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Why some women have "little option" but to stay in a violent home

A new census showed 467 women and 229 children received support from a domestic violence service on one day in Ireland last year.
Jun 10th 2014, 5:26 PM 8,552 73

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AFFECTS many families in Ireland. But some women and their children are finding themselves trapped in a violent home, or homeless, because of a lack of services and supports in Ireland.

A one-day census by Safe Ireland showed that 467 women and 229 children received accommodation and support from a domestic violence over a 24-hour period last year.

View from the refuge

At the launch of the census today were two women who have seen first-hand the impact of domestic violence on Irish families: Anna Marie Foley of Adapt Kerry, and Jacinta Carey of Teach Tearmainn in Kildare.

They are both managers of domestic violence refuges, but can’t help all the women and children who contact them. Every call might go answered, but not every person who picks up the phone will find themselves with a place in a refuge.

That’s not because Foley or Carey aren’t willing to help – far from it. As they explained to TheJournal.ie, there are many things that need to change, and action desperately needed to be taken by the Irish government.

Foley said that the census was taken on a “quiet day”, and that there is a huge need for the government to address what’s going on. “I don’t think people appreciate the levels [of people needing help] during the year,” she said.

Homeless

“Women who are experiencing domestic violence are finding themselves homeless and they’re homeless because of a crime. And because of that they’re a very unique group in the homeless sector, and we need the Government to actually address this.” – Anna Marie Foley.

Carey said that the lack of family spaces is forcing women “back into a situation where both themselves and their children are experiencing ongoing crimes”.

Her own service, Teach Termainn, is only working at 50% capacity due to lack of funding. They have two apartments; last week, one was free, and they received five calls from women needing help.

“You’re then forced to look at where is the vulnerability here,” said Carey. “As services we have to make calls every day knowing in our heart of hearts that there is a possibility that those other four women go back into that situation”.

“It’s very traumatic for women to approach a service looking for help, and then find out there isn’t help available,” said Foley.

Foley pointed out that women and families are staying longer in refuges because “it is becoming increasingly more difficult to move them on to appropriate accommodation after this”.

She said that local authorities in particular need clarity from the Department of the Environment around recognising this uniqueness of homeless women experiencing domestic violence.

The women want the Department and the Government to address this issue in new housing legislation, to see these women as experiencing a crime, and to have those appropriate supports in place for people affected by domestic violence.

‘Why did you stay?’

According to Carey, the most commonly-asked question of a woman who has experienced domestic violence is “why does she stay?”.

We can tell you she had very little option but to stay because of the systems we have embraced that do not address her specific needs given her specific issue. The issue is domestic violence – the homelessness comes as a result of that.

Both women acknowledged that the recent discussion around the Tuam babies tragedy has put the issue of the treatment of women and children in Ireland on the national agenda.

“We as a society have to recognise [domestic abuse] is not historical – it is happening today,” said Carey.

She said that the Irish government hasn’t signed the Istanbul Convention, which would be a further step towards dealing with the issue.

Without it signed, “how can we say our treatment of women and children was in the past?”, she questions.

“The inequality that exists around how women and children are treated is happening today,” asserted Carey.

The women believe that the more we as a society open ourselves up to hearing about the reality of domestic violence, the government “will have little choice” but to act.

A gathering in Dublin organised by Safe Ireland today was an opportunity for people to show solidarity over the issue.

“We must address this as a society for our daughters,” said Carey. Foley, standing beside her, nodded in agreement: “We have to ask ‘what do we want for women in society?’”

The government response

Among the participants at the census launch and photoshoot today were Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, Senator Ivana Bacik and Senator Averil Power.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, McDonald said:

Every year we’re reminded that we don’t have sufficient supports, we don’t have sufficient accommodation, and we haven’t afforded sufficient political priority to the safety of women in particular and their children who experience violence in their homes. It’s a wake-up call.

Referring to the Tuam babies situation, she said it would be “entirely unacceptable to pretend that we can draw a line now, that all of this is historic, the issues are with us now and the challenge is to deal with this now”.

McDonald said she hopes new Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald will take on board the issue and bring in legislative change.

“This shouldn’t be a party political issue – I think we can all agree that women and children need to be safe. Where they are not safe, the support to get them to safety and to sustain them should be provided. It’s as basic as that,” said McDonald.

She believes there is a “fundamental dilemma in our political and social culture” when it comes to domestic violence. But she does believe change is possible.

It is a deep cultural issue – it’s not beyond resolution.

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Aoife Barry

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