Terrible Toll Of Child Abuse Unveiled

Harrowing cases of children being urinated on, kicked in the stomach or seeing their mother raped were reported to the Women’s Aid domestic abuse helpline last year.

{mosimage}The support organisation said incidents where the perpetrator was abusing the child of a relationship as well as the mother rose by 29pc in 2006.

In a number of cases the abuse occured during access visits and one fifth were ex-partners or ex-husbands — showing that violence can occur even where a woman has taken steps through separation or other orders to protect themselves and their children.

Director Margaret Martin said: “We respond to around 12,000 calls every year which shows domestic violence is still a huge problem within society.

“This year we are particularly concerned at the increase in specific incidents of child abuse and the nature of the abuse such as violent beatings or urinating on a child”.

She expressed particular concern about the numbers of women who continue to be abused after they have left relationships and the vulnerability of children in these situations.

“With 70pc of our court accompaniments being repeat visits to court, it again highlights the legal system as failing to adequately protect women and children from domestic violence”.

The statistics released yesterday show that last year the helpline received 11,994 calls — most involved emotional abuse, one quarter physical abuse and five per cent related to sexual abuse which is traditionally not disclosed by women experiencing domestic violence.

In some cases holes were punched in walls and doors, a woman was strangled until unconscious, stripped naked and beaten, petrol was poured over a woman and a gun put to a woman’s mouth.

There were 259 rapes within relationships reported to the service during the year. Nearly one in two calls to the helpline last year were new cases.

Half of the abuse occured in a current relationship, mostly in married situations and 31pc of calls pointed to the husband as perpetrator. One fifth involved ex-partners.

One in 10 involved financial abuse and ranged from being denied access to money for household basics to closing all bank accounts to prevent a woman leaving. The impact of the abuse included serious physical injury, scarring, temporary or permanent disability, nervous breakdown or post traumatic stress disorder. Emotional abuse led to panic attacks, attempted suicide or severe depression.

The terrifying toll emerged as a separate report launched yesterday showed that child-centred services for child victims of domestic violence are minimal and difficult to access.

The research by Waterford Institute of Technology for the Department of Health found few child-centred services are available to protect them and address the impact of domestic violence on them. The researchers who interviewed 22 children found abuse affected them in different ways, leading to dropping out of school or drug abuse.

It identified an urgent need for shelters for teenage boys who are at risk of becoming homeless.

“The crucial finding of the study was how the professional system does not hear children — what they have experienced and what they now need”, said the report, Listening to Children: Children’s Stories of Domestic Violence.