Calls to domestic violence helplines go unanswered
Cutbacks in services mean victims of domestic violence may find no one at the other end of the phone when they seek help.
The stark finding comes as the number of people seeking refuge from abusive partners increased 43 per cent in the past two years.
An informal phone survey of women's refuges, conducted by the Sunday Independent, found that many frontline services now haven't enough staff to man their switchboards at all times.
The survey, conducted on Thursday evening, found that the South Hill Domestic Abuse Project in Limerick, Drogheda Women's Refuge and Women's Aid in Dundalk all rang out when calls were placed to their helplines.
The national HQ of Women's Aid was called three times but callers heard only a voicemail advising them to call back.
In Cork, the organisation OSS closes at 1pm and the voicemail offers to call the abuse victim back if they give their number.
Safe Ireland, the umbrella organisation for most of Ireland's domestic violence refuges, also did not answer.
Catriona Gleeson, communications manager for Safe Ireland says: "We are a policy-based organisation, so we would not be taking the front-line calls, but we are very concerned that these calls aren't getting through to other services.
"It's an indication of how stretched resources are and it's horrible that this is happening. Despite huge increases in demand, services are being cut.
"There have been 25 per cent cuts in the north-east in the last two years and 5-7 per cent cuts to services around the country," she said.
"Some 33,000 calls are answered to women every year so it's not like these people aren't picking up the phones on purpose, there are just no staff at the end of these phones."
Margaret Martin, director of Women's Aid admitted: "This is hugely regrettable because this is not what we'd like to see happening at all. Women have limited opportunity to call and even less so during the school holidays as they're less likely to call us when the children are around.
"So if they can't get through to us during that time, I hope they would call back when they can. Often we have women say to us, 'it's taken me three days to get through to you but I'm so glad I did'," she said.
She added that, unlike other services, Women's Aid can't, for obvious reasons, ask for the caller to leave their number to enable a call back.
"But we are doing the best we can with the level of resources we have. We've done a huge amount of work on our website."
Ms Martin added that all the research suggests that one in five women will experience abuse during their lifetime. "It is so much more prevalent than people think and it is a very deliberate type of abuse. These women are not alone."
The Women's Aid website is www.womensaid.ie and their helpline number is 1800 341900.