Embargoed 6am, 10th April 2019
Wednesday 10th April 2019: Today, Women’s Aid, the national domestic violence support organisation, releases its Impact Report for 2018. The report details the 19,089 contacts made to the 24hr National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900 and Dublin based One to One Services in 2018, during which 16,994 disclosures of domestic violence against women were noted. In the same year, the organisation heard 3,728 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 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 organisation will also express its disappointment at the recent Joint Oireachtas Committee hearings on Reform of the Family Law system failure to invite frontline domestic violence services to feed in the concerns of women and their children experiencing abuse. The Report is launched by Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr. Katherine Zappone, T.D and will hear from the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Dr Geoffrey Shannon. The organisation is also releasing a new information guide to Coercive Control.
Margaret Martin, Director of Women’s Aid, outlines some of the emotional, physical, sexual and financial abuse disclosed last year:
“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 2018 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 15,835 calls (44 per day) on our 24hr National Freephone Helpline. We also met with just over 1,300 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 2018 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.
“Domestic violence is a serious crime against women and children in Irish society but one that remains hidden and minimised. We are very concerned about the number of disclosures to Women's Aid of children being directly abused and exposed to domestic violence. In 2018, women told us on 3,729 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 27% 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 2018 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.”
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 483 disclosures of women being abused during access visits and 255 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.
Women’s Aid said that the recent Joint Committee of Justice and Equality on Reform of the Family Law system failed to reach out to frontline organisations supporting victims of domestic violence through the court process. Ms Martin says:
“The first time we heard of these hearings was through the media and we were very disappointed that the Committee did not invite specialist domestic violence services like Women’s Aid to feed in our very real concerns about the Family Law system and the need for change. We have since written to the Chair of the Committee and made our submission.”
The Women’s Aid Impact Report 2018 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.
There is a scandalous situation in Ireland where refuge space for women and children is way below European recommendations. Ms Martin explains:
“Currently, Ireland only has one third of emergency accommodation recommended by the Istanbul Convention and the refuge places that do exist are often full to capacity. When the National Helpline staff and volunteers have tried to find a refuge place for women and her children, on 52% occasions, the refuge was full. This is an unacceptable situation and leaves our support workers having to tell women and their children that there is no safe place to go on too many occasions.”
The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, T.D., recently called the scale of violence against women in Ireland an ‘epidemic’ and Women’s Aid agrees and says that our systems are creaking under the pressure. Margaret Martin concludes:
“The Women’s Aid Impact Report 2018 is a timely reminder that there are many things that need to change to increase protection and safety for women and children and prevent further harm.”
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 email@example.com.
Launch details: 10.30am to 12.30pm Tuesday 10th April 2019 at Wood Quay Venue, Dublin City Council, Dublin 8. Pictures available from Paul Sharp, Sharppix (firstname.lastname@example.org), from 1pm, Tuesday 10th April 2019.
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