By Fantine Carron
Fantine Carron reports on why the COVID-19 pandemic has made the issue of domestic violence the worst it has ever been and that organisations are struggling to help the victims.
Last year, a report published by Safe Ireland highlighted the main problem that domestic violence organisations are facing; the lack of available space in emergency accommodations. The data shown in this article has been gathered by Safe Ireland with the help of 32 Irish domestic violence services.
Nationwide, there are only 144 spaces available to women in refuges, including 31 in Dublin. Nine counties do not have refuges. There are also no refuges at all for men in the country.
In total, between March and December 2020, 2,159 requests for emergency accommodations for women, (that includes refuges, safe homes and supported housing), could not be met. This situation is putting women and children at risk every day as they are stuck in abusive homes.
The problem is not new. In 2018 already, 3,256 requests for accommodation were not met due to the lack of space available in refuges.
Domestic violence organisations are forced to face this problem every day without being able to do anything about it.
Priscilla Grainger, the founder of Stop Domestic Violence in Ireland said that even when a victim has reached out, it is hard, sometimes impossible to help her actually leave her abusive situation.
“Right now, all of the refuges are full”, says Grainger. “Sometimes, we get help from homeless accommodations but they are struggling too. Airbnb also helped by offering some hotel beds at some point but that is still not enough.”
“The majority of the women who call us have children with them. So it is more complicated for them to move in with a relative or friends. Accommodations are only available for a limited time and some victims were also financially abused so they are left without any resources. It’s a vicious cycle.” she explains.
Grainger founded Stop Domestic Violence in Ireland in 2014 with Ainie Grainger, her daughter. After suffering years of abuse and managing to escape, they decided to take what they learnt from their experience to help other people in the same situation. They mainly help the victims to gather evidence to take their case to court.
According to Figure 2, on average 1,985 women contacted a domestic violence service each month from between March and December 2020. On average, 589 women were doing it for the first time. In nine months, helplines received more calls than they did in the entire year previously.
The victims were seeking a range of different support from call of help, a place in a refuge, simple information, etc. A large majority of them were contacting them via a call, probably outside their house in a safe place.
The situation with domestic violence in Ireland was already bad and the pandemic did not help reversing the trend that had been going on for a decade now (see Figure 3).
Women’s Aid said in its 2020 Annual Impact Report that there was a 43% increase of contacts to the organisation compared to 2019 (from 20,673 to 29,717).
” ‘Stop Domestic Violence in Ireland’ is a small organisation compared to Women’s Aid for example but we still noticed an increase in calls after the pandemic started”, says Grainger.
For Grainger, the issue of domestic violence cannot be solved without first bigger funding from the government. Domestic violence needs to be made a priority and there needs to be new refuges and accommodations getting built to protect the victims as much as possible.