By now, everyone in Ireland has felt the effects of Covid-19. Local businesses are closed, schools are shut and families are being kept apart in order to stem the spread of this terrible virus. But while the nation is encouraged to stay home to stay safe, many men and women are becoming trapped in abusive households.
“The mantra at the moment is that we are all staying safe at home,” explains Women’s Aid CEO, Sarah Benson. “That’s all fine and well but what if your home is the least safe place for you? That’s the challenge here.
“We need to be mindful that there are people out there who are actually at a greater risk when asked to stay at home. This is a really difficult time for them.”
According to Sarah, domestic abuse is still a huge issue in Irish society
“Domestic violence is a global epidemic,” she explains. “We’re talking about a global figure of 1 in 3 women will suffer from some form of domestic abuse from a current or former partner. In Ireland - as in many European countries - it would be closer to about 1 in 4 but that is still close to a quarter of the female population. That is why it is so important.”
The issue is now being magnified because of the current Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown restrictions. As people are forced to stay at home, this can lead to a rise in abusive behaviours.
“Isolation is a key tactic of domestic abuse,” explains Sarah. “Coercive control, monitoring people’s movements and keeping them from the people that support them. This actually provides an opportunity for those who are abusive to escalate their behaviours.”
In order to counteract this, Women’s Aid is encouraging people to stay in close contact with their friends and family.
“We need to stay connected,” she explains. “Just reach out, even if you don’t get a response. Simply write a message that says, ‘Hey there, I am here if you want to chat,’ or ‘Are you free for a chat later today?’ something that’s subtle. Be the proactive one. Don’t wait for the person who may be in the more difficult situation to reach out.”
Sarah also recommends agreeing to a specific code word or emoji that signals that someone is in danger.
“If you are concerned about a family member and you are in WhatsApp or text contact with them, if it is safe to do so, agree with them an innocuous emoji symbol or a specific word which could be taken as a signal that somebody is in danger,” she explains. “That would then act as a prompt that you need to contact the Guards. There are creative ways to stay connected with people in a safe way. These are the things we need to consider at the moment.”
Sarah also encourages anyone who is worried about a friend or in an abusive situation to reach out and use the supports that are out there. While many businesses are closed, charities like Women’s Aid are still there to help those that need them.
“Predominantly we support women but we will help anyone who needs our support. Just reach out and contact the freephone helpline 24/7 on 1800 341 900,” she explains. “We also have a full interpreter service. We can dial in over 170 languages for non-English speaking women.”
“We also have an instant chat service a number of times during the week through our website. We have a text number for deaf or hard of hearing women as well. In the Dublin area, we have specialist court accompaniment services and a drop-in service for women seeking to apply for protective orders and then over day-to-day services and clinics around the city. ”
“Anyone who is worried can call us,” she explains. “We often take calls from family members, friends and even employers who are worried about someone close to them. They ring us to seek support and we can tell them how to help as well.”
“Someone might be worried about their sister or their adult child. People are very worried about doing the wrong thing and can often lead to them doing nothing because they become a little bit paralysed.
“There are many things people can do with care to try and help a loved one to stay safe or become safe if they need to get out of a dangerous situation.
However, if you or a loved one is in immediate danger Sarah encourages calling the Gardaí.
“The Gardaí are the main port of call if someone feels at risk,” she explains. “If you can make only one call when you feel in danger, make it 999 or 112.”
If you would like to help Women’s Aid to continue their vital work please donate today on their website.