Tuesday 17th April 2018: Today, Women’s Aid, the national domestic violence support organisation, releases its Impact Report for 2017. The report details the 21,451 contacts made to its 24hr National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900 and Dublin based One to One Services in 2017, during which 15,833 disclosures of domestic violence against women were noted. In the same year, the organisation heard 3,552 disclosures of child abuse in the context of domestic violence. The annual snapshot by Women’s Aid provides an insight into the level and nature of abuse experienced by women and children in homes and relationships across Ireland. At the launch, Women’s Aid is highlighting the barriers and dangers women face when trying to leave an abusive partner including inconsistent decisions and responses from the legal system and the Gardaí. The organisation is calling for the establishment of a Joint Oireachtas Committee to examine the barriers faced by victims of domestic violence and for the identification of the gaps in the systems and resources that support and assist a safe and quick transition from abuse to freedom. Women’s Aid is also calling for a better system of risk assessment and management by the Family Law court and An Garda Síochána and for a ‘no contact until contact is safe’ rule for access arrangements in cases of domestic violence. The report will be launched by David Stanton, T.D., Minister of State, at the Department of Justice and Equality.
Margaret Martin, Director of Women’s Aid outlines some of the emotional, physical, sexual and financial abuse by intimate partners disclosed last year:
“The statistics Women’s Aid present today are shocking and stark and behind each one is a story of pain, suffering and resilience. Last year women told us they were being verbally abused, being threatened with violence, being stalked both online and in person. Women told us about being locked out of their homes overnight with their children. Women were living in fear for their lives because they were being threatened with knives, guns and abusive partners and exes were threatening to kill them, their children and their families. We also heard from women who were hospitalised as a result of domestic violence. Women whose partners or exes strangled them until they were unconscious and women being smothered. Women were also physically abused during their pregnancy with a number disclosing that they had a miscarriage because of the abuse. Domestic violence is the deepest betrayal of trust within an intimate relationship.”
Ms Martin adds:
“In 2017, we heard from women who were being sexually abused by their partners with over 323 women disclosing that they were raped. Financial abuse was also disclosed to Women’s Aid last year with women telling us that they were being denied access to the family finances, that their own salary/social welfare were being withheld or stolen and women also told us that financial abuse continued after separation including the hiding of family assets and the non-payment of child maintenance.”
In the 2017 Report Women’s Aid is shining a spotlight on the barriers and dangers women faced when they try to leave an abusive relationship. Women’s Aid experience and research shows that separation does not always mean safety. Last year, 28% of contacts with Women’s Aid were from women who were being abused by their ex-boyfriend, ex-partner or ex-husband. As Ms Martin explains:
“There are many reasons why a woman may not be able to leave an abusive partner. Women are often scared that leaving a violent perpetrator may put them and their children at increased risk of retaliation and violence, and with good reason. Women are often living in fear of the perpetrator and have been told they will be killed if they leave. They face an under-resourced and, at times, an unsupportive legal system. They may face stigma, shame or lack emotional support. They may have no financial resources or simply have no safe place to go to. Last year almost a third of women we supported were being abused by an ex-boyfriend, ex-partner or ex-husband. Separation has long been identified as a risk factor for repeated and escalated domestic violence and femicide.”
In 2017, there were 3,552 disclosures of child abuse in the context of domestic violence. Women’s Aid says that women and their children are often put at risk by the decision by the courts to allow perpetrators of domestic violence to have access to the children of the relationship and recommends that there be no contact with abusive fathers until contact is safe. We heard over 428 disclosures of women being abused during access visits and 97 disclosures of children being abused during access visits.
Ms Martin adds:
“We currently have a system where there is a presumption of contact for fathers. In our one to one services, we support women who face situations where Barring Orders are granted to protect a woman from her abusive partner but there is often no assessment looking at the safety and well-being of the children. While the perpetrator is barred from the house he often still has unsupervised access to the children and uses that access to continue abusing them directly and/or through having the children witness the abuse of their mother. In cases where abusive ex-partners are granted access including overnight access, this increases the contact women must have with them, her anxiety, and the risk to her and the children. However, this needs to change as a matter of urgency. Women are very upset to find that even in cases where there is physical violence against her and possibly the children in the past, that access is granted. We have also found, that younger children who communicate their fear of going on access are not listened to by the courts.”
Women’s Aid says that it is imperative that the risk posed by a perpetrator of domestic violence to the children of the family and the impact of such abuse on them is assessed and that immediate interim measures are taken to protect the children including the rebuttal presumption of no contact until safe contact can be guaranteed.
Many of the women Women’s Aid worked with in 2017 told us they had to call on the Garda for protection from their abuser. On 654 occasions last year callers to the 24hr National Freephone Helpline disclosed that they had rang the Gardaí. 82 women were noted as having rang the Gardaí more than once. 65% of the women who rang the Gardaí found their response was helpful. 35% found them unhelpful.
“The Gardaí play a unique and vital role in protecting victims of domestic violence both while in the relationship and after they leave, as well as in holding the perpetrators to account. The response a woman receives can make a huge difference both in terms of her safety and in terms of her willingness and ability to engage with the justice system. However Garda response to victims of domestic violence can vary from negative to excellent, among and even within Garda stations. We continue to hear reports of Garda attending a domestic violence call and not enforcing orders under the Domestic Violence Act, not arresting the perpetrator when an assault or other offence has been committed, not assessing the risk to women and children, giving incorrect information on orders or simply dismissing the woman’s experience and fears.”
When women have positive responses from the Gardaí, it can increase their confidence to continue to report what is happening to them and engage with services. When Gardaí arrest for order breaches, this can have a huge impact on a woman’s safety as in some cases a single arrest can be a deterrent. Women’s Aid calls for ongoing and initial training on domestic violence for members of An Garda Síochána, effective support, oversight and monitoring structures as well the fully resourced roll out of the local protective services unit.
Margaret Martin concludes:
“The Women’s Aid Impact Report 2017 is a timely reminder that if we do not identify and address the barriers women face, they will left struggling against the odds. It should not be left to a role of a dice for women to get positive and supportive responses from the ‘good garda’ or the ‘good judge’. They deserve a system that supports and protects them as they move themselves and their children.
Women’s Aid 24hr National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900 www.womensaid.ie.
For more information please contact Christina Sherlock on 087 919 2457 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Launch details: 10.30am to 12.30pm Tuesday 17th April 2018 at Wood Quay Venue, Dublin City Council, Dublin 8. Schedule of the morning is available here.
Pictures available from Paul Sharp, Sharppix (email@example.com), from 1pm, Tuesday 17th April 2018.
The Impact Report 2017 is available here.
Notes and further statistics: