"I feel like the only way out is to die": Women's Aid saw 43 percent rise in contact during lockdown
"Women called from their car, from the garden shed, from the bathroom with the shower running."
Domestic violence charity Women's Aid saw a 43 percent rise in contact during Covid-19, a new report has shown.
The charity, which operates a 24 hour freephone helpline, heard 24,049 disclosures of abuse against women and children in 2019, with a significant increase in calls made this year during lockdown.
Their Annual Impact Report 2019 (featuring a supplementary report relevant to the Covid-19 pandemic) shows a 43 percent increase in responses by the helpline between March to June 2019 and March to June 2020.
The same period from the previous year saw an increase of nine percent.
"As we all retreated to our homes for safety, it became increasingly clear that home is not a safe place for everyone," says Sarah Benson, Women's Aid CEO.
"Trapped with abusers and denied outlets that may have offered them support and respite in the face of abuse before, women came up with ingenious ways to get in touch with us. Women called from their car, from the garden shed, from the bathroom with the shower running.
“Women told us that their partners were using the lockdown restrictions as an excuse not to leave after they had been violent."
Benson adds that for women who had previously experienced abuse, lockdown restrictions triggered "painful memories of being abused and controlled."
"Women with underlying health issues reported that their partners were not adhering to Covid-19 restrictions deliberately, and some were effectively weaponising the virus by coughing or spitting on women," she says.
A 78-year-old woman who has endured abuse for all of her married life contacted Women's Aid and said Covid-19 had made the situation "unbearable."
"I’m feeling very alone and isolated," she said, quoted in the report. "I feel like the only way out is to die. The stress and intensity of the situation is making me feel hopeless and desperate.
"I’ve started having flashbacks of some of the worst attacks from my husband and it is giving me panic attacks. I’ve thought about ending my own life just to escape the situation.”
Mother-of-two Sharon told the charity that since March, her abusive husband has become more volatile.
"He constantly intrudes on my work calls and conversations and I feel like I’ve no choice but to put up with his unacceptable behaviour all day, every day, because I’m literally locked inside the house with him," she said.
“I feel like I’m being monitored by my husband 24/7. He takes every opportunity he can to undermine and control me."
The report also features a survivors survey, showing that many women still feel fearful and guilty for reporting instances of violence.
“It is astonishing in 2020 to hear that women still feel silenced and afraid to come forward for help because they worry about others knowing what is happening, are ashamed and afraid of the stigma," said Ailbhe Smyth, Chairperson of Women’s Aid.
"We want everyone to know that their experience matters to us. Abuse is never the fault of the victim but the perpetrator, and if they contact Women’s Aid they will be supported and believed.”
Smyth added that although Ireland's domestic violence laws have changed to include non-violent forms of abuse, more needs to be done to tackle the stigma and shame that still exists.
“It was good news that the law changed in 2019 to include the offence of coercive control," she says, "which is a pattern of highly controlling manipulative behaviour that commonly does not include physical violence, but is nonetheless devastating to victims.
"Clearly this survey shows that we need to do more to raise public awareness of this."
You can read Women's Aid's full Covid-19 report here.