This morning we had a zoom meet with two staff members of Clare Haven- Trish who works in the refuge and has outreach duties, and Deirdre who runs the children and young people’s services. BTW for anyone reading there are no names or identities mentioned in this post, nor were there in the zoom meeting. We spoke only on a generalistic level.
One thing I wanted to talk to them about was what Siobhán had said to us- that one of the biggest victimisation of women is society’s attitude. This came up as a recurring theme in the conversation. Domestic abuse is a societal crime, and needs a societal response.
Trish spoke first, explaining her job- she is the first staff member the women and their kids will meet when they first arrive at the refuge. She said for example if a woman arrives at the refuge and is in her socks, not having had time/opportunity to even get a pair of shoes, they will fetch her slippers and get her sorted.
She works in what she calls house keeping- mostly working in the evenings, sharing the women’s home as she describes it. She does outreach work on a Monday from the office. She will admit the women to the refuge and get them settled into a room. She will work with the families who are already in situ in the refuge around things like navigating the communal kitchen. Both Trish and Deirdre described how the women arrive at the refuge- by taxi/ in a Garda squad car/ sometimes they will walk there. They described how there will be a state of chaos when a woman arrives, highly traumatised and stressed, with distressed kids, not knowing what they are facing into, having left everything behind them.
Trish described admitting in a woman to the refuge for her first time, the woman being in a state of shock and trauma, having to go through the paperwork and the list of rules and regulations. They are hugely vulnerable at this time. She is very mindful of how they are feeling and tries to be as inviting as possible, reminding them that they are safe now and are in a safe place. She said that yes the refuge is emergency accommodation and not as nice as they would like it to be but but they try to be as kind and reassuring as they can.
I asked Deirdre, children’s coordinator, about her job. She looks after the kids while their mothers are at appointments, whether it be for housing, court, etc. She described the complex feelings kids can present with when they arrive- they might have left a beloved pet behind, or a favourite cuddly toy, which is another trauma on top of the trauma of leaving home. They might love the abuser, especially if its their Dad, and not want to leave them. I asked her about how their behaviour might be affected by the trauma of domestic abuse- she mentioned that they can become hugely introverted, hiding from any loud noises, Or also can be violent and aggressive, flicking between one mood to another. they will have witnessed such behaviour already of course. Also when they are in the refuge they are not in their normal environment, at home.
One striking comment made by both Trish and Deirdre was about the most dangerous time for a woman. Apart from pregnancy and when there is a very new baby, they explained that the other most dangerous time (for the victim) is when they have just left- the post separation phase. When they are no longer under the control of their partner. More often than not, having left the home, or having succeeded in having the abuser leave the home, access visits have to be agreed to, and these visits have to be supervised. So you might have a situation where a woman has obtained a barring order and the abusive partner is not allowed to come near their home, but she has to allow access visits to the kids or else she will be going against TUSLA/Court orders. And the visits have to be supervised and more often than not the courts rule that the mother has to be the one who supervises the visits.
So she is back in a room with the person who abused her. They might be furious that she’s had the audacity to leave. Often theres a facade of respectability around the family, where the abuse keeps up the appearance that he’s a perfect parent, bringing his child to school, sports games, the doctor. The mum could he being basically kept a home not allowed to carry out these jobs. Then after she has left, or gotten them to leave, the Abuser will often try to postpone the court case if possible, which they can make happen if they turn up without a representative. The average domestic abuse victim will have suffered 37 incidents of abuse before she tries to leave. And she will try and leave an average of 11 times. Deirdre and Trish spoke of a solicitor they knew joking that a particular woman would be back in seeing him again by Valentines day, looking for help again. So they were highlighting that the very person who’s job it is to facilitate these victims in their efforts to get legal security is joking about the complexities of trying to leave an abuser.
Leading on to dealing with official bodies. I asked about how they found the attitude of all the organisations the victims need to liaise with, like solicitors, the co council for housing, TUSLA, social workers, legal aid, A&E, The Dep of Employment affairs and Social protection. They spoke about how soul destroying it is to be advocating for a woman who gets knocked back. Different departments will interpret a situation differently – for example the housing department might decree that the woman might not need housing as she has a barring order- therefore technically she can go home. The woman will share what she is able to share because she might not want to disclose everything about her situation. Often it is much easier to just go back to the person who is abusing her as there is so much red tape in the way of her getting away from him.
I asked about the spectrum of women that that work with- Siobhan the director had already told me that they work with a spectrum of women across different societal and cultural backgrounds but more often than not its white, middle class, married, 2.5 kids.
A memorable quote from Trish: “domestic abuse isn’t fussy“
I asked about how the pandemic has affected their work. They told us that that its harder for the victims more than ever- their social circles are gone, their support circle is not accessible like before as we cannot travel, or go to each others houses, their abuser can use this against them and control them further, and a lot of people cant go to work anymore which might have been their only time away from their abuser.
They reported that the number of new clients have increased, and that they have seen a disturbing rise of extreme violence, such as the use of knives, and strangulation.
I asked about verbal abuse. They said that they hear all the time “he doesn’t hit me, but“- they think they shouldn’t be calling, that they are not domestic abuse victims as they haven’t been hit.
They explained that verbal abuse is just as dangerous as violence. The abuse will peck, peck peck away at the woman, finding fault with everything and eroding her self confidence until she forgets who she was. Not only the woman starts to believe it but her kids will believe it too. They have seen situations where the children don’t think their mu n can look after them as they’ve heard a constant refrain of how useless she is. If you get told enough times that you are useless you will start to believe it. The women will say ” I used to be strong and confident but now I’m afraid all the time”
An abuser might not hit the victim, but he will kick walls, slam doors, smash glasses, punch walls, shout and threaten.
The amount of time a woman will spend in the refuge will vary from a week or two to a a few months.
Ok I wanted to get these notes written out and then have a read back over them tomorrow and talk to Paul. One last significant thing I was able to write down from our meeting with Trish and Deirdre was that they both said they would not have known so much about the reality of who domestic abuse works and what it does to a victim and how a victim has to navigate getting help before they came to work at the refuge. Which is why it is so valuable for us to have talked to them.