‘We are in a domestic abuse pandemic’ says charity chief

By Nicole McBride

Sources have indicated that one in four women in Northern Ireland have experienced Domestic Abuse in their lifetime.

There was a total of 31,817 incidents recorded in 2019/20, up from 1.8 percent of the previous year and the highest number since records began in 2004/05. However, with only a 26.1 percent outcome rate for perpetrators of domestic abuse fear of the process is a continuing reason for the drop in charges.

The data is clear that we are in a domestic abuse pandemic and it is only now as numbers continue to rise during Covid that we are seeing people taking a stand to fight back and protect these victims from further harm.

With face-to-face appointments, live events and home visits momentarily curtailed because of the limitations of lockdown, charities and collectives through Northern Ireland have had to come together to find a new way of bringing their services to victims of domestic abuse.

Donna Maria Logue from La Dolce Vita Project (LDVP), a charity that supports people impacted by domestic, abuse, sexual violence and parental alienation said:

“When restrictions began on the 23rd March, the situation took a different tone and we had to formulate different scenarios for how to reach and support people living in their homes.”

“There was a multitude of different questions we had to ask the team and attempt to find the main barrier.”

The barriers that victims have had to face include, judgement of others, financial control, guilt, culture and even love for their partner, and these have always been present.

However, during lockdown, finding a way to communicate effectively to ensure the safety of victims trapped in their homes was the most prevalent barrier to overcome.

Donna Maria Logue from LDVP added:

“We organised the public to involve the children to do messages of hope and display artwork in their homes and worked with MLA’s and other various groups to let them know that we were still here for them.”

“We put together food parcels for people in the community, while speaking to neighbours asking them to report anything they may hear. Not only are they stopping people from harm, but they are also reducing the risk of children witnessing domestic abuse in their homes”

Along with a collection of organisations including The Rainbow Project, the NSPCC and Women’s Aid, they are part of The Western Section Domestic Violence Partnership. This collective of various charities made sure that information was available for people in the community on how to report anonymously. Resources were also made available on social media for victims to access.

Women’s Aid, one of the leading charities for helping women and children at risk of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland has seen their White Ribbon campaign explode during lockdown.

Political figure heads, football teams, sports clubs and people in leadership roles have been making their personal pledge to stand up and say, ‘we want zero tolerance to domestic abuse’.

Tahnee McCorry, the White Ribbon Co-ordinator for Women’s Aid, who has been overseeing the campaign has said.

“The White Ribbon campaign is about changing opinions and changing the world we live in.”

“I hope victims will see political figures or a role they may look up to signing the pledge and feel that if they come forward, they will be believed. That they have a whole community behind them and will receive the support that they need.”

She added; “The White Ribbon Campaign translates really well virtually so we have been able to have virtual sign-ins and virtual volunteering days. I have been able to get more reach a lot of the time and that means helping more people.”

The occurrence of the eight deaths of women in their homes during lockdown was a stark reminder of the seriousness of the issue. Bringing to the surface the fact that Northern Ireland has the second highest level of femicide in Western Europe.

“Robin Swan signed our pledge at the absolute height of lockdown by Zoom because it was so important to do that at the time and take a stand.”

This year has been a defining year for communities across Northern Ireland in regard to preventing and early intervention of Domestic Abuse, with the implementation of the ‘Violence against Women and Girls Strategy’ and the ‘Anti-stalking policy’.

Coincidently the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the White Ribbon Campaign has coincided with the release of the White Ribbon Anthem and the Violence Against Women and Girls strategy as it is put forward for consideration by the NI executive.

“We are by no means finished but we are taking the steps forward to making the country safer for women and children,” said Tahnee McCorry.

Although domestic abuse is still seen as a gendered crime, with Women and children making up 69 percent of incidents, the number of men suffering has increased 5% since records began in 2004/05.

Charities such as Men’s Actions Network have been there to ensure that men are getting the support that they need. Donna Maria Logue from La Dolce Vita Project has said.

“We have been working with many fathers who have come forward to us because of witnessing domestic abuse crimes in their childhood. We are seeing a lifelong effect of this and the solution is early intervention to make sure the cycle does not continue.”

No matter if you are a victim of domestic abuse, someone who has witnessed domestic abuse as a child, or have noticed an unreported domestic abuse crime in your community, there is always support and services to help. You will be supported; you will be assisted, and you will be believed.