Extended hours lead to 70% increase in calls to Women’s Aid

Safest time for many women to phone is early morning as others sleep, says charity

Almost 700 disclosures involved sexual abuse, including 316 cases of rape within relationships. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Almost 700 disclosures involved sexual abuse, including 316 cases of rape within relationships. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Women’s Aid experienced an increase of more than 70 per cent in calls to its national helpline last year, after it moved to a 24-hour service, a report to be published by the charity on Wednesday states.

Almost 16,000 calls, most of which were from women, were made to the free phone number last year, up from 9,300 in 2015.

Margaret Martin, Women’s Aid director, said calls received between 10pm and 10am would have gone unanswered in previous years. “We know the safest time for many women to call is in the quiet hours of the early morning when everyone else is safe in bed.”

The report highlights the link between domestic violence and child abuse and the dangers faced by some children during access visits with abusive fathers.

More than 19,100 contacts were made with the charity’s direct services last year with the number of drop-in visits to its support and referral service at Dolphin House up by a third.

Of those who contacted the charity, 80 per cent were being abused by a current male partner or ex-partner.

Almost 17,000 disclosures of domestic violence were made, up by almost 4 per cent on 2015.

Running up debt

Of the disclosures of violence against women, more than 11,000 involved emotional abuse, 3,500 involved physical abuse, almost 1,700 related to financial abuse. This included partners running up debt in women’s names, women being denied access to family finances and their salaries or social welfare being controlled.

Almost 700 disclosures involved sexual abuse, including 316 cases of rape within relationships. Of the child abuse disclosures, more than 3,550 involved emotional abuse, 136 involved physical abuse, almost 50 involved sexual abuse and, in 82 cases, abuse took place during access visits.

Ms Martin said the charity heard from women who had been isolated from family and friends, called derogatory names, and had their lives and safety threatened. Some women said they were beaten and strangled while pregnant.

“Women disclosed that they were hit, beaten with weapons, stabbed and cut with knives and strangled,” she said. “We heard from women that their partners had raped them, coerced them into sex, had prevented access to family planning and some had explicit videos and images made and shared online without their consent.”

Children

The report highlighted children’s experience of domestic violence and said the more severe the violence is against a mother, the higher the risk of abuse against the children in the home. It called for a greater understanding of the links and steps to immediately increase the safety of vulnerable women and children.

Ms Martin said she was very concerned about the number of disclosures of children being directly abused and exposed to domestic violence. Women reported their children were being hit, slapped, shouted at and called names, and in some cases, sexually abused, she said, and children have also witnessed violence.

She said custody and access arrangements in family law proceedings often disregard the impact of domestic violence on children and, as a result, risk continuing abuse of the children, as well as exposure to abuse of their mother during the hand over period.

“A father’s right to access should not outweigh a child’s right to safety,” she said.