‘He burned all her clothes to stop her from leaving’ – crisis as sharp rise in number of domestic violence victims being made homeless
A leading frontline support group has teamed up with a homeless organisation to make a joint appeal on behalf of the increasing number of domestic violence victims who have been made homeless since the start of the lockdown.
Stop Domestic Violence in Ireland (SDVII) and Inner City Helping Homeless have issued a public appeal for all types of clothing, basic toiletries and dry goods to help the growing number of women who have found themselves on the streets and relying on refuge centres for shelter in recent weeks.
The appeal comes as gardai this week reported a 25% year-on-year upsurge in domestic violence cases. Many of these cases were reported in the last three months when restrictions forced many victims to remain in effective lockdown with their abusers.
Recently reported cases vary from physical violence to severe emotional and financial abuse, according to SDVII. “There has been huge increase in the number of cases being reported to us – and the problem just seems to be getting worse and worse,” said SDVII founder Priscilla Grainger (pictured below with her daughter Ainie).
“In one case, a victim’s clothes were all burned by an abusive partner in an attempt to prevent them from leaving. In many cases, victims have found themselves in financial crisis because they are not being paid any maintenance. Other victims have found themselves in massive debt as a result of their abusive partner’s addiction problems.”
In some cases, ex-partners are refusing to return children to their mothers in the knowledge that the courts are currently only open for emergency orders. In these instances, the mothers were too afraid to go to the father’s house without the protection of the courts.
A leading family law solicitor said there has been a significant increase in the number of women who are seeking the protection of the courts in recent weeks.
Sandra McAleer said most of the Interim Barring Orders she has applied for since the lockdown began have been granted, which she said illustrates the “horrific” nature of some of the domestic abuse cases.
“In fairness to the courts, there is a fairly high threshold that needs to be met for an interim barring order to be granted, but the majority of the ones I have applied for on behalf of clients recently have been granted.
“The scale and the nature of much of the abuse has been pretty horrific. In one case a woman had a bag put over her head in an attempt to suffocate her.”
Ms McAleer said the lockdown conditions, in which abusers, their partner and children are “trapped” behind closed doors without any outside visits from family members or friends, has greatly exacerbated the problem.
“In many cases the victims have no money; the kids are not at school and the abuser is drinking at home, which is causing huge stress and strain, and in many cases is resulting in violence.
“However, it’s important to highlight that help is out there. The family courts are open for victims of domestic violence every day if they need to make an application for Protection Orders and Interim Barring Orders. No one should suffer in silence.”
The rise in domestic abuse cases is also having an impact on the homeless crisis as more victims with little or no resources desperately turn to support groups and refuges seeking help.
“Covid-19 has sparked a huge increase in cases of domestic violence, which is turn is fuelling the homeless crisis,” Priscilla Grainger added.
“We’ve been inundated with calls from victims who are looking for a pair of shoes, a coat, a jumper – some literally had to escape without the clothes on their backs.”
Dublin city councillor Anthony Flynn, the founder of Inner City Helping Homeless, also confirmed the organisation is seeing more victims of domestic abuse seeking their help. Cllr Flynn said many housing organisations and charities are witnessing “a severe increase” in demands for services since the pandemic hit.
“Many of the people coming to us have lost their jobs, others have suffered a loss of income which is all contributing to the homeless crisis,” said Cllr Flynn.
“Over the past 11 weeks Inner City Helping Homeless has seen a 35% increase in services and we are working with our organisational partners as much as we can to support so many going through very difficult times.”
Cllr Flynn also warned of a “Tsunami of evictions” over the coming months as tenants who have lost their jobs or had their incomes slashed as a result of the pandemic are no longer able to pay their rent.
‘Don’t suffer in silence – help is out there’
Stop Domestic Violence in Ireland (SDVII) has urged anyone who finds themselves trapped in an abusive relationship not to be afraid to reach out and get the help they need.
SDVII co-founder Ainie Grainger said she understands plucking up the courage to get out is often the most difficult part of breaking free from a violent marriage or relationship.
Ainie said: “People have to realise that help is out there and that organisations like ours and others who provide vital services are here to help and provide as much support as possible. Please don’t suffer in silence – help is out there if you can look for it.”
SDVII is campaigning to have domestic violence enshrined in law as a criminal offence. The group insists this is the only effective long term measure to combat the deepening crisis.
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 says: “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