Today,Women’s Aid, the national domestic violence support organisation, releases its Impact Report for 2016. The report details 19,115 contacts made to its 24hr National Freephone Helpline and Dublin based one to one support services in 2016, during which 16,946 disclosures of domestic abuse against women were noted. In the same year, the organisation heard 3,823 disclosures of abuse of children. The annual snapshot by Women’s Aid provides an insight into the level and nature of the abuse experienced by women and children. Without it, domestic violence would remain largely hidden in Irish society. At the launch, Women’s Aid is highlighting the strong links between child abuse and domestic violence and is calling for greater recognition of the risk to children, especially during access arrangements with domestic violence perpetrators. The new report also outlines the extra 4,910 calls responded to in 2016 by the National Freephone Helpline in its first year as a 24/7 service. The Report will be launched by Katherine Zappone, T.D. Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.
Margaret Martin, Director of Women’s Aid, outlines some of the emotional, physical, sexual and financial abuse disclosed last year:
“In 2016, women told our confidential services that they had been isolated from family and friends, called derogatory names, had their lives and their safety threatened. Women disclosed that they were hit, beaten with weapons, stabbed and cut with knives and strangled. For some women they were beaten and strangled while they were pregnant. We heard from women that their partners had raped them, coerced them into sex, had prevented access to family planning and some had explicit videos and images made and shared online without their consent. Many women said that because of financial abuse they were being forced to choose between staying in an abusive relationship and facing poverty. Financial abuse disclosed in 2016 included partners running up debt in women’s names, women being denied access to the family finances and women’s salaries or social welfare being controlled.”
Domestic violence is very harmful and the impact of the abuse on women cannot be understated. Ms Martin explains:
“Last year we responded to 15,952 calls (44 per day) on our 24hr Helpline. We also met with just over 1000 women in our Dublin based one to one support services. During these contacts women revealed the horrific abuse by their boyfriends, partners and husbands and the impact on their emotional and physical well-being. Women were left with broken bones and teeth, bruising, head injuries and internal injuries as a result of rape. Some women experienced miscarriage because of an assault while others were experiencing post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression and exhaustion.”
In its 2016 report, Women’s Aid is shining a spotlight on the disclosures made to its service about children’s experience of domestic violence. 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 understanding 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.
Ms Martin 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 number of disclosures to Women's Aid of children being directly abused and exposed to domestic violence. In 2016, women told us on 3,823 occasions that their children were being hit, slapped, shouted at and called names, and in some cases, sexually abused. Children have been told they will be killed alongside their mothers. At times, the perpetrator of the abuse has deliberately targeted the children as a way to hurt both them and their mother.”
It was reported that children were bearing witness to the most appalling abuse and violence against their mothers. 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.
Ending the relationship does not always protect women and children from domestic violence with 26% of abuse reported to Women’s Aid being carried out by an ex-partner or ex-husband, often during access. Women’s Aid says 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. Many women supported by Women’s Aid in 2016 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. This fear is heightened when women have to facilitate access to the children for the man who has been perpetrating domestic violence. A father’s right to access should not outweigh a child’s right to safety. Child protection and safety should be prioritised in all custody and access proceedings. To do anything less is to fail women and children.”
The Women’s Aid Impact Report 2016 contains a number of recommendations to address this issue. It states that: the Court should consider the safety and well-being of any children when granting a Barring order and take interim measures to protect them; experts should be made available to the court to professionally assess any threat the perpetrator poses to children and the impact of the direct/indirect abuse and that funding should be made available for child contact centres across the country to facilitate safe, supervised access visits. Lastly, it also recommends that all staff in agencies that support victims of domestic violence to be trained to understand the impact of abuse on women and children and the risk of continuing or escalating abuse post-separation. These measures should be funded by a programme of investment from Government.
Last year, the Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline became a 24/7 service and during its additional opening hours (10pm-10am) it responded to an extra 4,910 calls which would in previous years, gone unanswered. Ms Martin explains:
“We know the safest time for many women to call is in the quiet hours of the early morning when everyone else is safe in bed. For them, there is obvious relief in finding someone at the end of the phone to talk to. We are committed to being here for every woman who needs us, at any hour of the day or night. So far we have been able to provide the extended service due to the generosity of the public and corporate donations. But this arrangement is not sustainable. We need the Government to fully resource the 24hr National Helpline to ensure our essential and trusted service survives.”
The Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline marks its 25th anniversary in 2017. Since its inception in 1992 staff and volunteers have responded to over 280,000 calls. Anyone wishing to support our work can visit www.WomensAid.ie/donate to make an immediate and secure donation. Or you can text the word ACTION to 50300 to donate €4* to Women’s Aid.
The Women’s Aid 24hr National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900 is available 7 days a week.www.womensaid.ie
For more information contact Christina Sherlock, Communications and Campaigns Officer, 01-678 8858 or 087 919 2457. Email email@example.com.
Launch details: 10.30am to 12.15pm Wednesday 17th May 2017 at the GPO Witness Gallery, GPO, O’Connell Street, Dublin 1. Schedule available to download here.
Pictures available from Paul Sharp, Sharppix (firstname.lastname@example.org), from 1pm, Wednesday 17th May 2017.
The Impact Report 2016 and video are available online at www.WomensAid.ie/Impact2016
Notes and further trends to editors: