Pregnancy offers no protection from abuse

PHYSICAL abuse of women, particularly during pregnancy and after giving birth, remains alarmingly high, a report from Women’s Aid reveals.

Women who contacted the organisation last year talked about being slapped, punched, stabbed with knives or broken glass and being kicked in the face.

They also talked about the humiliation of being spat on or urinated on.

“Physical abuse remains worryingly high and it is often combined with threats to kill that are sometimes enacted or described in great detail,” said Women’s Aid director Margaret Martin.

Ms Martin said there had been 826 incidents of sexual abuse, which was traditionally not disclosed by women experiencing domestic violence.

Of major concern were the 335 rapes within relationships reported to the service last year. “This is happening in Ireland where, despite everybody’s best efforts, there has only been one successful marital rape conviction.”

Financial abuse was also trapping women in relationships with their partners using the recession to justify the abuse.

There were incidents where women’s bank cards were taken and their joint bank accounts emptied. Women were denied food for themselves and their children and money for basic household bills.

“So what do you do? You have no place to go; you have no money to get there; you have no way out. You really are very effectively trapped.”

Ms Martin said Women’s Aid was particularly concerned about the level of abuse in pregnancy and in the post natal period.

“Pregnancy does not offer protection from domestic violence. In fact, international research shows that 25% of women who experience domestic violence are physically assaulted for the first time in pregnancy,” she said.

Last year, Women’s Aid heard from women who were beaten and raped while they were pregnant, often resulting in miscarriage.

Ms Martin said they heard from women who were not allowed to bond with their babies or pick them up.

“We hear from women who are forbidden to breastfeed their child, who are raped in the weeks following child birth and women who are beaten while holding their baby.”

Concern was also expressed about the 1,814 specific disclosures of child abuse to the helpline last year.

The abuse included verbal abuse, including name calling, constant shouting into children’s faces, holding children by the neck against the wall and threatened and actual abuse including beatings, attempted stabbings and children being thrown across the room.

Women’s Aid board member and family law solicitor, Ursula Regan, said many children caught up in domestic violence situation, either directly or indirectly, had no one to speak on their behalf in court.

“There are some judges who will ask to talk to the children but they have no expert evidence witness to rely on,” she said.

“We have children who are the silent victims of domestic violence and we compound it as a society, as a government and as practitioners because we don’t give them a voice in court,” she added.

* Women’s Aid national freephone number is 1800 341900.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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