From a recent article published in a British paper, 'I risked our lives to flee', we learned that at least 19 women were killed in suspected domestic violence attacks in the UK during the first six weeks of lockdown (March 23 to May 3).
According to Women's Aid, one in five women in Ireland is affected by domestic violence. These figures are disturbing.
At Saoirse domestic violence services, we are very familiar with the stories of women and children fleeing violence. Those who contact our helpline and are able to avail of the services will have experienced numerous abuses by their partner. It takes huge courage to seek help.
So many more are still locked in and terrified of leaving because they will know only too well that leaving can feel sometimes more dangerous.
We hear from women every day who are living in fear of their boyfriends, sons, husbands and partners. We also hear from those who are experiencing abuse after their relationships have ended.
On Monday, April 28, and on Friday, June 5, Amárach Research carried out two polls, on a pro bono basis, to provide a sense of a benchmark historical experience and ascertain the experience of people during the lockdown associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the results, domestic abuse and coercive control continue to be a lived experience of a significant minority in Irish society. Nearly one-third of respondents have come across a case of domestic violence or coercive control.
Amárach's Smartphone panel and/or online survey, has the advantage of being completed by the respondent in privacy without any vocal interaction with an interviewer.
The response rate was very high and the findings have been weighted to national demographics. The overall results show that 20pc of women and 6pc of men have experienced some form of domestic abuse and/or coercive control.
At the beginning of the lockdown, our 24-hour helpline and the outreach services helpline saw a small decline in calls. This was due to the fact that women and children were experiencing further constraints on their movements because of the lockdown, which was exacerbated by controlling partners.
As the lockdown eased, the levels of calls grew and there were just under 700 received in May alone - double the number received in March.
Coercive control traps people in relationships, creates a state of subjugation, creates a hostage situation and reduces choices and space for action. It also means the controlling person manipulates compliance and prioritises their own needs and wishes over everyone else.
Because the abuse builds over time, very often the victims don't realise the situation is so debilitating for them.
The Government highlighted domestic, sexual and gender-based violence as a priority during the lockdown and An Garda Síochána responded with its Faoiseamh programme. The Department of Social Protection and Department of Justice and Equality both supported the call from the sector to provide rent allowance for those fleeing domestic abuse during the lockdown without any means test for a three-month period.
In the proposed programme for government, all three parties are supporting the inclusion of this area as a priority. We must ensure there is follow through now on their expressed commitment and that the funding is made available for services like Saoirse to continue its work of providing refuge for those fleeing fearful home situations and also provision for the prevention of these crimes in our society.
The sector is calling for a dedicated minister who will work with the sector towards eradicating this very big problem in society.
Our organisation manages and provides two refuges, two safe houses facilitating 14 families at any one time, and an outreach service supporting women and children in their own homes. Our helpline is 01 463 0000.