Statistics ‘ignore’ domestic violence victims

The scale of the homelessness crisis is being underestimated because official figures do not include women and children living in refuges, a national domestic violence charity has warned.

Safe Ireland says the statistics not only exclude the 4,000 mothers and children in emergency refuge accommodation each year, but also those who flee local authority homes because of violence but are not classed as homeless.

Those numbers are unclear but the fact that almost 5,000 requests for refuge had to be turned down last year suggest there are many more women who are effectively homeless because it is not safe to return to their home.

Sharon Halloran, chief executive of Safe Ireland, said women and children leaving violent homes were caught in the crossfire of the national housing crisis.

She said the 37 frontline domestic violence services surveyed for the organisation’s latest research reported that they had never before seen things so bad for victims.

“Domestic violence is simply not on the homeless agenda,” she said.

“According to local authority practice, women leaving violent homes are not being considered homeless. Consequently they are being further neglected and rendered invisible in the current housing responses.”

Ms Halloran will today publish a new report, The State We Are In, the second in Safe Ireland’s biennial safety audits, which draws on interviews with service providers and service users.

Two thirds of the victims said they suffered physical abuse at least once a week, while one third suffered physical, emotional or psychological abuse every day.

Contrary to popular belief, the violence did not always escalate gradually — half the women reported that the very first incident involved a serious risk to their lives such as attempted strangulation, assault while pregnant, or threats to kill the victim or her children.

Ms O’Halloran said that the shortage of refuge places, lack of social housing, scarcity of private rented accommodation, and spiralling rents were compounded by the “dismal” response of the justice system to their plight.

“Our most recent legal research now tells us that it is highly improbable that a domestic violence case will actually form the basis of a criminal prosecution.

“Domestic violence is not a crime under Irish law and so it continues to be dealt with, not as a serious offence, but as a lesser matter even though our research tells us that women are being threatened with their lives daily.”

In January, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald published a new national strategy on domestic, sexual, and gender-based violence which aims to overhaul the way gardaí and the criminal justice system approach domestic violence cases and protect victims.

At the time, Ms Fitzgerald said: “Domestic violence and sexual violence are pernicious evils and a blight on any civilised society.”

Ms O’Halloran acknowledged there had been significant commitments and policy changes with a view to reforming the policing of domestic violence but she said it was essential the work be supported by whatever new government is formed.

“We are asking all political parties to face up to domestic violence, to commit to making domestic violence a defining issue in a government programme.”

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