The Covid-19 pandemic has had an “unprecedented and exhausting impact” on victims of domestic abuse, Women’s Aid have said.
This comes as almost 30,000 reports of domestic abuse were made to the organisation in 2020, a 43pc increase on the previous year. Women’s Aid say the recorded reports are just the “tip of the iceberg”.
Women’s Aid support workers heard over 30,000 disclosures of domestic violence including coercive control in 2020, 24,893 disclosures were of abuse against women and 5,948 disclosures were of child abuse in the context of domestic violence.
Almost one in four (24pc) of women experienced abuse by an ex-partner and 39pc of people in contact with Women’s Aid last year were looking for information, advocacy and referrals for legal matters.
Women’s Aid says that the Covid-19 pandemic is making the realities of those being subjected to emotional, physical, sexual and economic abuse more visible. Many of those contacting Women’s Aid said that abuse they had been experiencing had been exacerbated because of lockdown restrictions.
Sarah Benson, CEO of Women’s Aid, says the statistics of the report are “shocking”.
“The 43pc increase in the numbers of women reaching out to Women’s Aid for support during the most difficult of years, is staggering. However, these figures are only the tip of the iceberg of the numbers of people who are suffering at the hands of those closest to them and who need protection and support.
“One in four women in Ireland are targeted during their lifetime by current or former partners, a shocking one in five will have been abused by the time they are just 25 years old – many for the first time as teenagers in their earliest intimate relationships.”
“Behind each ‘statistic’ we talk about are women we know. Women in our families, in our circle of friends, in our workplaces and at the school gates. Women who are trying to protect and keep safe themselves and their children in the face of unrelenting and devastating abuse,” Ms Benson said.
Women’s Aid received reports from women saying they were beaten, strangled, burned, raped and had their lives threatened.
“They told us about being denied access to the family income to feed and clothe themselves and their children and being stalked and humiliated online. The impacts of abuse experienced by women are wide-ranging and can be long term.
"Women disclosed to our support workers that they had experienced: broken bones, nerve damage, constant fear and hyper-vigilance, complete isolation from family and friends, suicide ideation, job loss, poverty and homelessness. Women also disclosed that they had been beaten during their pregnancy and some had lost their baby because of the abuse,” Ms Benson said.
Ms Benson said women trying to separate from an abusive partner were at a “heightened risk” during Covid-19 and often the access to the courts system but the process is “prolonged, costly and disempowering”.
“It often results in unsafe custody and access arrangements which disregard the impact of domestic abuse including coercive control on children and overlook the risk of their direct abuse and/or exposure to domestic violence. The safety of the protective parent, usually the mother, is rarely, if ever, considered in custody and access hearings," Ms Benson said.
Professor Louise Crowley, Senior Lecturer in Family Law at University College Cork, says there are “many shortcomings” in Irish domestic violence laws.
"Domestic and intimate partner violence is a malevolent and prevalent poison in Irish society and one which remains permanently in our daily news cycles. Unfortunately, the media reports in no way reflect the extent of this pernicious evil and the impact it has on so many individuals and families.
“There remains many shortcomings in Irish domestic violence laws and processes, as well as serious deficiencies in terms of the State funding provided to allow support services to adequately respond to the needs of the victims," Professor Crowley said.
The Women’s Aid report also states that the Family Law system is “failing to adequately protect children and their mothers when considering custody and access arrangements”.
The organisation is calling for a rebuilt Family Law system that puts the victim at the centre and prioritises the safety of women and children subject to abuse. There is an “urgent need” to strengthen an already under-resourced and over-burdened Family Law system against an expected “tsunami of cases” delayed due to Covid-19 restrictions, Women’s Aid said.