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Strain of lockdown has led to 30% increase in cases of domestic violence

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Inspector Rory Sheriff

Inspector Rory Sheriff

Inspector Rory Sheriff

wexfordpeople

An organisation which works with men who have been violent in the home says it has seen a 30% increase in referrals since the lockdown began.

Martin Donaghy is the Area Manager for MEND (Men Ending Domestic Violence) and he says the strain of living in close quarters has had a damaging effect on some relationships.

'We have seen a 30 per cent increase in the number of referrals over the past ten weeks,' said Mr Donaghy. 'And we have more referrals coming down the pipeline, I can't recall an increase like this in my ten years here, such a concentration of referrals in a ten-week period.

'In a lot of instances there may have already been tension in a relationship before Covid-19, something in the background. But lockdown has been a contributing factor.'

MEND's clients are generally either referred via an A&E Department in a local hospital, through a social worker or through self-referral. And once the person is taken on they are placed in a programme designed to treat their behavioural issues.

'It's about making that contact, you don't have to do it through an agency, you can contact our advice line,' said Mr Donaghy. 'If you're concerned about your relationship, if there's worrying signs there, you need to act now before it gets out of hand, by ignoring it now you're only going to allow it to get worse.

'It's a pressure pot situation, and I think when the restrictions lift there will be an aftershock effect.'

This 'aftershock' effect is something very much at the forefront of Pauline Ennis's mind. As manager of Wexford Women's Refuge (WWR) she says, as of yet, they haven't seen an increase in demand for their services.

However, she, and many of her peers around the country, feel the surge is yet to come, and that those enduring abuse on a regular basis are remaining silent as they haven't been able to reach out for support during lockdown.

They argue that accessing support, making a phone call, is difficult and sometimes dangerous when your partner is around, that people simply don't have the time or space to make those calls and are afraid to do so while the perpetrator is nearby.

Although WWR's helpline remains open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the centre itself is currently only able to accommodate one family instead of its usual five. With communal bathrooms and toilets in the centre, it was deemed unsafe to have more than one family present at a time. However, to combat these restrictions some families have been relocated throughout the community.

Inspector Rory Sheriff oversees the Domestic Violence policy for Wexford Garda Division and he says they took a proactive approach to the lockdown.

'The stats to date, from the start of the year to the end of April show a rise of 20 per cent in reported instances of domestic abuse in the county. But we have been proactive, we have been encouraging people to report on cases; we are living in extraordinary times at the moment, so we made sure the reporting mechanisms were in place beforehand,' said the Inspector.

And he urged those experiencing problems to reach out for support.

'It's all about people empowering us so that we can empower them. If they don't tell us what's happening, we can't help them. One of the most startling figures I always refer to is that on average it takes 39 instances of domestic abuse for someone to finally report it. It could be going on for years before someone calls us,' said Inspector Sheriff.

Part of this proactive approach has been a new initiative which seeks to remind victims that help is at hand throughout the duration of the pandemic. Rolled out nationwide, Operation Faoiseamh aims to support those living in fear by executing court orders relating to domestic abuse, completing call backs and carrying out follow up calls to all victims by the Garda Victim Services offices.

And Inspector Sheriff said this initiative had already proved effective in his division.

'Operation Faoiseamh came about as a result of Covid-19 and was our way of reassuring victims of domestic abuse that we're still out there. It gives people a way of contacting us discreetly, we've been able to help one woman in the county already because of this initiative.

'We're currently working towards having a full-time Domestic Protection Service Unit, that would be an extra tool to help us.'

MEND Wexford, Waterford and South Tipperary: 051 878866

Wexford Women's Refuge: 053 9121876

Wexford Garda Station: 053 91 652 00

New Ross Garda Station: 051 426 030

Enniscorthy Garda Station: 053 924 2580

Gorey Garda Station: 053 943 0690


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