Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Children of abused women targeted

Women's Aid has highlighted violence against mothers and children in the home

Violence against children in homes where women have been abused has soared by 55%.

Women's Aid revealed a growing number of youngsters are being attacked as their mothers are also being victimised by a partner. The charity heard 16,200 counts of physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse of women in 2012, with 3,230 disclosing a child was targeted in the home, up from 2,076 in 2011. Another 1,211 reported that children had witnessed horrific abuse and violence against their mothers, including rape.

Margaret Martin, Women's Aid director, said: "In 2012, women told us on 3,230 occasions that their children were being hit, including with household items, smacked, constantly shouted at, and in some cases, sexually abused.

"Children have witnessed their pets being abused, kicked and thrown against walls. At times, the perpetrator of the abuse has deliberately targeted the children as a way to hurt both them and their mother."

The charity warned that the more severe the violence against the mother, the higher the risk of abuse against the children in the home. It called for Government to recognise the links between domestic violence and child abuse and to take steps to increase the safety of vulnerable women and children, like an out of hours on call system for emergency barring orders and changes in the family courts.

The charity's freephone helpline - 1800 341 900 - answered 11,729 calls last year, with staff holding 508 one-to-one support visits and 162 court accompaniments. An additional 239 face-to-face sessions took place at its referral service. Some 16,200 disclosures were made.

Some 97% were women and almost half had been abuse by their husband, 7% by an ex-husband, 16% by a partner and 10% an ex-partner. Six out of ten had been living with abuse for more than six years, including 6% who were with a violent partner for more than 30 years before seeking help. Only 7% of women got support in the first year of an abusive relationship.

Children's minister Frances Fitzgerald said: "These figures are distressing and very worrying, but they do reflect the grim reality of child abuse in Ireland and the threats posed to families by domestic violence.

"The most recent figures for referrals of child abuse to the HSE show that there were 19,044 referrals in 2012. This represents a doubling in referrals in seven years from 9,503 in 2005. These figures do not include referrals relating to child welfare and neglect."

Justice Minister Alan Shatter said domestic violence continues to be a blight on the life of many women, children and men, with no fewer than 60 community and voluntary organisations offering helplines, emotional support, information, court accompaniment, onward referral and refuge. He maintained Cosc, the National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence, is continuing to implement a national strategy on the issue, which covers men and women, including older people.

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