised in all custody and access proceedings. To do anything less is to fail women and children.”
Women's Aid believes that the best practice principle of protecting the child through protecting the non-abusive parent, usually the mother, needs to be further acknowledged and reflected in any changes to Family Law or Domestic Violence Legislation as well as in any Child Protection structures. Women’s Aid is also calling for the provision of an out of hours on call system for emergency barring orders which would provide 24/7 access to legal protection for women and their children when they need it the most. As the Irish Presidency of the EU draws to a close, Women’s Aid also calls on the Government to sign up to Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combatting Domestic Violence (known as the Istanbul Convention) as a sign of its commitment to end violence against women.
One in five women in Ireland is abused by a current or former husband, partner or boyfriend, at some stage in their lifetime and the Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline answered 11,729 calls in 2012. Ms Martin says: "In 2012, women disclosed to Women’s Aid that they were kept prisoner in their own homes, spat on, punched, slapped, kicked, held down and strangled and beaten with household items with many women disclosing that they were beaten and raped during pregnancy. Women told us that they were constantly verbally abused, 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.”
Women’s Aid hears from women who feel trapped, alone, isolated and whose options are dwindling in the current economic climate. Ms Martin adds: “The ability of some women 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. Women, who do try to leave, often find it harder or impossible to access vital supports such as housing, refuge, welfare and legal representation. While many cannot escape the abuse, other women discover that leaving an abusive relationship does not always mean an end to the abuse. In fact, it can, at times, escalate it. In 2012, 49% of the women supported in our One to One service were experiencing abuse from a former husband, partner or boyfriend.”
Despite the harrowing stories behind each of these contacts with Women’s Aid, help is available, Ms Martin concludes: “For almost 40 years, Women's Aid has helped countless women and children to go on to lead safe and fulfilling lives. When women call the National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900 we listen to them, we offer support, information and encouragement. We help find them refuge, we accompany them to court. We help build new lives where they and their children can be safe.”
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/donate or by sending donations direct to Women's Aid, 5 Wilton Place, Dublin 2.
The Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900, 10am - 10pm, 7 days a week.
Case studies and media spokeswomen available for interview.
For more information contact Christina Sherlock or Denise Ryan at 01-678 8858 or 087-9192457.
Launch details: The Westin Hotel, Westmoreland Street, Dublin 2, at 11am on Wednesday 13th June 2013. Pictures available from Paul Sharp at Sharppix from 1pm, Wednesday 12th June 2013. Email email@example.com or phone 086-6689087.
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