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'I feel like the only way out is to die': Over 20,000 disclosures of abuse made to Women's Aid in 2019

Women reported being beaten, strangled, burned and raped, and there was a spike in calls during the Covid-19 pandemic.

shutterstock_1523322002 File photo Source: Shutterstock/fizkes

MORE THAN 20,000 disclosures of abuse were made to Women’s Aid in 2019, with women reporting being beaten, strangled, burned, raped and threatened.

According to Women’s Aid’s 2019 Annual Report, 20,763 contacts (a 9% increase, up from 19,089 in 2018) were made with the organisation’s direct services last year, including 19,258 disclosures (up 13%) of domestic violence against women and 4,791 disclosures (up 29%) of abuse against children.

There was an increase in all forms of abuse reported in 2019. 

Emotional abuse was the most common type of abuse reported by women last year, with 12,742 disclosures made. 

In 2019 women reported being threatened with violence, being stalked both physically and online, being humiliated with online posts or threats to post intimate content online, being isolated from friends and family, and being in fear of their lives because abusers threatened them with guns, knives or injury. 

Within this figure, Women’s Aid also noted 539 disclosures of digital abuse and stalking, 671 threats to kill the woman and 268 threats to harm the children, her family or to self-harm.

There were 3,873 disclosures of physical abuse including women being beaten, having their hair pulled, being burned, strangled, cut with a knife and being hospitalised.

Women also reported experiencing physical abuse during pregnancy. There were 139 disclosures of abuse while the woman was pregnant, with a number of women experiencing miscarriage because of the abuse.

There were 609 disclosures of sexual abuse including women being raped by their partners, women being coerced into sexual activity, women having intimate videos and photos taken and shared without their consent, and being raped while pregnant or after childbirth. The sexual abuse figure includes 288 disclosures of rape within intimate relationships.

There were 2,034 disclosures of financial abuse. Women reported being denied access to the family income, and that their own salaries or social welfare payments were being stolen or controlled by their abuser.

In 2019 there were 4,791 disclosures of abuse of children in the context of domestic violence made to Women’s Aid. The abuse of children disclosed included children being physically, sexually and emotionally abused, as well as witnessing the abuse against their mothers.

Current or former partner 

The vast majority of women who contacted the organisation (84%) were being abused by a current or former male intimate partner; and 16% disclosed abuse from a non-intimate family member or another person.

Where the abuse was being carried out by a current or former male intimate partner, 49% of women were being abused by a husband; 22% were being abused by a current male partner; 21% were being abused by an ex-male partner; and 8% were being abused by an ex-husband.

shutterstock_1099598930 File photo Source: Shutterstock/Aleksandar Nalbantjan

Speaking about the report, Women’s Aid CEO Sarah Benson said: “Behind these figures are women whose lives have been devastated by abuse. Women disclosed being beaten, strangled, burned, raped and threatened with theirs or their children’s lives.

“Some women spoke about being injured to the point of needing to be hospitalised multiple times and suffering miscarriages. They told us about being denied access to the family income to feed and clothe themselves and their children and being stalked and humiliated online.”

Benson said that, as a result of the abuse, women “disclosed suffering from exhaustion, loss of identity and suicide ideation. Women also spoke about the poverty they experienced as well as the isolation from family and friends as a result of the abuse”.

“They spoke about having nightmares and the fear they felt within their homes, afraid to speak in case they put themselves or their children at risk.”

Covid-19 pandemic

Earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic, when many people were unable to leave home due to the restrictions in place, Women’s Aid saw a spike in the number of people seeking help.

The organisation supported callers on over 6,500 occasions on its 24-hour helpline from late March to the end of June, a 43% increase on the same period last year.

There was also a 71% increase in traffic to the Women’s Aid website during this period (almost 115,000 sessions).

Screenshot 2020-08-19 at 11.25.28 Source: Women's Aid

Screenshot 2020-08-19 at 13.40.41 Source: Women's Aid

“When most of us think of home, we think of a place of solace to retreat from the pressures of the outside world,” Benson said.

“In Ireland and around the world, this crisis has opened eyes to the fact that for thousands of women and children, home can be the most dangerous place.”

Some of the women who Women’s Aid supported during this period have shared their stories.

Sharon* (42), who has a 12-year-old son and six-year-old daughter, was abused by her husband during the pandemic.

Prior to the lockdown, her husband was aggressive and controlling but during the lockdown became more volatile. Sharon said her husband “takes every opportunity he can to undermine and control me”.

One evening, I was preparing dinner, cooking the children’s favourite meal, when he suddenly attacked me and started to choke me. I was so afraid, I didn’t know what to do.

“I was too scared to ring the guards because I didn’t want the children to get upset and I was worried about what my husband might do when released by the guards.

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“But, I decided to ring Women’s Aid for support and they helped me in securing emergency refuge for both myself and the children. I’m so thankful for their support,” sge said. 

‘The only way out is to die’ 

Agnes* (78) has suffered emotional, physical and financial abuse throughout her entire married life. Though her husband is now 80 she continues to endure his abuse and remains terrified of him.

Her 58-year-old son recently returned to the family home and he has become increasingly more abusive in his behaviour towards her.

Agnes said of her son: “He refuses to contribute financially and demands that I wait on him hand and foot. Whenever I’ve asked him to help, he has got angry and aggressive with me, shouting things like ‘You owe me, you old bitch’ and ‘You’ve never done anything for me, so why should I do anything for you?’

“With the Covid-19 lockdown, the situation has become even more unbearable as I feel completely trapped, suffocated and I’m frightened of telling anyone in case matters escalate and the situation gets even worse,” Agnes said.

I feel like the only way out is to die. The stress and intensity of the situation is making me feel hopeless and desperate. I’ve started having flashbacks of some of the worst attacks from my husband and it is giving me panic attacks. I’ve thought about ending my own life just to escape the situation.

Agnes is receiving support from Women’s Aid and uses their helpline.

Elke* has been in an abusive relationship since marrying her husband four years ago.

Since the Covid-19 lockdown, she has been minding their one-year-old daughter and working full-time from home, which has begun to take its toll on her mental health. She is finding being confined to the house with her husband all day very difficult..

She told us: “He makes me feel like a servant, demanding I cook, clean, and have sex with him when and as he pleases. I’ve tried refusing, but he doesn’t listen and threatens to beat me so badly that no one would recognise me.

He’s twice my size and I know the damage his fists have caused me in the past, so I feel like I’ve no other choice but to do whatever he asks. I’m terrified of him but I don’t know what to do or where to turn.

“None of my friends or family live in Ireland so I feel completely alone and isolated. I’m desperate to leave the relationship with my daughter but I’m scared of what my husband might do to us. I’d like to secure a safety or barring order against him but I’m scared I won’t be believed without solid proof.”

Women’s Aid is helping Elke to apply for a safety order against her husband.

*All names changed and details amended to protect identities and privacy

For more information about the support Women’s Aid provides, click here

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Órla Ryan

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