Media Release: 39% increase in calls answered by Women’s Aid during Covid-19 Lockdown.

29 May 2020

  • Over 4,000 calls answered by the Women’s Aid 24hr National Freephone Helpline since late March.  39% increase on the same period last year.
  • Women’s Aid website has seen over 72,000 visits in the same period (an increase of 74%) on last year.
  • Women have disclosed being strangled, raped, beaten and feeling constantly monitored and trapped in homes with their abusive partners. 
  • Mental health impact of domestic abuse for women heightened due to restrictions with some women disclosing that they have felt suicidal because of the bleak situations they are in.
  • Human experiences behind the statistics revealed by Women’s Aid as they release three case studies based on calls made to its national service.
  • The next Government need to prioritise tackling domestic violence to increase safety and protection for victims of abuse.

Friday 29th May 2020: Women’s Aid, a national frontline organisation supporting victims of domestic violence and abuse, today announces a 39% increase in calls responded to by its 24hr National Freephone Helpline during the Covid-19 emergency.   Women’s Aid has supported callers on over 4,000 occasions since late March 2020 (up 39% on the same period last year) with women disclosing high levels of emotional, physical, sexual and financial abuse from their partners.  The organisation has also seen a huge spike (+74%) in traffic to its website which provides useful resources and information for victims of abuse and also provides a crucial online instant chat service for women unable to literally 'speak out'.  Home has not been a safe place for thousands of women and children affected by domestic abuse over the last two months.  The Covid-19 restrictions providing the ideal environment for abusers to exert their power and dominance in homes across Ireland.  Women’s Aid calls on the next Government to prioritise tackling domestic abuse, including sexual abuse, and has submitted six key recommendations to the negotiating teams. These include increased targeted funding for specialist domestic violence services, reform of the criminal and family law systems and urgently needed legislation to tackle online abuse. 

Sarah Benson, CEO of Women’s Aid says:

“When most of us think of home we think of a place of sanctuary and security. A place to retreat from the pressures of the outside world. Highlighting the safety of ‘home’ has been paramount during Covid-19.  However, this crisis has also focussed minds on homes that are not safe at all.  Since late March Women’s Aid has been on the frontline answering calls from women who are trapped at home with very dangerous abusers.  We have spoken to women who have been attacked with weapons and fists, who are being verbally abused, controlled and monitored at all times.  Women with underlying health issues have reported that their partners are not adhering to Covid-19 restrictions deliberately.”

A woman named Sharon* contacted Women’s Aid recently. She is continuing to work from home during the Covid-19 pandemic but is finding the situation increasingly difficult and desperate as she is locked into the house with her abusive husband all day and night, and has been unable to hide or escape even for short amounts of time. Prior to the lockdown, her husband was aggressive and controlling but since the lockdown, he has become even more volatile.

She says:

“I feel like I’m being monitored by my husband 24/7. He takes every opportunity he can to undermine and control me. He constantly intrudes on my work calls and conversations and I feel like I’ve no choice but to put up with his unacceptable behaviour all day, every day because I’m literally locked inside the house with him. It’s unbearable and I constantly feel frightened and vulnerable.”

Another woman Agnes* is aged in her late 70s and has sadly suffered emotional, physical and financial abuse throughout her entire married life. Though her husband is now 80, she continues to endure his abuse and remains terrified of him. To make matters worse, her son (aged in his 50s) recently returned to the family home and he has become increasingly more abusive in his behaviour towards her too.  Agnes told us:

“He refuses to contribute financially and demands that I wait on him hand and foot. Whenever I’ve asked him to help, he has got angry and aggressive with me, shouting things like ‘you owe me, you old bitch’ and ‘you’ve never done anything for me, so why should I do anything for you?’  With the Covid-19 lockdown, the situation has become even more unbearable as I feel completely trapped, suffocated and I’m frightened of telling anyone in case matters escalate and the situation gets even worse. My two other children both live abroad and I don’t want to worry or upset them so I don’t tell them any of what is going on. But, having not seen my friends in weeks, I’m feeling very alone and isolated. My son is at home all the time now and there is literally nowhere to escape from the abuse of both my husband and my son. I feel like the only way out is to die.”

Women’s Aid is releasing today’s figures and case studies to highlight the impacts of domestic abuse during the Covid-19 pandemic and to urge those involved in Government formation talks to prioritise victims of domestic violence and abuse in the next Programme for Government.  The framework document on government negotiation outlines a plan to recover, rebuild and renew Ireland after the Covid-19 emergency has passed Women's Aid appreciates that this plan includes a reference of commitment to tackling domestic and sexual violence. However, we are concerned that there is no a detailed plan available as to what this will look like in practice.  The organisation has submitted six key recommendations to the negotiating teams which includes increased funding for specialist services, reform of the criminal and family law systems and tackling online abuse and harassment, including image based abuse.

Ms Benson explains:

“Women’s Aid and other domestic violence support services around the country are supporting victims and survivors every day during this pandemic.  The dire impacts on women’s physical and mental wellbeing are already acutely evident.  We are really concerned that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg and an essential part of post Covid-19 planning must be increasing the supports and protections to maximise the safety and well-being of victims of domestic abuse, including sexual abuse and coercive control.  It is vital to keep the importance of a safe home, and healthy relationships to the foreground.  We strongly believe the following commitments must be included and agreed by all parties during the government formation process in order to provide the necessary and measurable steps for both preventing and tackling domestic violence and abuse.”

Safety in this time of crisis is paramount and Women’s Aid is encouraging victims to reach out and find support from the 24hr National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900 www.womensaid.ie.  Details of other specialist domestic and sexual abuse support services, including services for male victims, are available at www.stillhere.ie. Anyone who feels in immediate danger should call 112/999. 

*All names and some details to anonymise the case studies and protect identities.

Ends.

Women’s Aid 24hr National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900

www.womensaid.ie

For more information: Call Christina Sherlock on 0879192457 or email christina.sherlock@womensaid.ie

Notes for Editors/Producers:

  • Women's Aid is a national organisation providing support and information to women experiencing domestic violence through its Direct Services. It runs the only free, national, domestic violence 24hr helpline (1800 341 900, 24 hours, 7 days) with specialised trained staff and volunteers, accredited by the Helplines Partnership and with a Telephone Interpretation Service covering 170 languages for callers needing interpreting services as well as a Text Service for Deaf and Hard of Hearing women. Women's Aid also offers a Dublin-based One to One Support Service and Court Accompaniment Service and runs the Dolphin House Support and Referral Service in the Dublin District Family Law Court (in partnership with Inchicore Outreach Centre.)
  • Figures supplied for the 24hr National Freephone Helpline:
    • 23rd March to 24th May 2020 - Calls responded to 4,196
    • 23rd March to 24th May 2019 – calls responded to 3,015
    • Variation 1,181 (39%).
  • Figures supplied for womensaid.ie
  • 23rd March to 24th May 2020 – 73,743 sessions
  • 23rd March to 24th May 2019 – 42,341 sessions
  • Variation 31,402 (74%)
  • Three case studies available at https://www.womensaid.ie/assets/files/pdf/womens_aid_covid19_case_studies.pdf
  • Women’s Aid Recommendations for the Programme for Government are: https://www.womensaid.ie/assets/files/pdf/womens_aid_recommendations_for_programme_for_government_2020.pdf.