Harrowing report reveals shocking spike in domestic violence during pandemic
Women have told of being strangled, burned and raped, while some have even lost unborn babies, as the pandemic continues to drive levels of abuse sky-high.
There was a disturbing 43% increase in contacts to Women’s Aid from women detailing abuse or looking for help during the course of a year, and the charity said it believes these cases are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’.
Sarah Benson, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said the statistics detailed in its annual report, to be released today, are ‘shocking’.
They detail harrowing accounts of more than 30,000 disclosures of domestic violence, including coercive control, during 2020 – including 5,948 allegations of child abuse in the context of domestic violence. They include accounts of children being beaten with weapons, sexual abuse, degrading verbal abuse, being hurt when an abuser was attacking their mother and abuse or neglect during access visits.
Ms Benson said: ‘The 43% 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.’
Included in the report are more than 500 accounts of ‘digital’ abuse and cyber-stalking.
Such cases involved being sent explicit and violent images and videos, being secretly recorded by an abuser, being threatened with having intimate images of them posted online without their consent, and being blackmailed into sending intimate images of themselves to the abuser.
Nearly all forms of abuse against women and children rose in the year, with the exception of economic abuse which decreased.
Emotional, physical and sexual abuse all soared by more than 24% to 41% in some cases, while reports of abuse against children increased by 24%. And in the first full year of lockdown, women found it more difficult to escape violent and abusive partners.
Ms Benson said that one in four women in Ireland were targeted during their lifetime by current or former partners, and that one in five will have been abused by the time they are just 25.
Ms Benson continued: ‘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.
‘Women disclosed to us that they had been 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.’
She said women had also spoken of broken bones, nerve damage, constant fear and hyper-vigilance, complete isolation from family and friends, suicidal 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,’ she added. The other contacts included 17,321 disclosures of emotional abuse, 4,792 of physical abuse, 1,925 of economic abuse and 855 of sexual abuse – including 340 disclosures of rape.
A breakdown of the cases revealed that 58% of the abusers were the complainant’s current male partner, 24% were their ex-male partner, 11% were other men and 7% were female abusers.
In its report, the organisation said the pandemic lockdown had an ‘unprecedented and exhausting impact’ on victims of abuse.
It also warned that ending an abusive relationship did not always mean the end of the abuse.
Women’s Aid said the family law system was failing to consider the safety of children and their mothers when considering custody and access arrangements.
It added that longer-term reforms were critical to building a victim-centred family law system, but that in the short term, there was an urgent need to strengthen the system against an expected ‘tsunami of cases’ delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Ms Benson said: ‘We have a long history of the family law system letting down women and children subjected to domestic abuse, particularly in custody and access hearings. There is a silencing of women who have been abused.
‘The voice of the child is not heard and vindicated as it should be. There is a pro-contact culture that does not consider risk to both the non-abusing parent or the child, and which benefits domestic abuse perpetrators.
‘Evidence of criminal proceedings against abusers, domestic violence orders and other risks are often ignored in custody and access hearings as irrelevant when they should be front and centre in considering safe contact for children and the protective parent.
‘This is dangerous, and must be corrected.’
Ms Benson said the court process itself often became a tool for an abuser to continue to control and torment their ex-partners.
Noeline Blackwell, chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, welcomed the Women’s Aid report. She said: ‘We agree with their analysis that COVID-19 helped make the issues of intimate violence more visible.
‘As restrictions were imposed, the escape routes, the diversions of those who experienced such violence were reduced.’
The Women’s Aid 24-hour national freephone helpline can be reached on 1800 341 900, seven days a week.
Its instant message support service can be contacted at www.womensaid.ie, seven days a week at fixed times.
For more information, see www.womensaid.ie.
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Women have told of being strangled, burned and raped, while some have even lost unborn babies, as the pandemic continues to drive levels of abuse sky-high. There was a disturbing 43% increase in contacts to…
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