Domestic abuse rises near Christmas

Abusive men are threatening their children’s hopes for Christmas as a way of hurting them and their mother, according to the Women’s Aid helpline.

Staff say they have received calls from women who say they and their children witness and experience “more frequent and more severe abuse” around Christmas.

“Some men use the holidays to threaten children, using them as pawns in control and intimidation,” according to manager of the 24-hour national freephone helpline, Linda Smith.

Research shows one in five Irish women experience domestic abuse. Abuse by ex-partners is also common during the festive period.

Ms Smith said Christmas is dreaded by vulnerable families who live with physical, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse.

“For most of us, Christmas is about reconnecting with friends and family and above all taking time out to relax at home. But for many women contacting us recently, the reality of Christmas is far from what it should be. It is a time of hurt, fear, intimidation, intentional cruelty, and sudden flashes of violence directed at them and their children,” she said.

One woman, Mary (not her real name) spoke of how her husband had rendered her powerless, financially and emotionally.

“I never had access to money in my marriage and my husband always used to keep check on all the spending in the house. He would even turn off the lights when he left the room, never mind that myself or one of the kids was still in there,” she said.

“I finally had the courage to separate, to escape all of the control, and he hasn’t paid maintenance since then. It has been really hard to manage. Christmas is such a scary prospect with the girls still expecting Santa. Now my husband has promised them the sun, moon and stars, and they are so excited but he has told me that there will be nothing for them if he can’t come back and have Christmas ‘as a family’.”

Mary said he’d have no scruples about blaming her for Santa not coming.

“My stomach is in knots and I can’t sleep; I feel so manipulated and now I have to face my children having no Christmas unless he gets his way,” she said.

Ms Smith said women will work hard to keep some kind of normality for their children this Christmas. “It is often in the aftermath of Christmas Day that we receive more calls from women who are living in fear of assault, taking steps to leave the relationship or suddenly find themselves and their children homeless and without means,” she said.

At the start of this year, Women’s Aid made its national freephone helpline available 24 hours a day, seven days a week in line with recommendations from the Istanbul Convention. It answers about 41 calls a day. Women also contact their services via its website.

This December Women’s Aid is appealing for donations for its vital services. You can donate by texting ACTION to 50300 to donate €4 or onlinewww.womensaid.ie/donate. n Women’s Aid 24-hour national freephone helpline 1800 341 900.

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