'The abuse won't stop for Christmas' - domestic abuse helpline anticipating spike in calls
A national frontline support service for women experiencing domestic abuse said they are preparing for a spike in calls after Christmas Day, explaining that the festive period can be a time of "hurt and fear" for many.
Women's Aid, who run a 24hr freephone that answers almost 50 calls a day, are preparing for a surge after Christmas Day, as many women and their children are "walking on eggshells" over the festive season.
Linda Smith, manager of the Women's Aid helpline, said that many women find their partners or former partners using their children "as pawns to control or intimate" them on the big day.
"December and Christmas is a tough time for women and often the abuse they are suffering is more frequent and more severe with women disclosing that they have been assaulted, hospitalised, being ignored and being called the most horrible names," Ms Smith said.
"Just because it is the festive season, it doesn’t mean that physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse goes away.
"Women tell us that their ex-partners are threatening to withhold finances and presents unless she does what he wants. Women are being manipulated and controlled by their partners.”
Some of the volunteers will prepare for calls over financial stress from Christmas or worrying behaviour displayed by their partners.
However, the helpline don't expect calls to surge on Christmas Day itself, but rather in the days following it, when many people return to their usual routine.
"Many women will work very hard to manage the situation and to bring some semblance of normality for their children this Christmas," she said.
"It is often in the aftermath of 25th December that we receive more calls from women who are living in fear of assault or who are taking steps to leave the relationship and who suddenly find themselves and their children homeless and without any means or supports."
Ms Smith explained that for some women still living with their partners, their only chance to call is when Christmas is over and when their partner is not at home.
"We usually we would see a bit of an uplift when the kids go back to school. Women with small children need a window of opportunity to make the call.
"If they’re still living with the partner that can be very difficult as he’s going to be around more [over Christmas].
"We get a number of calls on a regular basis where a woman is talking and suddenly, mid-sentence the line goes or she might just say I can hear a key in the door. That happens all-year round."
Jessica Bowes, who previously spoke to Independent.ie about the abuse she suffered in a recent relationship, described how her partner attacked her when she refused to bring their children to see Santa.
"Christmas is a dangerous time for lots of women because of the pressures that come with it. He wanted me to visit Santa with him and the kids, and took offence when I refused. I was out with friends that night and when I got home he was hiding in the garden, waiting," she said.
"My head was always the first place he’d aim for. I lost consciousness after the first punch, and again later in the attack. My eyes, face and skull were fractured that night, and I have permanent scarring and nerve damage.
"It was merciless. I thought he was going to kill me. My daughter’s third birthday was the following day, and I discharged myself from hospital to help her blow out her candles. I was readmitted on Christmas Eve for reconstructive surgery on my face."
Ms Smith urged any women experiencing mental or physical abuse over Christmas to contact them, with volunteers and staff manning the phone for 24 hours a day- including Christmas Eve and Christmas day.
"As Jessica's shocking story shows, the abuse won’t stop for Christmas but neither do we. This year we will be open 24 hours a day every day, including the 25th December and over New Year. Services are vital at this time of the year and we are committed to answering as many calls as we can," she said.
"We need to continue to give women the opportunity to talk things through and offer the support they need, when they need it.
"We are here for every woman who needs to talk about anything that is making them anxious, worried and fearful about their partner. Every call is important so please just pick up the phone."
- Women’s Aid 24hr National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900 or visit www.womensaid.ie