Groups working with victims of domestic violence and vulnerable children are calling for extra supports as they say Covid-19 restrictions are putting more pressure on people in difficult situations.

Women's Aid said that the number of calls it received went up by around 1,000 per month between March and June and that 43% increase did not drop off after restrictions eased during the summer.

Women's Aid CEO Sarah Benson said the charity is very concerned it will see another surge in calls as Level 5 applies across the country.

She said that new restrictions are important for health, they will exacerbate an already difficult situation for people who are experiencing domestic abuse in their homes.

Testimonies of women published on the Women's Aid website describe not being able to escape abusive partners while working from home.

One woman said: "I feel like I'm being monitored by my husband 24/7. He takes every opportunity he can to undermine and control me. He consistently intrudes on my work calls and conversations"

Another said: "He makes me feel like a servant, demanding I cook, clean, and have sex with him when and as he pleases. I've tried refusing, but he doesn’t listen and threatens to beat me so badly that no one would recognise me.

"He’s twice my size and I know the damage his fists have caused me in the past, so I feel like I’ve no other choice but to do whatever he asks. I’m terrified of him but I don’t know what to do or where to turn."

Children who are experiencing problems caused by addiction, mental health issues or violence in their home have also found heavy restrictions difficult.

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The charity Barnardos wants the government to stick to its commitment to keep schools open during Level 5 restrictions.

The organisation's Chief Executive Suzanne Connolly said schools are a particularly important safety net for children at risk of abuse and neglect because they provide vital structure and routine.

She said many of the families Barnardos helps do not have any other support network and suffer from isolation. 

Safe Ireland is the umbrella group for domestic violence support groups and it said it is very important that the government made the issue a priority from the start of Level 5 restrictions. 

Co-Chief Executive Officer Mary McDermott described An Garda Síochána's Operation Faoiseamh and the Still Here campaign, which targeted domestic violence, as "brilliant".

She said money assigned to frontline services is essential so they can continue the work they are doing and remain stable and secure.

In response to a query from RTÉ News the Department of Justice said that Tusla is providing €25.3, in funding for domestic abuse services in 2020 and has also, to date, approved €1.2m to Tusla-funded Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence Services specifically for Covid-19 measures until the end of 2020.

The Department said its funding role relates to the support of victims within the criminal justice system and other criminal justice aspects of the response to domestic abuse and violence, rather than funding of refuges and other front-line services. 

"In 2020, we committed almost €1.9m to support services for victims of crime, including sexual and gender based violence.  These services provide important information and support to victims of crime, including emotional support, court accompaniment, and accompaniment to Garda interviews and to sexual assault treatment units, counselling and referral to other services," the Department said in a statement. .

More than €2m has been allocated in Budget 2021 to allow the Department to continue funding these services.

The Department said it provided an additional €327,590 in special allocations to organisations in the DSGBV sector in 2020 because of the pandemic. 

This included funding for Safe Ireland for personnel capacity and communicating with their service users.

"Under Budget 2021, €400,000 will be made available to allow this support to organisations to continue in the Covid-19 context," the Departent said.

Also under Budget 2021, a further €2.3m will be used to support the implementation of the O'Malley review which will support vulnerable victims, including victims of domestic, sexual and gender based violence throughout the Criminal Justice Process.