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Dublin: 15 °C Tuesday 23 April, 2019
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Four out of five women turned away from overstretched domestic violence centres

Refuge centres for victims of domestic abuse are stretched to the limit, forcing vulnerable women and children to stay in dangerous living conditions.

Image: Oleg Golovnev via Shutterstock

FOUR OUT OF every five women seeking help from a domestic violence centre in Dublin are turned away because the service is already full, a new report has revealed.

Sonas Housing’s 2011 annual review, launched today by Minister Jan O’Sullivan, shows that the Viva House refuge centre received almost 600 enquiries from women living in abusive situations last year, but could only take in 130 because it was already full.

The review shows the same trend at Sonas’ longer-term housing projects. The organisation says demand has risen incrementally over the past five years, partly because of the opening of new centres like Viva House.

Sonas Ireland lags “way behind” the Council of Europe standard of refuge provision. While it is recommended that one family unit should exist for a population of 10,000, Ireland has just one family space per 34,000 of the population. In other words, the organisation says, the country should offer vulnerable families 424 refuge spaces but has just 131 spaces nationwide, with many areas and counties without any service at all.

‘Serious risk to the lives of many women and children’

“Not having space available is a serious risk to the lives of many women and children,” Anne McKeon, chairperson of Sonas Housing Association said. “There is a real need for more domestic violence spaces in the community to alleviate this risk.”

The report found that December and June were the quietest times in terms of demand, followed by massive spikes in February and July.

“The trends in demand are often family related,” said McKeon:

In December, mothers are aware that children want to spend Christmas in their homes. Younger children may worry that Santa may not be able to find them if they move into a refuge. In June, many children finish their school year or take formal exams so mothers often wait until these are completed before making a move out of an abusive situation.

Women tend to try to “hold a situation together” for the sake of their family, McKeon said.

Children

Children are deeply involved in the majority cases the organisation deals with, with approximately 70 per cent of the women using its services having children.

“For the women and children who can gain access to our services, we are able to support them and help them move safely away from abuse and on to independent living,” said McKeon.

Launching the report Minister Jan O’Sullivan said:

The notion that a ‘home’ is not ‘safe’ seems like an extreme contradiction to most of us fortunate enough not to have to face the issue of domestic violence and abuse in our daily lives. It is for this very reason that we welcome the fact that domestic violence is no longer seen as a private issue – it is our responsibility to protect this vulnerable sector of our society. The Sonas report clearly demonstrates the difference it is making in people’s lives.

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