IRISH women are among a worrying number of domestic abuse victims living in increasingly unsafe environments as they face 24 hours a day on lockdown with their abusers, according to a leading charity.
Solace Women’s Aid provides vital services for women suffering from domestic violence and those who have fled their abusers, through its refuges and safehouses across London.
But with the country now under lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic the women they serve are more at risk than ever; the charity’s CEO Fiona Dwyer told The Irish Post.
“We are in uncharted waters when it comes to supporting women living in enforced isolation and lockdown,” Mr Dwyer admits.
“Calls to our helpline had hit an all-time high in the days leading up to lockdown but have since dropped drastically.
“We are increasingly worried that women are not able to reach out for help due to being monitored 24/7 by their abuser.”
She added: “We are really concerned about women living in isolation with their abusers and the challenges they face keeping themselves and their children safe.
“We anticipate that there will be an enormous spike in demand after the lockdown period has ended.”
The service, which is headquartered in north London, is the capital’s leading specialist charity in supporting women and children experiencing domestic abuse and sexual violence.
It provides lifesaving support to more than 22,000 women and children each year and relies on funding and donations to do so.
Part of that funding comes from the Irish Government’s Emigrant Support Fund, which provides a grant for a specific Irish & Irish Traveller Outreach Project within Solace.
This service supports around 70 Irish women and children each year, via intensive one-to-one casework support, group work, and advice helpline calls.
It is led by Solace’s Nancy Carney, who claims the current conditions surrounding the health crisis are already having a negative impact on the women she works with.
“Many of the women I support are currently in a position where they are having to choose between their health and their safety,” Ms Carney told The Irish Post.
“The lockdown is essential for the safety of those most vulnerable to the virus but its effects are going to impact survivors greatly.
“Non-essential businesses have closed and only essential travel is being recommended so families will be self-isolating together, often in small spaces.
“The Irish Traveller women I work with have often reported that they are most at risk when travelling with their families, as they are around their abuser most of the time.
“This situation is being replicated with the lockdown where it is harder for women to safety plan and access support as they are effectively being monitored day and night.
“We know that abuse is about power and control and these factors are intensified when you are self-isolating with an abuser and unable to leave your home. Unlike travelling, under the current lockdown, women are having to navigate their safety with no end date in sight.”
While being lockdown with an abuser is likely to see an increase in abuse, it is also making it incredibly difficult for those women who want to leave an abusive partner to do so.
“For women who want to leave abusive relationships, coronavirus has increased the barriers to getting help and accessing safe accommodation,” Ms Carney explains.
“It’s becoming more difficult to access refuge services where there are limited vacancies and for those who are clinically vulnerable to Covid-19, moving to a refuge or to temporary accommodation provided by the council is full of risks as this will most likely be shared accommodation,” she adds.
With many women expected to find themselves in these impossible situations – having to choose their health or their safety – as the lockdown continues, Solace has launched an emergency appeal to raise funds to provide the direct support they will need.
The charity is working with partners across the capital to secure more emergency accommodation to provide a safe place for them to flee.
“Right now, we are at full stretch ensuring that our services can continue to meet the needs of the most vulnerable - keeping our refuges and supported accommodation open to referrals and supporting women to be safe through our community services,” Ms Dwyer explains.
“As if dealing with abuse is not enough, many women are facing some stark choices in terms of food and a safe place to stay if they really must flee.
“Solace is working with commissioners across London to secure emergency accommodation.”
She added: “We are hearing some heartbreaking stories and have launched an emergency appeal from our staff to raise urgent funds to meet women’s immediate needs so that women can be helped to Stay Safe At Home.
“The situation is urgent women should not have to choose between coronavirus and abuse as a result of being in lockdown with their perpetrator.”
To support Solace Women’s Aid’s Stay Safe at Home Emergency Appeal click here.