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'I'll never forget the looks he gave me. I knew he wanted me dead'

A woman living in a women’s refuge in Tallaght tells her story and appeals to the government to prevent its closure.

I’LL NEVER FORGET the looks. When I think of them I get goosebumps and shivers down my back. I knew he wanted me dead. I didn’t know what was worse, his death stares radiating right into me or the thick tense atmosphere in the house that worsened every time he entered a room.

I lived with my in-laws and gave all my wages to my husband. I had no say in how the house was ran, but I sure as hell had to clean for them. I couldn’t say no – not after broken ribs, or bleeding kidneys or being dragged around the kitchen floor by my ankles.

Not after being locked in my bedroom or being taken out of my job, and most definitely not after having my husband wipe his bottom on me instead of using toilet roll.

Picking up on the atmosphere

I wasn’t allowed hug my girls and their dirty nappies were shoved in my face. If I asked for money for nappies there was trouble. My two girls were always quick to pick up on the atmosphere. They knew when to walk on eggshells and when they could laugh.

For the love of my girls I had to get out. I knew it would destroy them too – if it wasn’t already beginning to do so.

I’m a mother and I’m supposed to be able to look after my girls. I just wanted them to have a safe home. The word home creates the image of warmth, comfort, safety, a haven.

When I left my fifteen year abusive marriage, my girls and I became homeless. I would watch people in the queue at the shops, hearing the mothers say to their girls ‘we’re going home now’.

I would think how wonderful that must feel. Our most basic need – a place to call home had become an untouchable luxury.

I would want to scream ‘can anybody help me look after my babies, can somebody help me get up and make me strong again because the monster I lived with had destroyed me. I’m so broken, I can’t fix myself on my own’.

I am extremely lucky

Somebody out there did hear my cries and eventually I was extremely lucky to be welcomed here at the women’s refuge, Cuan Alainn.

It means safe harbor and that’s exactly what it is. I wouldn’t have made it this far if it wasn’t for Cuan Alainn. The staff, their expertise, the way they helped me develop coping skills, build my confidence, has been so empowering. I’ve also learnt here that I cannot look after my girls if I don’t look after myself too.

When I first came to the refuge there wasn’t an hour that went by when I didn’t break down and cry or jump with fright at the sound of a phone ringing or a door closing. I felt exhausted from just trying to stay afloat to try save myself from drowning. When women come here, we’re broken, we need places like this so we can start to rebuild ourselves.

Nothing came close to the feeling of knowing the two things I treasured and loved most in my life, my daughters, were safe in a new home with me their mother. Those words still bring tears to my eyes. The idea of having a safe home – it sounds so beautiful. The TV playing softly in the background, the sound of my girls gently breathing every now and then a little laughter.

Closure is a disaster – where will women go?

But now it’s being taken away from us again. The idea that CuanAlainn will close is beyond belief again. Where do women like me and my girls go? What about other women who, like me, need a lifeline to get away from danger?

I am writing this to show James Reilly that women like me need Cuan Alainn. Without it our lives are at risk, our children are at risk and it’s either go back or be on the streets.

What do I tell my girls when they look up at me and say, ‘Mammy, where are we going to live?’ Right now, I just gently say, ‘I’m so sorry chicken, but Mammy doesn’t know’. ‘Okay Ma,’ they sigh, and I recognise the same anxious looks on their faces they had before we came here.

This contributor wishes to remain anonymous. She lives in Cuan Alainn, a women’s refuge in Tallaght that provides second stage temporary housing for survivors of domestic violence. Respond housing association, who funded the service since 2012, can no longer afford to support it. It will be forced to close on the 18 December unless the government agrees to cover the €350,000 cost per year it needs in order to stay open.

See here for more information and to support the campaign to keep the refuge open.

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