December 3, 2007

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Solidarity against domestic violence
by Mary Frances Ryan

CLUTCHING BUNDLES of pretty white balloons, a group of women and teenagers march along Enniscorthy’s steep streets.

From the Old Bridge to the Market Square, they carry on handwritten cardboard placards a potent message.

Since 1996, 138 women in Ireland have been murdered by their husbands and partners. In 2006, 1221 Safety Orders were granted.

The statistics are even more frightening when brought down to a local context. Between January and June 2007, a mere six months, 98 women and 146 children stayed at the Wexford Women’s Refuge.

Marching to mark the 16 Days of Action on Violence Against Women, a UN run international campaign, Wexford women joined with students from Enniscorthy’s Coláiste Bríde and C.B.S. secondary schools last Monday.

“We are here in remembrance of all of the women murdered since 1995,” Thelma Blehein, Chairperson of the Local Area Network of Violence against Women told those gathered.

The multi-agency network identifies the needs of women who experience physical, sexual and psychological violence in the county.

“Within the last week two extra lives have been lost. We are here in solidarity with all of those women,” said Ms. Blehein.

Keeping in mind that one in five Irish women is affected by domestic violence, Catherine Power of Accord, Wexford, read an extract from ‘Silent No More’, a book written by survivors.

She spoke of a woman who ended up slashing her wrists, declaring to her husband: “If you want to kill me, I will do it myself. I don’t want you to do it for me.”

That woman was only beaten worse, with her daughter dragged out of bed to witness her ordeal. No-one encouraged her to leave. She got no support from her family.

It was not until she managed to cross the threshold of the Women’s Refuge that she felt the courage to turn her life around.

Jessica Du Bois of the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Services reflected similar experiences in a poem entitled ‘Stop the Violence’.

Before releasing their balloons, those gathered held a minute’s silence for all women subject to or recovering from situations of domestic violence. The release of the balloons was but a small gesture of what needs to be done.

Speaking to The Echo afterwards, Thelma Blehein pointed out the stark facts for a woman trying to escape such abuse in Wexford.

There is no Government funding for the Local Area Network on violence against women.

The Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Service is constantly understaffed and for the first time has a waiting list.

The Women’s Refuge regularly relies on Bed and Breakfast accommodation because it doesn’t have enough space. Women are only supposed to stay eight weeks in the Refuge. With little support after that, they often return to the abusive situation.

The Local Area Network submitted an application to the Department of Justice prior to the election for a dedicated development worker to address these issues but has heard nothing back.

“There is no dedicated programme for children who are victims of domestic violence, who have to move out of home. All they have are the general psychological services in the HSE which are completely overrun,” said Ms. Blehein.

“A man can be removed from the home by Gardaí but often the woman has to follow through with a report and that may not be done due to a lack of support. We are trying to develop a system, including a dedicated two-year programme for children and families affected by domestic violence. There is a period of remorse, of loss, the fear of being on your own and that he could find you, and of course huge economic factors. Violence can include not being allowed access to financial information.”

For children, the longterm effects of domestic violence are of major concern.

“It has a direct impact on children, associated with early school leaving, depression and mental illnesses in young people, youth homelessness, and they are more likely to be violent partners themselves.”

A candlelit vigil with song will be held to mark the conclusion of the 16 days on 10th December next at Wexford town’s quay front.

Symbolically, it is the same day as International Human Rights Day.

Further information:

The Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Services can be contacted on free phone 1800 330033 The Wexford Women’s Refuge 053 91 21876 or free phone 1800 220444 (now free for mobile phones).

‘Enough is Enough’, a safety and empowerment guide for women experiencing violence has been published by the Wexford Local Network on violence against women.