The Covid-19 pandemic and measures introduced to combat it have had an “unprecedented and exhausting impact” on victims of domestic abuse, Women’s Aid has said.
The charity’s annual impact report for last year highlights a 43 per cent increase in contacts with its services when compared to 2019.
The organisation, which provides support and information to women experiencing domestic violence, said “thousands of women are being subjected to high levels of emotional, physical, sexual and economic abuse”.
Some women reported that they could not get enough time away from their abusers to seek a domestic violence order to protect themselves and their children. Others living with abusive partners also said working from home had added to their distress, as they were stuck with abusive partners all day.
The report says the pandemic “made the crisis level of domestic violence in Ireland more visible”, with Women’s Aid support workers last year hearing more than 30,000 disclosures of domestic violence, including coercive control.
Almost 24,900 disclosures were of abuse against women and nearly 6,000 related to child abuse in the context of domestic violence.
The report says the family law system was “failing to adequately protect children and their mothers when considering custody and access arrangements”.
It is critical that longer-term reforms are introduced with a view to building a “victim-centred family law system that prioritises the safety of women and children subjected to abuse”, it states.
There was an “urgent need” to strengthen “an already under-resourced and over-burdened” family law system against an expected “tsunami of cases” delayed because of Covid-19 restrictions.
‘Tip of the iceberg’
Sarah Benson, Women’s Aid’s chief executive, said the figures highlighted in the report were “only the tip of the iceberg” when it came to the true numbers of people suffering domestic abuse.
“One in four women in Ireland are targeted during their lifetime by current or former partners, a shocking one in five will have been abused by the time they are just 25 years old – many for the first time as teenagers in their earliest intimate relationships,” she said.
“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.”
The abuse of women and children post-separation from their partners was of particular concern for Women’s Aid, and it was the time when women were at heightened risk.
“As a society, we need to listen to their voices and finally put safety first in family law,” Ms Benson added. “Family law always appears to be the ‘poor relation’ when it comes to investment in our legal system, which is inexplicable given the enormous impact these courts have on the lives of so many.”