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Women seeking a safe haven

Women seeking a safe haven

CLARE Haven Services is projecting that, by year-end, 70 to 80 women will have availed of its refuge, based on current trends.

Johnny O’Rourke, services manager of the Ennis-based organisation, made the prediction, following the release of a report this week, which revealed there were 19,385 disclosures of abuse against women and children made to Women’s Aid in 2017.

“Clare Haven has been pretty much at capacity for the first quarter of this year,” he explained.

In the first 10 weeks of the year, the women’s refuge has had 19 admissions.
“It is quite a lot when you are working through various issues; if you put that out towards the end of the year, we are looking at 70 or 80 women [some also with young children] in the refuge in 12 months and that is local women, so the demand is there and we need to get better at responding to it,” he added.

While he cannot say exactly what has contributed to these large numbers, Mr O’Rourke said, “Because we work so well with Clare County Council, Tusla and the guards, we are working with more women.”

He said it is not unusual that the service is at capacity.

“We are busier than we ever have been to support women through the court process and with housing and other services, like mental health and so on. It is not necessarily unusual that we are at capacity, as we have been reasonably consistently at capacity for the last six months or more. That is due, in part, to the homeless issue. That’s naturally a problem. We do work very closely with Clare County Council to try to support women to find alternative accommodation as soon as possible.”

According to the Women’s Aid report, responses from gardaí to women experiencing domestic violence ranged from very negative to very positive, with 35% noting that gardaí were ‘unhelpful’.

Mr O’Rourke said his organisation in Clare has a “fantastic working relationship with the gardaí”. He stated, “We have had ongoing conversations on how we support the gardaí when they come to an incident and how do we bridge the divide as to the critical information to have when they are responding to an incident. Those conversations are happening on our side and their side and we find it very good and constructive.”

Mr O’Rourke added that Clare Haven has established an ongoing agreement with gardaí to ensure that, when they are called to an incident of domestic violence, the woman is supported and linked into Clare Haven’s services.

Women’s Aid is calling for the establishment of a Joint Oireachtas Committee to examine the barriers faced by victims of domestic violence and to identify gaps in systems and resources that support and assist a safe and quick transition from abuse to freedom. Such a move is welcomed by Clare Haven, according to Mr O’Rourke.

“We would strongly support more comprehensive dialogue at Government level. For us to work with women around their actual experiences with domestic violence, we first have to ensure that their childcare is in place, that their housing is in place, that their payments are in place. So, when a woman has the practical elements of security in place for both herself and her children, we can begin to do the real therapeutic work, looking at how she ended up in that relationship and, more importantly, how we ensure she doesn’t return to that relationship or end up in another abusive relationship,” he said.

Women’s Aid is also calling for a better system of risk assessment and management by the Family Law Court and gardaí and for a ‘no contact until contact is safe’ rule for access arrangements in cases of domestic violence.

Mr O’Rourke outlined that Clare Haven has established a free legal advice service over the past few months. “We have a very experienced and specialised barrister who provides information to women across the spectrum of family law, so not just domestic violence but those issues that effect them in terms of separation and access. That clinic is busy most weeks and it is really supporting women to get into courts at the earliest possible stage and looking for the right type of order or judicial recourse.”

He said anyone wishing to access that service can do so by contacting Clare Haven. “They don’t have to be an open case on domestic violence, if they have issues related to family law or domestic violence we can go through those details with them.”

According to Women’s Aid, separation doesn’t always mean safety.

“Women experiencing domestic violence often describe the post separation process as ‘a game of snakes and ladders’ with the inconsistent responses from an under-resourced and over-stretched legal system leaving women and children at risk from further harm,” they state.

Clare Haven offers a 24 hour phone service to women and for those who do call, Mr O’Rourke said, “We can talk them through various options if they are not ready to leave the home. We will be able to work through the options or put a safety plan in place or meet in one of our outreach clinics”.

He added that Clare Haven also run programmes such as insights for women, which are led by experienced psychotherapists.

Anyone affected by the issues in this article can contact Clare Haven on 065 6842646,
24 hours a day.

By Carol Byrne

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