SAFE Ireland recently launched its annual report for 2010 and to describe it as depressing reading is an understatement of significant proportions. In the statistics lies a story of such devastating truth that if it is acknowledged fully, as it must be, then no stone would be left unturned in order to address the problem. Make no mistake; there is a problem.
As with all statistics, they must be read keeping certain things in mind. The over 3,000 occasions on which women and children were turned away from refuges where they sought shelter from physical, emotional, sexual and mental abuse may represent instances of the same women being turned away repeatedly. Keeping this in mind almost seems to make the report worse somehow. The number of women and children turned away represents a 38% increase on the 2009 figures.
When viewing statistics, we instinctively look for big numbers to illustrate our point. In this case, the thought that the number of individual people and children suffering any kind of rejection when they seek succour is a devastating one.
Speak to anybody who works in this area and they will tell you that the time when a woman, or man, makes the incredibly difficult decision to flee or seek help, is the most dangerous time for them in terms of the response of their abusive partner. This is especially the case if they are not given shelter and must return to the home where the abuse has taken place. Without wanting to stray into the realms of a pornography of violence, readers can infer for themselves the kind of risks being faced by men, women and children at this time, I do not need to spell it out here.
The report contains a number of figures, which make for uncomfortable reading before they are ever put in context. 7,235 individual women received support from domestic violence services in Ireland in 2010, 5,639 individual women received face-to-face supports, 1,545 individual women were accommodated and received a range of other supports in refuge, 2,850 children received support from domestic violence services and in total, 3,402 children were admitted to refuges in 2010. This is a tiny fraction of the information published in the final report and yet if the actual human cost is considered, the scale of the problem is scarcely imaginable.
So what is to be done about the issue? I have no doubt that nobody involved in government in Ireland wishes to see figures of this kind published and were it within their power, they would do everything they could to never see their like published again. The issue can be examined in two ways. Firstly, there is the problem of domestic abuse and the fact that it occurs at all and secondly, what services are in place to aid those affected by it. The most pressing of these problems, though it is difficult to have to admit, is aiding those who are being affected on a daily basis. The first instinct of most of those who hear of this issue would be to immediately strive to stamp out this scourge but, unfortunately, that is a long-term goal for now. As elucidated by the figures quoted above, there are literally thousands of Irish men, women and children in need of emergency support on a daily basis in the country and their needs are paramount.
It is in addressing this need head on that we encounter our first stumbling block. Whatever the goodwill of the current Government, their hands are tied. Their hands are bound just as the mouth of their purse is sealed shut by purse strings controlled by the IMF and the ECB. They are not allowed to unilaterally increase funding to address this problem because Ireland is in debt and not in a position to take such decisions to benefit its citizens. This raises the issue of whether or not Ireland can any longer be called a democracy. If a government is elected at the next general election, who promise to immediately address this issue with all the funding they can, they will find themselves unable to do so when they take office. The people rioting on the streets of Greece are well aware of this fact and realise that whatever they say at the ballot box will be ignored as they are now essentially a protectorate of the EU. How their referendum, their expression of democratic will, will affect the Eurozone remains to be seen. The markets are already recoiling in horror at the prospect of citizens having a voice.
Now, to the other issue, the fact that this abuse is taking place at all. Here is where the Irish public comes in. Given the figures quoted above, it stands to statistical reason that some people reading this will be the victims, the perpetrators, related to or know someone suffering domestic abuse. Those suffering abuse must be given community support. If there is no refuge available then make your home a refuge. The protection of victims is paramount because their lives are in danger. Ironically, the publication of this report may have already stopped some people from seeking the help they so desperately need. I am not advocating a return to Brindsley McNamara’s Valley of the Squinting Windows but both victims and perpetrators need to know that in modern Ireland a blind eye will not be turned to this kind of abuse. A code of silence allowed thousands of children to be abused over the years. This cannot be allowed to happen again.
On November 4, 2010, as part of the Just One Day Annual Census, Safe Ireland recorded the following figures: 555 women and 324 children were accommodated or received support on that day. That is; 23 women and 13 children looking for support every one of the 24 hours in that day. Amen, the group, which supports male victims of domestic abuse, has not published comparable figures but this must not be allowed the issue to be ignored. There are people all over the country suffering at the hands of those who should be their closest caring partners. Government cannot help them and successive governments have failed them. As a result, it is up to those around them to step in and support them in every way they can until there comes a day when this cancer can be eliminated in a comprehensive way.