Surge in calls from domestic violence victims as festive season gets underway

A group that helps victims of domestic violence to escape their home hell has reported a huge rise in pleas for help from desperate women and men in the countdown to Christmas.

Stop Domestic Violence in Ireland (SDVII) said it is already on course to record its busiest ever Christmas after it was inundated with calls over the past week.

L-R Ainie & Priscilla

SDVII founder Priscilla Grainger said Christmas is by far their most hectic period of the year as the festive season heightens emotions and there is generally more drinking and drug taking, which throws more fuel onto abusive relationships.

Priscilla said: “Christmas is obviously a generally happy time for families, but unfortunately it’s usually the opposite for people in abusive and violent relationships. The past week has been our busiest yet, but we’re very glad people have the courage to reach out. Hopefully the message is getting out there.”

Priscilla still remembers the awful feeling of dread that would come over her as the festive period approached.

“A Christmas song came on the radio this morning and I had to leave the kitchen, just to compose myself. It always brings it back. I used to be sick to the pit of my stomach with worry and nerves,” she recalls.

“It was like waiting for a grenade to go off every Christmas. I remember you’d be walking on eggshells, trying to anticipate the moods and the anger. There’d be more drink in the house, which of course made everything worse, the gambling, everything.

“It wasn’t just me. I’d be so disappointed for my daughter, who was just a little girl back then. Not being able to give her the Christmas she deserved. All the horrible things she had to hear and see.”

Priscilla, who survived over a decade of harrowing abuse, set up Stop Domestic Violence in Ireland in 2014 to help other women, and men, who find themselves trapped in violent relationships. She will be the guest speaker at a special event, titled Learning from the Legacy of Loss, which takes place at Carrickphierish Library in Waterford this Thursday as part of the international 16 Days of Action Opposing Violence Against Women campaign.

Priscilla and Ainie with Dublin Lord Mayor

Priscilla, along with her daughter Ainie (21) and a band of dedicated and highly experienced survivors, provide vital and practical assistance to help victims plan their exit from abusive relationships.

“We support them in any we can,” Priscilla explains. “We have an in-house solicitor who is on hand to provide expert legal advice. The family court process can be long and hard for survivors, so they need that legal and emotional support. We provide free counselling, give them food if they’re hungry, clothe them, anything we can do to give them back the life of safety and security that they’re entitled to.”

SDVII say they have also seen a significant increase in the number of men who have become trapped in violent relationships, but they say the vast majority of these cases go unreported.

“Men trapped in abusive and violent relationship is a huge problem, which is unfortunately hidden even deeper than the violence against women because of the stigma attached. But in many cases, they need just as much support and counselling to escape their abusive environment as female victims of domestic violence,” Priscilla said.

“Males needed to be supported much, much more. Men need to know that it is ok to talk, it’s ok to cry, even in front of your children.”

A recently published report by Women’s Aid found a total of 230 women died violently in the State over the past 23 years. According to the report, Femicide Watch 2019, 40 cases (17%) remain unresolved while 10 (4%) are awaiting trial.

Earlier this year, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan established an expert study on femicide and domestic homicide reviews to consider international best practice and examine current practice in Ireland.

However SDVII, which is campaigning to have domestic violence formally recognised as a crime in Ireland, said women will continue to be abused and murdered unless the law is changed.

On Saturday, members of SDVII met with the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Paul McAuliffe (pictured below) as part of their campaign to make domestic violence a criminal offence.

Priscilla said she was “delighted” with the reception the group received, but she added: “The time for talking is through – it seems crazy in this day and age that domestic violence is still not recognised as a criminal offence. What kind of message does this send out? How many more women must be beaten, abused and murdered before the authorities take the steps that are needed to protect them from their abusers?

“There’s been a lot of reaction to the Women’s Aid report from political figures in recent days but it’s action – not words – that are needed and the political will to finally force through the legislative changes that are needed to protect the thousands of women in this county who find themselves in abusive relationships, many of whom are too afraid to escape because they feel the law is not on their side.”

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You can also contact Priscilla and Ainie directly on 086 869 7022 and 087 212 4896 respectively.