Domestic violence victims left ‘destitute’ in countdown to Christmas amid surge in financial abuse cases
A growing number of domestic violence victims are being left destitute in the countdown to Christmas amid a surge in financial abuse cases, a leading frontline organisation reports.
Stop Domestic Violence in Ireland (SDVII) said it is already on course to record its busiest ever December after it was inundated with calls to its helpline over the past week. Founder Priscilla Grainger revealed this time of year is by far its most hectic period as the festive season heightens tensions within families.
This year the problem has been exacerbated because of the pandemic and the lockdowns, with Ms Grainger saying the organisation is fielding almost double the amount of calls it did last year. She said there has also been a significant rise in the number of financial abuse cases, in which abusers exerts power over their victims by controlling their finances.
In some cases, the victims’ bank accounts have been completely cleared out just weeks before Christmas.
“We are seeing a worrying surge in financial abuse cases in recent weeks, with victims literally left destitute with no money for food or clothes because their abuser has complete control over their finances,” Priscilla said.
“In several cases there’s no money for food or toys for the kids, women left with nothing unless they go to their local community welfare office. Many are basically living on handouts while their abusers keep all of the money, which in some cases is being used to feed addictions – drink, drugs, gambling.”
Leading family law solicitor Sandra McAleer said she is also dealing with more financial abuse cases that are coming before the courts.
“Financial abuse is now very common in domestic violence cases we’re seeing,” Ms McAleer said. “To exercise control, the abuser has to see where everything is going, where the victim is spending the money. The pandemic has made it easier for abusers because everything now is non-cash transfers. If the abuser can access your bank account, they can pretty much see where you’ve been in the morning and where you went to at night.”
Ms McAleer added: “Financial abuse is a very controlling element of domestic violence. An abuser doesn’t have to physically hit their victims, they can control them financially by drip feeding them small amounts of money for the most basic things, like food for the children.”
Priscilla Grainger and her daughter, SDVII co-founder Ainie (22), suffered extreme financial abuse before they eventually managed to escape their own home hell.
Priscilla recalls how she dreaded Christmas, when she had little or sometimes no money for food, clothes or toys while her abuser kept most of the family’s money to feed his gambling addiction.
“It always comes flooding back at this time of year when the decorations go up,” she said. “The feeling of absolute dread: where will I get money to put food on the table, to buy a few toys for Ainie, who was very young back then, even to buy proper clothes to keep us warm. I had to beg for every little scrap. He kept us living in this state of constant fear, worrying where the next meal was going to come from. By controlling the money he exercised complete control over our lives.”
This year, Stop Domestic Violence in Ireland has teamed up with the Inner-city Helping Homeless charity headed by Dublin City councillor Anthony Flynn to help abuse victims and the homeless in the countdown to Christmas. So far they have raised just under the value of €25,000 in food, clothes and toys to bring some festive cheer to many children who are caught up in domestic violence cases.
“People have been incredible – we’ve been blown away the kindness and generosity we’ve seen in recent weeks,” said Ainie.
“We don’t take any cash donations, just vouchers for food, toys or any of the basics that are badly needed. The response has been overwhelming and we’d like to thank all of the people who have reached out to help those most in need.”
SDVII provides practical and emotional support to survivors. They have an in-house solicitor to provide expert legal advice, free counselling, food, clothes and shelter. As Ainie adds: “We do anything we can do to give them back the life of safety and security that they’re entitled to.”
Anyone who would like to donate clothes, toiletries or dry foods to assist domestic violence victims can drop them off at Inner City Homeless, 144a Slaney Close, Dublin Industrial Estate, Dublin 11.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can contact Stop Domestic Violence in Ireland on 086 869 7022, or visit the website: www.stopdomesticviolence.ie and Facebook page www.facebook.com/pg/stopdomesticviolenceinireland/about