omen experiencing domestic abuse received more than 1,700 calls last year.
These included crisis calls from women seeking safe accommodation as well as return calls from those seeking ongoing support and information.
Apart from an immediate need for safety from physical violence, other issues which women sought support for were: emotional and verbal abuse; how to deal with harassment; including digital harassment, and concerns for their children, including managing access and support with parenting.
It is important for women to know that their call is confidential and that they can remain anonymous if they wish, says Wendy Heuston from COPE Galway Waterside House, which provides a service to women experiencing domestic abuse in Galway city and county.
“Women are not always ready to take action when they first start to talk about what is happening but with the right support they can reach a place where they are clearer about the abuse. Talking a situation through can help them to decide in their own time what they want to do and what is right for them,” she says.
She states that the response women get when they first disclose, whether it is to a support service, the Gardaí, the court service, or the housing or social welfare departments is critical and can have a big influence on whether they seek further support.
“It’s vital that women are validated, reassured, and given information on their options so that they can make an informed decision for themselves and their children.”
A new upcoming Domestic Violence Bill contains many positives for those experiencing domestic violence including improved access to emergency barring orders and safety orders; the option to give evidence by video link where there is severe intimidation; extra support during the court process and the inclusion of digital harassment as a crime. However, Ms Heuston says the Bill will only as good as the institutions and supports which underpin it.
One survivor of domestic abuse, known as Jean, says calling the helpline was the first step to creating a new life for her and her children.
“Lifting the phone was the first step which has led to myself and the children being in a happier place today. It was a long process and not always an easy one. I was stuck and didn’t know how to move on. The staff member in Waterside helped me to see things more clearly and name the abuse for what it was...”