Speaking at an event to mark the 40th Anniversary of Domestic Violence Services in Ireland where the Women’s Aid annual statistics report was launched, Margaret Martin, Director of Women’s Aid made a passionate plea for a change in our thinking around domestic violence.
She highlighted the fact that “While services have improved in 40 years Ireland was still named in the 2012 European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) research as having the highest rate of all countries in Europe for not meeting women’s needs when they sought assistance after the most serious incident of violence by a partner. Unfortunately it has taken 40 years to achieve one third of the required refuge spaces in Ireland (as recommended by the Council of Europe), and now marking 40 years of Women’s Aid I am wondering will it take another 80 years to achieve the other two thirds?
Ms Martin continued saying that perhaps now with the creation of new family agency Tusla working alongside COSC there might be an opportunity for a proper concerted multi agency approach. “Having legislation is one thing the hardest thing however is making it real. We need a situation where proper meaningful risk assessments take place, the court system is properly resourced, so women don’t face delays of four months to have full barring orders in place and emergency orders can take place at the weekend. Violent abusers don’t just operate between Monday and Friday. After forty years it is sad to have to say that it suits society to ask the question – Why doesn’t she leave? – And yes, some women do get away but a sizeable number stay and we as a society still haven’t put in place a system to make it possible for them and their children to leave in safety and dignity. When women do leave the abusive relationship, they face negotiating the legal system for custody, access and maintenance which, in the context of domestic violence, leaves many women vulnerable to continued abuse.”
The report from Women’s Aid announced details of 17,254 calls to its Domestic Violence National Free phone Helpline and its Support Services in 2014, in which 17,855 disclosures of abuse were disclosed. The organisation revealed how disclosures to its Helpline, by email and during support visits continue to show a wide and horrific range of methods of violence being used to control not only women but often unfortunately their children too.
These ranged from physical abuse which included severe beatings requiring hospitalisation; emotional abuse which included threats to kill children and 46 death threats made against women; being stalked and harassed on all forms of technology, financial abuse which included women being left without money for vital medical care and sexual abuse which included 201 rapes, some of which took place in front of the victims children. There were 3,207 disclosures of direct child abuse in 2013 to the Women’s Aid Helpline. Marriage remains the most common context for abuse with 57% of abuse disclosed perpetrated by a current husband or partner. Abuse by a former husband or partner was disclosed by 17% of callers. Startlingly over 15% of callers had suffered over 21 years of abuse.
Women’s Aid has been working to stop domestic violence against women and children since 1974 and in those 40 years significant progress have been made. Many of these achievements have changed the lives of countless women and children, helping them to begin their journeys to safety and freedom. There is some understanding that coercive control makes shadows of the most intelligent independent women.
In those four decades, Ireland has moved from being a country with no specialist support services to one with over 40 domestic violence services. Since 1976, domestic violence legislation has been providing protection to countless women and children, allowing them to move from crisis and danger to independence and safety. Through the persistence of domestic violence activists, this legislation has been extended over time with the most recent being in August 2011 when it came to include couples with a child in common. Although dating couples remain still outside its protection, we hope this will be addressed shortly and are encouraged by the Government commitment to the consolidation of domestic violence legislation.
The National Freephone Helpline is open every day of the year (except Christmas day) from 10am to 10pm. The Helpline provides vital support and information to individual callers and serves as an access point to other Women’s Aid Services and to support services and refuges nationwide. The National Helpline is free of charge to callers in the Republic of Ireland.
This confidential and anonymous Helpline is a valuable and essential service for the many women whose experiences of abuse may have isolated them from their family and social supports, and humiliated them into self-shame, self-blame and secrecy. All staff and volunteers working on the Helpline are highly trained in working with women experiencing abuse and share their support with gentleness and compassion to all callers to the Helpline.
Women’s Aid aims to be available to all women who need us and in 2013 we continued our Telephone Interpretation Service which allows us to support women in over 170 languages. In 2013, 88 calls were facilitated in 19 languages with women for whom English was not a fluent language using a number of different interpreters through this service. Some of these calls were initiated by professionals (Gardaí, Refuge service and GPs) in their quest to support the woman presenting to them.
The launch was concluded by Margaret Martin asking people to spread the word about Women’s Aid. “If you know someone who is experiencing domestic violence, pass our Helpline number to her if it is safe to do so. Remember – the Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900 is open from 10am to 10pm every day (except Christmas Day) and is free and confidential. All our information is available on our website, womensaid.ie. ”
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 Sarah Clarkin on 085 119 4339 or Niamh O’Carroll on 087 628 6171.
Launch details: The Alexander Hotel, 41-47 Fenian St, Dublin 2 at 11am. Pictures available from Paul Sharp at Sharppix from 1pm, Wednesday 12th June 2013. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 086-6689087.
Trends and further information
The report can be read in full here.