'Almost overnight, we had to completely change the way we work,' says Tipp women's refuge

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“Almost overnight, we had to completely change the way we work to ensure that women and children trapped in abusive homes could find safety and professional support,” says Geraldine Mullane, Project Leader of Cuan Saor, as she talked about the impact of Covid-19.

Cuan Saor Women’s Refuge and Support Services is a community-based organisation that provides a range of services to women and children who have or are experiencing domestic violence.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the expansion of the service from a support service with a freephone helpline to a refuge, providing units of accommodation to women who need to leave the family home due to violence and abuse.

A recent report published by Safe Ireland (National Network of Women’s Refuge’s & Support Services) sited that there was a staggering 33,941 helpline calls answered across the country over the period from March – August 2020 (including lockdown) that’s an overage of 184 calls every day from women who are experiencing domestic violence.

Gerldine said: “Cuan Saor’s helpline during this time took just under 1,000 calls from women looking for support.

“The services had to adapt and reconfigure, almost overnight, to provide vital, virtual services to women in lockdown.

"All supports had to revert to phones, text messages, emails with referrals coming directly from the community and statutory organisations, supported by Operation Faoiseamh which was operated by the gardaí.”

“Since the start of Covid-19 the Government has prioritised domestic violence and we have always welcomed this,” Geraldine said. “But calling something a priority means that it also has to be name-checked in the national budget and funded and resourced as a priority.

“We have pulled out all the stops to respond to the increasing and complex needs of women and children since March,” she added.

Cuan Saor was part of a global campaign raising awareness of violence against women, it consisted of 16 days of Action Opposing Violence Against Women from an international perspective, initiated by the Centre for Women’ Global Leadership (CWGL) in 1991.

The dates, November 25 (International Day Opposing Violence Against Women) and December 10 (International Human Rights Day) were chosen in order to symbolically link violence against women and human rights in order to emphasise that such violence is a violation of a woman’s human rights.

The 16 day campaign has been used as an organising strategy by individuals and groups around the world to call for the elimination of all forms of violence against women

Back in April, with 90 countries in lockdown, with four billion people sheltering in their homes from the global contagious of Covid-19, the UN referred to the protective measures as bringing another deadly danger.

They referred to a growing shadow pandemic of violence against women. Being told to stay at home during a Covid lockdown is an inconvenience for most of us.

However, Geraldine said that for countless women experiencing domestic violence it is a time of great danger. She went on to say that when you add the anxiety and tension around Covid into an already fractious situation, it can become a tinderbox with lethal consequences.

Isolation is a key factor in terms of the power and control tactics used by abusers, but what happened during Covid-19 lockdown was that women living in situations of domestic violence were even more isolated than usual, completely separated from the people and resources that can best help them it was a perfect storm for controlling, violent behaviour behind closed doors.

They were trapped within their own homes, no longer able to reach out to their support systems.

Geraldine said: “On behalf of the organisation and the women and children who avail of the services a huge thank you to the community for their continued support, they received immense support since the start of Covid-19, people were extremely creative in how they fundraised and donated e.g. GoFundMe events, yoga, sponsored cycles/walks, cheques/cash given in personally and by post.”

Donations have already started for Christmas and they include new toys, clothes, and non-perishable foods. Geraldine said:

“There is a lot of good will in our community and we are truly grateful. Due to Covid-19 we can only accept new toys/clothes and non-perishable foods.

“The service continues to be operational 24/7 and can be contacted at 1800 57 67 57 (Freephone).”