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Domestic violence in lockdown a hidden pandemic


Áine Ryan

THE impact of the second lockdown has led to a dramatic increase in women and children contacting Co Mayo’s domestic violence services. That is according to a Safe Ireland report, ‘Tracking the Shadow Pandemic – Lockdown 2’, which collated the number of calls made to services across the country from September to December.
Launched last week, the national agency’s report revealed figures from 39 frontline domestic violence member services, including Mayo Women’s Support Services (MWSS). It confirmed that November was the busiest month across the countrywide services. During that month, over 2,180 women and 602 children received support from a dedicated domestic violence facility.
Here in Co Mayo, an average of 53 women and ten children accessed MWSS each month from September  to December, with 64 women accessing the service in September. There were also 234 support sessions conducted by phone and 94 in-person. During the four-month period MWSS responded to 520 helpline calls and 79 helpline texts.     
Whilst seven women and eleven children were accommodated in the refuge, MWSS could not accommodate 12 women and 21 children.
However, it found alternative accommodation for eight women and ten children with the support of Mayo County Council’s Housing Department.

Shocking numbers
Speaking after the launch, Bernadette Byrne, of MWSS, said that ‘even in an extraordinary time of crisis, these numbers were shocking’. “Adequate resources and creative solutions were needed to respond to the needs of women, but also the needs of the frontline emergency professionals like those working at Mayo Women’s Support Services,” Ms Byrne said.
She confirmed that since last March MWSS had been ‘working under enormous pressure to respond to those fleeing domestic abuse’. “This work cannot stop. It can take no breaks. Our message to survivors remains clear and steadfast. You do not have to live in an oppressive home. You do not have to endure abuse and control. There is professional support available right here in your community.”
“However, it is also essential that our services are adequately resourced. At the moment, and as a legacy going back many years, there are significant disparities between those working in Domestic Gender-Based Violence (DSGBV) and other social-care settings. Parity and respect must be afforded to domestic violence frontline workers.”
Ms Byrne stressed that ‘multi-annual funding must be established to enable proper planning and service development’, adding that ‘technocratic processes hamper the urgent work of response and prevention of domestic violence’.

National statistics
THE national report shows that helpline calls were also up on average over the second part of the year. Domestic violence services answered 23,336 helpline calls over the period.
November was the busiest month of the period, with 6,409 calls answered – that’s 213 a day or almost nine calls every hour.
On average, 167 women and 265 children stayed in a range of domestic violence accommodation – refuges, safe homes and supported housing – each month between September and December.
In total, 808 requests for refuge could not be met in the four months because there was no space. In October, 306 requests for refuge could not be met – the highest for the tracked months of 2020.
The statistics for the latter part of 2020 were higher generally than those reported over the first six months of the pandemic, the report confirmed.