Terms like ‘self-isolation, ‘social distancing’ and even ‘cocooning’ are fast becoming part of our national vocabulary.

For the vast majority of people, these new practices and behaviours will be somewhere between a major and minor inconvenience.

Some businesses may close-others will bounce back; but we will go on, even if it is in a radically different world.

For others however-the limitations that are being increasingly required around keeping to your own home, will be actively life threatening and terrifying.

This applies in a unique way to all of those caught up in the horrors of domestic violence.

For these people-the vast majority of whom are women and children-we are rapidly approaching a point where there may literally be nowhere left to run to.

This is especially true in countries like Spain, Italy and France which have instituted mandatory lockdowns

Of course, it has to be said that men too are often on the receiving end of domestic violence.

According to Cosc, the National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence-somewhere in the region of 88,000 men in Ireland have been severely abused by a partner at some point in their lives.

We can only imagine the fear that is experienced by these people-women, men and children-as they now face the additional threat of increased and prolonged ‘exposure’ to a violent spouse/partner/parent.

Domestic violence here in Ireland, much like everywhere else, is often hidden and indeed actively ignored.  Most of those who experience it are ‘asymptomatic.’

You would never know by looking at then that they suffer from an invisible plague bringing ruin to their own personal worlds.

Now, into these ‘worlds’ has come Covid-19 with all that even greater levels of enforced social isolation will bring about. Increased stress, lack of control and a host of other anger inducing ‘triggers’ that may end in violence; both verbal and physical.

Some may very well point out that the victims of such abuse had very few places to run to even before the Covid-19 crisis upended societies right across the globe.

And to a large extent, they would be right.

For while Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, grants funding, co-ordination and support to 22 organisations which provide emergency refuge and emergency non-refuge accommodation to victims of domestic violence and their children; the fact remains that it cannot tell us how many women and children it turns away because it does not collect that data.

There is also the problem of how existing refuges are going to cope in terms of isolation and social distancing requirements. Some of these service users will already have been to frightened to leave the refuge even before this crisis broke.

This is deeply alarming given that Minister Charlie Flanagan has accepted since at least last April that there are challenges in ensuring “an appropriate configuration of spaces available to all individuals and families who require emergency refuge accommodation.”

We also know, from reporting by Melissa Godin, that in the United States, where 5,218 people have been infected with the coronavirus, the National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that a growing number of callers say that their abusers are using COVID-19 as a means of further isolating them from their friends and family.

“Perpetrators are threatening to throw their victims out on the street so they get sick,” Katie Ray-Jones, the CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline tells TIME. “We’ve heard of some withholding financial resources or medical assistance.”

It is futile to pretend that similar threats are not being made to women here in Ireland right here, right now.

Although our attention is on the older members of our community in terms of self-isolation; it is absolutely vital that we remember those for whom isolation now means an increase in real physical danger.
The government must ensure that all available domestic violence helplines are fully (and increasingly) staffed 24/7.

It must also develop and implement a strategy whereby victims of domestic violence can be assured that a pathway toward help remains in place.

Because while most of us will come through this-some of us may not; and it will not be covid-19 that killed them.



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