Over 20,000 Disclosures of Domestic Violence against Women and Children made to Women’s Aid in 2018

  • Women’s Aid Report 2018 details 19,089 contacts with Women’s Aid Direct Services including the 24hr National Freephone Helpline and Dublin based One to One Support Services.  During these contacts 16,994 disclosures of domestic violence against women were noted.  There were an additional 3,728 disclosures of child abuse made (20,722 in total).
  • One in four women who contacted Women’s Aid were experiencing abuse from a former husband or partner (27%).
  • Women’s Aid shines a spotlight on children’s experience of domestic violence and calls for improved State interventions and protections, especially when granting access to children for domestic violence perpetrators.
  • The risk posed by a perpetrator of domestic violence to the children of the family should be taken seriously with immediate interim measures put in place to protect the children including the rebuttal presumption of no contact until safe contact can be guaranteed.
  • Recent Joint Oireachtas Committee hearings on Reform of the Family Law system failed to invite frontline domestic violence services to feed in the concerns of women and their children experiencing abuse.

On Wednesday April 10th, Women’s Aid, the national domestic violence support organisation, released 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.

 

  • Women’s Aid is the 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 & 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.)
  • Emotional Abuse included: being controlled and manipulated, being isolated from family and friends, threats to kill the woman, the children, or the woman’s family, abuser refusing to call the woman by her name, constant name calling and being shouted at. Being accused of being a bad mother and being told that she is going mad. Being blamed for the abuse and being told that it’s her fault.  Being shaken, kicked and woken during the night resulting in sleep deprivation. Being stalked, having to change contact details and being harassed by phone, text and online after the relationship has ended.
  • Physical Abuse included: Being beaten, bitten and spat at, being punched, thrown, slapped and kicked to the point of bleeding and threatened with a knife or gun.  Being beaten while pregnant, being beaten when holding an infant.  Being locked in the house and/or car for hours.  Attempted arson while she and the children are in the house.  Being choked, pulled by the hair, being stabbed and cut with knives and blades.  Being hit with weapons including hammers, axes and everyday household items.
  • Sexual Abuse included: Being drugged and raped while unconscious, being sexually assaulted with weapons, being raped by partner who says that sex is his right, feeling that she cannot say no as it will mean a physical attack. Being forced to carry out humiliating and painful sexual acts.
  • Financial Abuse included: Being denied access to vital medical care and intervention, abuser controlling all family income including woman’s salary and/or welfare payments. Being left without means as the abuser has gambled or spent the household income.  Being left to pay all household expenses including bills, food and clothing for the children.  Abuser withholding maintenance payments.  Being left with debt in her name and being vulnerable to homelessness as the abuser is not paying mortgages and other bills taken out in her name.
  • 34% of calls to the National Helpline came from the Greater Dublin area while 35% of calls came from outside Dublin30% of callers did not disclose a location.  95% of callers to the Helpline were female and 5% were male.
  • The Women’s Aid 24hr National Freephone Helpline answered 15,835 calls in 2018. There were 721 one to one support visits and 257 court accompaniments carried out by its One to One Support Services.  An additional 591 drop-in sessions took place at the Dolphin House Support and Referral Service.  There were also 1,685 additional support calls by our One to One Services, including at Dolphin House.
  • There were 16,994 disclosures of domestic abuse to Women’s Aid Direct Services in 2018 including 11,112 disclosures of emotional abuse, 3,816 disclosures of physical abuse, 526 disclosures of sexual abuse (Including 226 disclosures of rape) and 1,540 disclosures of financial abuse.
  • Women contacting Women’s Aid disclosed that 84% of abusers were male intimate partners. (This breaks down as: 42% husband, 8% ex-husband, 15% partner, 19% ex-partner).
  • The Women’s Aid website was visited 183,209 times in 2018.

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