Minister needed in domestic, sexual and gender based violence

Ellen O'Malley Dunlop, Acting CEO of Saoirse DV Services, this week writes in The Echo. 

From a recent article published in the Sunday Times Magazine, “I risked our lives to flee” we learned that at least 19 women were killed in suspected domestic violence attacks in the UK during the first six weeks of lockdown (March 23-May 3).

According to Women’s Aid one in five women in Ireland is affected by domestic violence. These figures are very disturbing.

Ellens Head SHot compressor

Ellen O’Malley Dunlop, Acting CEO Saoirse DV Services

Saoirse Domestic Violence Services has its head office in Tallaght, and manages and provides two refuges, 2 safe houses facilitating 14 families at any one time, an outreach service supporting women and children in their own homes.

It also operates a 24 hour helpline 01 463 0000. Saoirse is very familiar with the stories of women and children fleeing from domestic violence situations.

Those who contact the helpline and are able to avail of the services will have experienced numerous abuses by their partner. It takes huge courage to seek help and then to avail of the help that is on offer. So many more are still locked in and terrified of leaving because they will know only too well, that leaving can feel sometimes more dangerous.

On Saoirse’s helpline we hear from women every day who are living in fear of their boyfriends, sons, husbands and partners we also hear from those who are experiencing abuse after their relationships have ended.

On Monday April 28th and on Friday 5th June, Amárach Research carried out 2 polls, on a pro bono basis, for Saoirse Domestic Violence Services, to provide a sense of a benchmark historical experience and to ascertain the experience of people during the lockdown associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the results of the polls, domestic abuse and coercive control continue to be a lived experience of a significant minority in Irish Society. Nearly one third of respondents have come across a case of domestic violence or coercive control.

Amarach’s Smartphone panel and/or online survey, has the advantage of being completed by the respondent in privacy without any vocal interaction with an interviewer.

The response rate was very high and the findings have been weighted to national demographics. The overall results show that 20% of women and 6% of men have experienced some form of domestic abuse and/or coercive control.

At the beginning of the lockdown Saoirse’s 24 hour helpline and the outreach services helpline saw a small decline in victims calling the numbers.

This was due to the fact that women and children were experiencing further constraints on their movements because of the lockdown which was exacerbated by controlling partners.

As the lockdown eased the levels of calls grew and there were just under 700 calls received in May alone which was double the number of calls received in March.

Coercive control traps people in relationships, creates a state of subjugation, creates a hostage situation and reduces choices and space for action.

It also means that the controlling person manipulates compliance and prioritises their own needs and wishes over everyone else. Because the abuse builds over time very often the victims don’t realise that the situation is so debilitating for them.

The Government highlighted Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence as a priority during the lockdown and An Garda Siochana responded with its Faoiseamh programme.

The Department of Social Protection and The Department of Justice and Equality both supported the call from the sector to provide rent allowance for those fleeing domestic abusive situations during the lockdown without any means test for a three month period.

In the new proposed programme for government all three parties are supporting the inclusion of this area as a priority for them.

We must ensure that there is follow through now on their expressed commitment and that the funding is made available for services like Saoirse to continue its work of providing refuge for those fleeing fearful home situations and also very importantly, provision for the prevention of these crimes in our society.

The sector is calling for a dedicated Minister who will work with the sector towards eradicating this very big problem in Irish society.

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