Fears of domestic abuse spike: 'People are anxious about another lockdown'

Fears of domestic abuse spike: 'People are anxious about another lockdown'

Julie Connelly, manager, (right) and Gosia Waldowska, outreach oifficer, Cork Volunteer Centre, sorting donations for CRiTiCALL Cork at Cork Volunteer Centre, North Main St., Cork. Picture Denis Minihane.

Toys, tissues, and tampons were some of the much-needed items donated to people trapped in or escaping abusive homes in Cork as concerns increase that a stricter lockdown could put more pressure on struggling families and services.

Julie Connelly of the Cork Volunteer Centre, which is running the new CRiTiCALL project with domestic abuse charity Safe Ireland to get critical items to abuse survivors, said the response so far has been "amazing." 

“This is the first day of donations. We have a master list of things people need from six domestic abuse organisations across Cork. Anyone who is interested can contact Cork Volunteer Centre, we will tell them what is needed - like a shopping voucher or shampoo - they buy it and are given a time slot to deliver it. It is a very structured procedure to keep all our donors and volunteers safe." 

CRiTiCALL was first launched in Dublin to help people suffering domestic violence through the pandemic. It is now being replicated in Cork city and county with Good Shepherd Cork (Edel House), Cuanlee Refuge, OSS Cork, Mná Feasa, West Cork Women Against Violence and Y.A.N.A. (You are not alone).

Andextra help for abuse survivors as Ireland faces tighter public health restrictions may be critical.

Caithríona O’Neill, social worker with Cuan Lee, Cork city and county’s emergency accommodation service for domestic violence survivors, said that she has already been fielding calls from women scared that stricter lockdown measures may trap them in a violent home.

“I’ve been on the phone today with people quite anxious about another lockdown. But we’re preparing people now with safety plans to help minimise the risk should their partner become very violent," Ms O'Neill said.

“Usually in September demand drops as children are going back to school but there’s been no lull at all. It’s very, very difficult for people this year."

Demand for emergency accommodation at Cuan Lee has doubled this year while requests for its outreach services have tripled.

Cuan Lee has six emergency accommodation units but has helped more people find accommodation through Safe Ireland’s AirB&B scheme, which provides short-term let accommodation to those fleeing violence at home.

Ms O'Neill advised anyone suffering domestic abuse to contact gardaí who have "really taken on board the severity of the situation for families."

Carol Goulding of Mná Feasa said that a lockdown “is like Christmas” for abusers as it effectively gives legal and societal support for their controlling behaviour.

“Even now, a lot of women are frozen in a state of fear," Ms Goulding said. "They’re just putting up with things because they’re too afraid to move. 

"Domestic abuse affects everyone, I’ve seen school principles and doctors impacted, but there is support out there."

Chief Superintendent of West Cork, Con Cadogan, urged anyone suffering abuse at home to call gardaí or one of the many “tremendous” volunteer support organisations, regardless of the lockdown level.

“We have protective services units set up in every Garda division now," he said. "They specifically deal with sexual and domestic crimes.

“In domestic crime, a lot of people think of a husband and wife or partner, but it has a wider dimension. Domestic violence can be a son or daughter; a father or mother.

"People should not be afraid to talk, in confidence, to the Protective Services Units or ring any Garda station or any of the community gardaí."

Maria Mulholland, Co-ordinator with West Cork Women Against Violence, said that even before the Level 3 announcement, she was hearing from women, particularly those with underlying health conditions, who felt trapped in abusive homes under Covid-19 restrictions. 

“Women with underlying health conditions have been prime targets for their abusers," Ms Mulholland said.

“Lockdown exasperates coercive control. It gives an abuser a reason to say why a woman should not go out. 

"Covid has been used as a threat by abusers to further entrap women and children. They tell them that if they try to leave they will be a ‘covid-spreader’ and that nowhere but home is safe.

“It was eerily quiet over the last lockdown, women believed they had nowhere to go.

"But then the media got the message out that support was there - we were still open and the gardaí were there to help. 

"So this time around, I think people know that help is out there."

Register to donate to the CRiTiCALL Cork initiative at volunteercork.ie

Call Cuan Lee's 24/7 helpine on 021 4277698.

Mná Feasa can be reached on 021 4211757.

Call West Cork Women Against Violence on (027) 53847.

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