A domestic violence survivor has spoken of the “shadow pandemic” of such abuse, and of the financial burden inflicted on victims seeking to escape their situation.
Linda O’Sullivan, a special needs assistant from Dublin, said both as a survivor of abuse and a union representative she has repeatedly seen people “having to resort to using sick leave” when experiencing or fleeing domestic violence.
“This is not the case. They are not sick, they are being abused,” she said.
Speaking at the national conference of Fórsa, the public service union, ahead of a motion calling for paid leave for the victims of domestic violence which passed unanimously, Ms O’Sullivan said rates of such abuse “had soared throughout our various lockdowns”.
“Domestic violence paid leave is crucial now more than ever given these rates,” she said. “The cost would be minimal to the employer, and it would be a hope of mine to see this mirrored across all sectors.”
She said paid leave and flexible working arrangements would “make for an enormous difference during an already difficult and stressful period”.
She queried why, given financial abuse is “one of the most common themes” of domestic abuse in Ireland, “we would add to this by expecting workers to resort to using unpaid or sick leave when experiencing some of the most difficult moments of their lives”.
Ms O’Sullivan’s contribution was one of several from survivors of domestic abuse, while Ann Collins, an employee of the Director of Public Prosecutions, said her office had seen a “massive increase” during the pandemic of “files concerning domestic violence and gender based violence”.
She said often women who had been “brave enough to come forward... are finding it difficult to get time off work continuously to keep coming to court”.
“All I can express is my absolute admiration for the people who do come forward because it’s not easy,” she said.
Fórsa's motion calling for legislation to underpin a statutory entitlement to paid leave for victims was introduced to the 700 delegates in attendance by the union’s national secretary Ashley Connolly, who said for many, Covid lockdown had “brought the living nightmare of being locked up with your tormentor for weeks on end”.
“The pandemic has exposed the need for our political system to legislate and ensure that every victim has the right to statutory paid leave,” she said.
“Women living with or escaping from domestic abuse are often likely to have a number of urgent appointments. A lot of these cannot be done during the day, because they have to hide from their abusers,” Ms Connolly said.
One section of the proposal was removed before the others were endorsed, with male domestic abuse survivor Gareth O’Brien calling for a motion recognising “male violence against women as a distinct challenge in Irish society” to be removed, a request which the voting delegates agreed with.
Mr O’Brien said while he had “no doubt over the motion’s good intentions”, nevertheless “as a man who has been the victim of domestic violence” it was his opinion that it “clearly favours women over men”.