Women's refuges continue to struggle as Government pledges to tackle domestic violence

ireland
Women's Refuges Continue To Struggle As Government Pledges To Tackle Domestic Violence Women's Refuges Continue To Struggle As Government Pledges To Tackle Domestic Violence
At present, there are just 144 refuge places for women and children, with nine counties having no refuge at all. Photo: File image
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Danielle Walsh Ronan

As the Government has pledged to tackle male violence against women in the wake of the murder of Ashling Murphy, women's refuges across the State continue to struggle to meet demand.

At present, there are just 144 refuge places for women and children, with nine counties having no refuge at all.

The number of spaces is significantly below the Istanbul Convention standard, which set out a target of 472 places for victims of domestic violence in Ireland.

In November 2021, a joint Oireachtas committee heard that the lack of refuge places available needed to be urgently addressed. However, according to the chief executive of Saoirse Domestic Violence Services (SDVS), Allison Graham, this has yet to be addressed.

"There has been no action and, at this point in time, no commitment of additional funding to address this," Ms Graham said.

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"Dublin has four refuges at the moment but the demand is so massive with such a large population it is outstretching the supply."

'Backwards'

According to Ms Graham, the lack of spaces often results in women and children having to look outside the county they live in to seek refuge.

"If we are full the first thing we would do is try and ring the other refuges around and see if they have any space," Ms Graham said.

"For some women, for safety reasons they find that they might request to move outside an area, they might feel safer.

"But then, for a lot of women, moving to another area, even if it is only for a short term refuge, its very uprooting," she added.

"For children for school, women for their jobs, their support network with family, friends - to be plucked from that to go to another area to seek refuge from a violent relationship that is not their fault, it's backwards."

Like many other service providers, SDVS received help from Airbnb which made hotel beds available for refuge amid the increasing demand during the pandemic.

'The very last step'

Despite the efforts of refuge workers, there are times places cannot be found for those who need them.

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"It doesn't happen every day, but absolutely weekly. We have been in existence for 16 years now and on average you are looking at about 70 per cent of the requests for refuge can't be accommodated," Ms Graham said.

Although the figure of 70 per cent may fluctuate depending on the year, SDVS struggles to meet demand due to the prevalence of domestic violence, Ms Graham added.

According to Women’s Aid, there was surge in domestic violence during the first year of the pandemic, with the organisation recording a 43 per cent increase in calls.

In 2020, domestic violence services faced unmet requests for refuge from 1,351 women between March and August.

"Unfortunately, a lot of the time when we are full, [other refuges] are all full as well because there has been a spike in women needing refuge," Ms Graham said.

"So you are looking at trying to support them through the helpline, or through the outreach service, putting in measures you can with them to help them stay safe.

"No woman wants to have to come to a refuge, for most it is the very last step they will take when they need to get out for their safety, for their lives.

"To make that call and then there is no space, its horrendous, for any woman or child to be in that situation.

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"It needs immediate action."

'Hopeful'

In the wake of Ashling Murphy's murder, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said that a “zero-tolerance” approach will be central to a new Government strategy tackling gender-based violence.

According to Ms McEntee, the new strategy to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence will be published by the beginning of March.

"We are always hopeful that when Government say they'll do something that it will be actioned, that there will be positive change and outcomes for the women and children, but you have to wait and see," Ms Graham said.

"Although we are fighting for more refuge spaces, there needs to be more focus as well at Government level.

"There is a wider piece of work that needs to happen in terms of how people respond to victims of domestic violence and also how perpetrators are held accountable."

Recently, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar mentioned that it was essential for a minister and Government department to be designated responsibility for addressing gender-based violence, which is something campaigners have been calling on for years.

"I'm hopeful that, if that is being spoken about now at that level, that there will be action taken on that, and the funding, the recognition and the policy change that needs to happen for women and children in domestic violence."

Ms Graham added that she is hopeful policy change "won't just be put on the long finger again."

Although refuges are struggling to meet demand, Ms Graham urged anyone who needs to reach out to services to do so.

For information or support around domestic violence, you can contact Saoirse Domestic Violence Service's 24 /7 Helpline on 01-4630000, Email us 24/7 at helpline@sdvs.ie or visit their website be clicking here.

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