Saturday 22 July 2017

Women and children threatened with murder-suicide and assault of pregnant women among 20,000 reports of domestic violence

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

Mothers and children being threatened with murder suicide and children being targeted in a bid to threaten their mother were among the instances of abuse reported to Women's Aid in 2016.

According to the charity's annual report 16,974 disclosures of domestic violence were reported by callers to their helpline or users of their service.

A further 3,823 disclosures of child abuse, including child sexual abuse, were made to the helpline.

The service answered almost 5,000 additional calls last year - it's first year operating a 24/7 helpline.

The frequency of child abuse and children being exposed to domestic violence at home means the charity are now calling for a review of how custody of the children of violent men is handled by the legal system.

Margaret Martin, director of Women's Aid, outlined some of the details of various types of violence reported to the helpline which included:

  • Women being hit, beaten with weapons, stabbed and cut with knives and strangled
  • Women being beaten and strangled while they were pregnant.
  • Women being raped or coerced into sex
  • Women who had explicit videos of them made and shared online without their consent
  • Men who ran up debts in their partner's name, denying them access to salaries or social welfare

"Last year we responded to 15,953 calls (44 per day) on our 24 hour helpline. We also met with just over 1,000 women in our Dublin based one-to-one support services.

"During these contacts women revealed the horrific abuse by their boyfriends, partners and husbands... women were left with broken bones and teeth, bruising, head injuries and internal injuries as a result of rape," she said.

"Some women experienced miscarriage because of an assault while others were experiencing post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression and exhaustion."

The most common type of abuse reported was emotional (11,098) instances, while there were 3,052 instances of domestic abuse reported.

Margaret Martin, Director of Women's Aid
Margaret Martin, Director of Women's Aid

Women reported 695 disclosures of sexual abuse including 316 reports of rape by a current or ex-partner.

In addition there were 1,671 disclosures of financial abuse.

A quarter of all women who accessed Women's Aid were being abused by an ex-partner.

Child abuse and domestic violence

The majority of child abuse reported to the charity in 2016 was emotional abuse of the child.

There were also 183 disclosures of physical and sexual abuse of a child and 82 instances where children were being abused during access visits.

A total of 18 abductions were noted.

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"We still see that people don't see the connection between domestic violence and child abuse," Ms Martin told Independent.ie.

"But research shows that the more severe the domestic violence is the worse the child abuse is.

"One of the things we hear from women is that rather than abuse here an abusive father will very deliberately abuse her children as a way to get to her.

"We hear of women that are being abused while they are breastfeeding... before children can make sense of what's happening they are living in atmosphere of abuse," she said.

Access visits are a particularly vulnerable time for a woman who has left an abusive relationship.

"We think it's very important that there is a risk assessment every time there is a barring order," Ms Martin said.

At the moment it is often down to an individual judge to make a decision on custody access without expert opinion, even when a woman has secured a safety order against her former partner.

"One of the things we are calling on Government to invest in is setting up procedures to allow for safe access. We are not at all against fathers seeing their children when there is no risk to the child and no risk to the woman," she added.

"What we would like to see is a practise or a place, whatever it is we need, that act as a safety barrier at that flash-point of access which will allow for the child and the woman be for safe. It needs to be established that these children are going to be safe," she said.

"Given the pressure that is on the courts we need an expert to be able to do that risk assesment."

In some countries there are designated centres where women can safely drop their children to meet their dad for access visits.

Changes to how the gardaí investigate domestic violence which are due to be rolled out in the near future will improve risk assessment of abusive fathers Ms Martin said.

If you are affected by any of the issues in this article, you can contact the Women's  Aid helpline on 1800 341 900, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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