Court cases dealing with partners who don’t believe in Covid, incidents of financial control, disputes around access, and abuse by adult children are some of the complaints made to domestic violence support centres in Cork city over the past year.
More people in a variety of situations have been reaching out to domestic violence services, according to the Manager of one Cork City support centre.
Deborah O’Flynn, who has been the manager of the OSS Domestic Violence Resource Centre since 2005, said the demand has fluctuated throughout the year, depending on the level of Covid restrictions in place.
Ms O’Flynn said requests for the services dropped off in April as they could not see people face to face and it may have been difficult for people to make calls at home, but said there was a surge when restrictions were lifted.
With regard to their free phone number, 1800497497, Ms O’Flynn said she could see that demand had increased throughout the year, despite the drop off during the lockdown.
“We have seen an increase in the number of people abused by children and adult children and an increase in male clients, whether it is a partner, male or female, or adult children,” Ms O’Flynn said.
She said an ongoing Garda operation on the issue, Operations Faoiseamh, is very welcome.
This week, gardaí confirmed that, since October 28, there have been 110 prosecutions made nationally under Operation Faoiseamh for breaches of domestic violence orders.
Reports of domestic violence were up 14% to 1,151 in the Cork City Garda Division, up 13% to 548 in the Cork North division, and up 28% in the Cork West Division to 287 from January to October, according to figures provided recently by gardaí.
“The perpetrators’ behaviour often improves following an incident but often it is not sustained and this is why it is good for the gardaí to check in,” Ms O’Flynn said.
She said the centre had a lot of clients in their 60s, 70s and 80s, who were now focusing on phone calls as they were afraid to make their way into the service on public transport.
“We have quite a lot of clients who have been with a person for most of their adult life and as they go through retirement they are with the person a lot more and also adult children moved out so the buffer or support system is gone,” she said.
“Often we get people in their late 60s reflecting back and they can have huge regrets around not taking action earlier.”
The domestic violence centre manager said the current housing shortage adds to the difficulties in these situations.
“If someone is looking at the option of moving out, or the other person moving out, I would not necessarily be encouraging people to move out unless it was an emergency because there’s very little space for them to go.
“It’s chronic. Years ago we could give people different advice with regards to safeguarding mental health. We would always have been able to secure rent allowance through the welfare officer, that’s all changed now completely. It’s very hard to find somewhere to rent at the moment.”
Mrs O’Flynn said that the work they do is a real challenge at the moment.
“A lot of the time, the victim has empathy for the person hurting them and is reluctant to throw them out or get a barring order as they are worried about where they will end up,” she said.
“I have one case of a mother being abused by her adult son, but she won’t get a barring order because she is worried about where he will go.”
Ms O’Flynn also said Covid has had a huge impact.
“You are effectively trapping someone in the house with their perpetrator and there has been a massive impact on finances for those who have lost jobs,” she said. “Finance can be a huge issue in abusive relationships, blocking access to money. It can be very stressful and can cause huge anxiety.”
The OSS manager said lockdown has has a big affect on men they hear from.
“They get a lot of respite from going out to work and leaving the house and the complaints are not all against females, there are adult children, their own children, step children, foster children, and some men being abused by male partners.”
Ms O’Flynn said not all clients want to move out and some, especially older clients, just want peace and quiet.
“They might not want separation or divorces, but they learn things here that might help their situation in terms of financial independence and not challenging the individual at certain times or on certain things.
“Our relationship with a client, is one of respectful engagement, empowering them. It can be a long term relationship or it can be a quick small thing.”
Ms O’Flynn said one thing the pandemic has really shown is nothing beats the face-to-face communication.
“You don’t get non-verbal feedback from clients if they are not sitting across from you and another way it is very challenging is when people come in who don’t have English as their first language,” she said.
“We can avail of interpretation in the centre, but we have found it very difficult over the phone. They are a group I was very concerned about during lockdown.”
She said there was a significant drop off in terms of non-english speaking clientele.
In terms of domestic abuse, Ms O’Flynn said it is complicated because every situation is unique, but it is best to ‘break it down and take it one step at a time’.