Covid-19 has been labelled as the worst worldwide crisis since World War 2. One of the side effects of a lockdown response is the impact on victims of domestic violence.
Both here in Ireland and abroad, spikes in domestic violence incidents have been reported. This article examines the situation in Ireland and forms part of a two-part series where we cover how this issue has presented itself around the globe, as well as at home.
This global pandemic is a time of immense concern for people, particularly women and children who are living with domestic and sexual violence in their homes. An Garda Siochána are anticipating a steady rise in reported incidents, while Women’s Aid Ireland have received increased calls to the service. The charity has heard first-hand of victims’ heightened anxiety and trauma response in the face of this emergency and the safety challenges it may bring.
Aside from essential workers, people are self-isolating and working from home. Women* are therefore at a greater risk of violence, abuse and coercive control from an abusive partner. Work is no longer a form of escape from the domestic sphere, and access to safe spaces and supportive organisations have been drastically reduced. Though services have adapted to the best of their abilities, resources are scarce. Under social distancing guidelines, many at-risk women are lacking physical and social support and may not even have control over their internet access (abusers often use digital tools to harass, monitor and control). Distance away from one’s abuser, which is required to make contact online whilst in a suffocating and isolated space, is now, at times, inaccessible. Women’s Aid CEO Sarah Benson has stated “it can be harder for women at risk of violence to actually make a call seeking help, for fear of being overheard” by their tormentor.
Pre-virus, reported incidents of sexual violence had increased by 55% in the past four years. Inside the domestic sphere, there is potential for the frequency to rise. Now, abusers are using tactics of potential contamination as a weapon against their partners, preying on anxieties if they are immunosuppressed, as well as furthering controlling behaviours. There is devastating irony in the fact that, by protecting the most vulnerable in society from one harm, we have created a higher risk of another harm for a different group.
SafeIreland has all of the up-to-date information on the status of services around the country. The Garda National Protective Services Bureau and Divisional Protective Service Units have implemented ‘Operation Faoisimh’, which translates to comfort or respite as Gaeilge. The resource will see Gardaí proactively make phone contact with previous victims of domestic abuse over the coming days, to ascertain any existing issues of concern and ensure the protection of families. They have promised to respond quickly and robustly to reports of cases of domestic violence, aiming to take this opportunity to reassure victims that domestic abuse incidents, including coercive control, will receive the highest priority response.
Other countries have seen interventions like a code-word that women can use in pharmacies (Mask-19 in Spain for instance) to alert the pharmacist to the fact that they are suffering domestic abuse in order that the pharmacist can call the authorities. This is an approach which could also work in Ireland, particularly in urban areas, where victims might feel less exposed due to greater anonymity. Women’s Aid UK has published a guide to the Silent Solution protocol, which allows victims to communicate through certain keys on the phone rather than through speech, a procedure which would be welcome in the Republic.
Not all homes are safe, and for thousands of women and children, it is the most dangerous place to be. Charities and services are accepting much-needed donations, and it is imperative friends and family of those in threatening situations keep in touch with those known or suspected to be at risk. We must be mindful of what others may be experiencing during this extremely difficult time, and reach out to those who need support.
Dublin Rape Crisis Centre 24/7 helpline - 1800 77 88 88
Women’s Aid 24/7 helpline – 1800 341 900
Women’s Aid instant chat service on Monday, Wednesday and Friday 7pm – 10pm
An Garda Síochána 999 / 112
* We know that men can be victims of domestic violence too and that men have the same right as women to be safe in their own homes. While this article focuses on women’s experiences as women are more likely to suffer this kind of abuse, we want to highlight that there are also supports for men who are suffering during this time, such as COSC.
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