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Thousands seek domestic violence support services for first time during Covid restrictions

July and August were the busiest months for helpline calls.

Image: Shutterstock/fizkes

AROUND 3,450 women and 589 children contacted a domestic violence service for the first time seeking support and safety from abuse and coercive control during the first six months of Covid-19, research shows.

This equates to 575 “new” women and 98 “new” children every month, or 19 new women and three children every day.

A new report from Safe Ireland, called Tracking the Shadow Pandemic, shows these women and children accounted for 29% and 24% respectively, of all those who looked for support from a domestic violence service during the first wave of the Covid-19 crisis.

In total, at least 1,970 women and 411 children received support from a domestic violence service every month over the period.

The tracking study is based on data collected monthly by Safe Ireland from its frontline member services, which is continuing through Ireland’s second lockdown.

Mary McDermott, co-CEO of Safe Ireland, the national hub for 39 frontline domestic violence services, said: “The study exposes, yet again, patterns of domestic violence heightened by this pandemic.

“It also underscores the enormous strains that services throughout the country were under, and continue to endure, as they deal with the impact of lockdown two.”

While the government said it will prioritise domestic violence, McDermott said this has not been backed up by the resources and infrastructural modernisation that is needed.

The six-month report also shows that 33,941 helpline calls were answered across the country over the period, amounting to an average of 184 calls every day.

Compared to 2018, domestic violence services responded to an average of 147 calls a day.

On average, there were 191 women and 288 children staying in domestic violence accommodation, including refuge, safe homes and supported housing, each month.

At the same time, 1,351 requests for refuge – or seven requests per day – could not be met as there was no space, the report found.

McDermott added: “Since the start of Covid-19 the government has prioritised domestic violence and we have always welcomed this.

“But calling something a priority means that it also has to be name-checked in the national budget, and funded and resourced as a priority.

The number of new women and children who came forward during the first lockdown is eye-opening and indicative of the depth of hidden abuse and trauma in this country.

“Our member services have pulled out all the stops to respond to the increasing and complex needs of women and children since March.

“But this is on top of decades of coping with impossible conditions and demands. They are at breaking point now and can no longer be expected to work, without clarity, without adequate resources and within an antiquated infrastructure.”

Safe Ireland said that the data collected reflects the anecdotal stories reported by services from March and August.

Mirroring what Safe Ireland initially referred to as an ominous silence, the number of women accessing services decreased by 8% between March and April as lockdown restrictions came into full effect.

However, since April, the numbers have steadily increased month on month.

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In July, at least 2,210 women received support from services, the highest amount of any month.

August saw the highest numbers of children receiving support at 578, an increase of 36% over July figures.

July and August were also the busiest months for helpline calls.

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