Survivors of domestic abuse are being extended a lifeline by a Safe Ireland fund which is helping people flee abuse before Christmas.
Poverty traps many people in abusive relationships, Anne Clarke, Manager at Offaly Domestic Violence Support Services (ODVSS) said. And poverty also drives some of those who have left abusive partners to return in desperation.
“More than 90% of people we see who are in abusive relationships have children," Ms Clarke said.
"So many people, mostly women, say to us, ‘we can either have a roof over our heads or food on the table but not both’. So they go back and suffer more abuse because their children are so important to them."
Ms Clarke said that her service saw a 50% increase in people looking for support in 2020 and a further 30-40% increase again so far this year. Coercive control, she said, is particularly insidious and common.
“Women are controlled in every aspect of their lives. They’re told what to wear, who they can see, whether they can put petrol in a car or not.
"But the survivor fund allows them €1,500 to help provide for some of their basic needs, to help pay for heating or for Christmas.
“Having access to this fund has saved women and children’s lives.”
Anne, not her real name, said that Safe Ireland’s Survivor Fund saved her when she left her abusive partner with their two young children one night.
“We just ran that night. I had nothing but a plastic spoon I bought in the shop that night with some breakfast cereal.
“Safe Ireland was a lifeline to me. When they believed me I felt validated as a person. Their money was the reason Santa could find our new home. They allowed my children to hang onto their innocence and their belief in Christmas.
“That money takes the edge off. It helps you pay the bills and gives you space to breathe and sleep.”
The Safe Ireland Survivor Fund was launched in September 2021, with the help of a €350,000 donation from Airbnb and money received from other sources, like the 2020 Late Late Toy Show Appeal.
Research carried out by Safe Ireland and NUI Galway this year on the cost of domestic violence found that 76% of women reported financial abuse in their experience of coercive control.
The study showed that women’s ex-partners often exert complete control over finances, forcing them into poverty and dependence.
The Survivor Fund is an example of an internationally recognised model of flexible funding - often called Resilience Funds - which are used to support women with the often very small things that are in their way to moving away from abuse.
The fund is also helping women to overcome one of the biggest barriers - a deposit for a new safe place to live. This type of flexible funding model has been supported by governments in many other countries and has been positively evaluated as a cost-effective way of supporting survivors.
Safe Ireland has been calling for Government to introduce a similar flexible funding scheme as part of a comprehensive response to the needs of survivors.
- If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please click here for a list of support services.