Assaults with hammers, golf clubs and hurls among thousands of domestic violence reports last year

Scale of abuse illustrates how second year of pandemic made problem worse, support group says

More than 33,000 disclosures of domestic violence and abuse, including in excess of 5,000 of child abuse, were made to Women’s Aid last year.

The support group said the scale of abuse illustrates how the second year of the Covid-19 emergency exacerbated already difficult situations for domestic violence victims.

Women reported assaults with hammers, golf clubs and hurls; headbutting, strangulation, and, being attacked with children in their arms. They were humiliated and degraded, forbidden from leaving the family home without the abuser, had access to car keys denied and were denied sleep as an abuse.

A total of 976 disclosed sexual abuse, including being forced to watch and re-enact pornography and unwanted sexual advances. Some 411 reported rape.

The charity’s 2021 annual report, published on Tuesday, shows while there were 9 per cent fewer contacts from women compared with 2020 (26,906 compared with 29,717) there were 10 per cent more disclosures last year (33,831) compared with the previous year (29,717).

The length and complexity of calls also increased as shown in the increase of recorded “talk-time” hours from 3,582 in 2020 to 3,863 last year.

The charity received 5,383 disclosures of children suffering abuse, including assaults with implements, slapping, hair-pulling, witnessing violence against their mother, and being abused on forced access visits with abusive fathers.

“There were 788 disclosures to the helpline team where the abuser continued his abuse during access visits. This included: 605 disclosures of abuse against the woman during access handover [and] 183 disclosures of children abused while on access visits.

“In 526 calls, the helpline recorded social worker involvement where women felt that their children were at risk of emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse.”

Call-takers on the helpline — which supported women during 3,319 hours of talk-time, on 18,911 calls — also made 275 calls to refuges on behalf of women.

“We know that 62 per cent of the time refuges said they were full,” notes the report. “Ireland urgently needs more refuge spaces as well as a wider range of dedicated and resourced accommodation responses to meet women and children’s needs.”

The stark statistics come as Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, finalises her long-awaited Third National Domestic Sexual and Gender Based Violence Strategy, expected within weeks.

Women’s Aid chief executive Sarah Benson called for “urgent action” for those women and children for whom home was the most dangerous place.

“Family and criminal law systems are creaking at the seams, creating lengthy, protracted, and traumatising delays for women navigating both criminal and civil law systems. The housing crisis and dearth of appropriate specialist accommodation provision for survivors of abuse, limits options for a safe home for many.

“The negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on family incomes, taken especially with deliberate economic abuse, exacerbate acute and frightening situations for many thousands of women and children across the country.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times