Concern over levels of domestic violence

A domestic violence helpline today said it was worried by the scale of abuse being perpetrated against women with some reporting being strangled into unconsciousness.

A domestic violence helpline today said it was worried by the scale of abuse being perpetrated against women with some reporting being strangled into unconsciousness.

Margaret Martin, director of Women’s Aid, said the organisation was concerned at the level of physical abuse some women disclosed to its helpline during 2004.

Ms Martin said: “One of the things that we would find really worrying that was disclosed during the year is the number of women who talked about being choked and strangled because that is so deeply frightening for the woman, and it also moves a woman closer and closer and closer to the point at which she may be killed or at least feels like she may be killed.

“So we would have women disclosing things like being strangled into unconsciousness or being awoken from sleep with a pillow over her head, having to fight, so those particular things are very worrying for us.

“And then the level of abuse can be very horrific.”

Around 30% of the 19,901 calls made to the Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline – 1800 341 900 – during 2004 were related to physical abuse.

The helpline recorded a worrying level of abuse during pregnancy with some women reporting being beaten and kicked, which in some cases resulted in miscarriage.

Half of the callers were reporting emotional abuse, which included threats to kill the woman or her children or threats to kill himself if she left.

People manning the helpline found 9% of calls related to sexual abuse, with 368 reported rapes as well as others disclosing sexual assaults in front of children.

“We are always really conscious of the fact that 37% of women, we know from the SAVI report, are actually abused by their partner or ex-partner and yet at the same time the levels of disclosure are quite small to our helpline but we do know sexual abuse is a huge issue,” Ms Martin said.

Almost 40% of women reported their husband as the perpetrator of abuse, while almost one fifth of abuse was carried out by ex-husbands or ex-partners.

Women’s Aid said it was concerned that two out of every five calls to the service, around 7,754, could not be answered.

“To be able to respond to these calls if we could have two additional panel workers and two support workers we are simply looking for about €70,000 per year,” Ms Martin said.

“I would expect that continually that level is going to increase over the next few years. It has between 2003, it went from one in three calls, and now it is two in five calls that we are missing. So it is very very concerning.”

Ms Martin warned there were often only small windows of opportunity where a woman could make a call like this to the helpline.

Frank Fahey, a minister of state at the Justice Department, said: “This is a funding issue and it is well known that the availability of resources in the area of combating violence against women has been a matter of concern for some time.”

The minister said an Interdepartmental Group had been established to examine funding in relation to the violence against women in the sector.

After the group makes its report, Mr Fahey said he would be discussing the recommendations with the Government.

Earlier this year the National Crime Council said only one in five people were reporting the crime to gardaí.

Mr Fahey said the increased numbers of callers to the helpline could be a sign that it was no longer a hidden crime.

However, he added the level of reporting remained far too low.

“Many survivors have identified shame and guilt as the reason they did not report the crime. Removing the veil of secrecy that surrounds domestic violence is an essential step in its elimination,” Mr Fahey said.

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