'No room in refuges for 1,700 women'

Wed, Oct 14, 2009, 01:00

MORE THAN 1,700 women fleeing violent spouses or partners were turned away from refuges last year due to lack of space.

The figures, published yesterday, also show there was a 21 per cent increase in demand for domestic violence services last year, as compared with 2007.

Safe Ireland, which represents 40 domestic violence services throughout the State, said over 5,000 women accessed domestic violence services annually.

Last year 1,947 women and 3,269 children were admitted to refuges, said Sharon O’Halloran, Safe Ireland Director.

Some 4,638 women received support from services, an increase of 21 per cent on 2007 figures.

“On 1,722 occasions last year, we couldn’t accommodate a woman in need because our services were full,” she said.

The body yesterday published two reports: On the 4th November 2008– a count taken over a 24- hour period of women and children accessing domestic violence services; and Safety and Change, a National Study of Support Needs and Outcomes for Women Accessing Refuge Provision in Ireland.

The first found 263 women had accessed domestic violence services in the 24-hour period and accompanying them were 216 children.

“When you break this down it means 11 women and nine children were getting support every hour,” said Ms O’Halloran.

Describing the figures as the “tip of iceberg” of the true extent of domestic violence taking place against women and being witnessed by children, she attacked prospective cuts in Government funding to domestic violence services.

“I have to say it is more difficult every day to know the reality that these are not one-off happenings. Domestic violence is calculated to control and destroy the human spirit.

“I would like to be able to tell you we are making significant progress to eradicate this violence, but I cannot. What I will tell you is that services are being cut back all the time by this Government, that services are stretched and cannot stretch any more.”

Ms O’Halloran said potential further cuts would be “disastrous”.

“We are hearing talk of cuts of up to 30 per cent to some services. That’s staff, resources, supports all being cut, at a time when demand is up. As I said, we know it increased 21 per cent last year and we know it’s going to be further up this year.”

The reasons for the rise were difficult to pinpoint, she said. Raised awareness about the availability of help could mean more women were coming forward.

She also said the economic downturn was exacerbating the situation of many women. “Financial stresses will always make things worse and we know there is an increase in financial abuse.”

The second report, an evaluation of refuges here by Prof Cris Sullivan of Michigan State University, is the first of its kind in Europe. It surveys the views of women who have used the services.

It showed that 34 per cent of the women had heard about a refuge from a friend or relative, underlining the importance of general community awareness, Ms O’Halloran added.

“Some 38 per cent said they would have had no other option if refuge was not available. We cannot forget that women are homeless as a result of domestic violence.”

The study also found that 98 per cent of women received all or some of the help they needed to stay safe and 95 per cent felt better equipped to get what they needed for themselves and their children.

“It tells us that our services are working,” Ms O’Halloran said.

She also called for research into the extent of domestic violence against men. “We know it’s happening but I can’t speak to it as I do not know the extent of it. It needs to be researched.”

** Safe Ireland: 0906 479078

** Women’s Aid freephone: 1800 341900