Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
When you think of domestic abuse services, what springs to mind first? Many people think of refuges, which offer a safe haven to women escaping a physically abusive relationship. While refuges are necessary and can unquestionably save lives, the needs of women who contact domestic abuse services are complex and nuanced, and so the supports available must be comprehensive and diverse.
Amy Donohoe, outreach coordinator at Modh Eile House, talks about the outreach service provided by COPE Galway to the women of Galway city and county.
Outreach accounts for about 85-87% of the women who access our domestic abuse service.
Only 13-15% of our clients use the refuge, and this statistic is reflected in domestic abuse services in Ireland and Europe. The majority of women that we support are living in the community.
They could still be in the abusive relationship, but are (physically) safe in their home. Many women will be considering leaving, or have left their relationship.
Our outreach workers meet with women on a one-to-one basis throughout Galway City and County. Depending on the area, we provide weekly, fortnightly or on-demand clinics. These are appointment-led, we don’t do drop-ins, and we don’t do house calls for obvious safety reasons.
Domestic abuse doesn’t happen overnight. It is a slow burner. It usually develops over a long period of time and intensifies when a commitment is made, whether that is moving in together, having a child or marriage.
There is a misconception that once a woman is out of the relationship that the abuse stops. The dynamic and the intensity of the abuse changes, it is not in her home anymore and it is not a constant, but the fear is still very real and very much alive because abusers find it difficult to accept the relationship is over, even when someone has left.
Domestic abuse thrives in silence and it is often very difficult for someone disclosing an abusive relationship, past or present. Once you start talking about it, it can feel like opening Pandora’s box. But Pandora’s box needs to be opened to stop the abuse from continuing.
Every woman has her own story and her own journey. The outreach team’s aim is to sit with her while she tells us as much or as little as she wants. It is a process and a journey that we are going on with her and it doesn’t all happen in one session. Outreach generally involves meeting with each woman over a period of time, looking at her needs and then offering supports based on what she has told us. Each woman knows her relationship and situation best, and we have information that can be the key and give her the power to make the changes she wants to make.
We are support workers and not counsellors, and we focus on practical things such as parental access, financial options and housing, as well as Court orders, if they are applicable for safety reasons.
We also do vital work with community partners, both statutory and voluntary, asking them to come on board when we are doing any awareness-raising events. Our partners are very supportive, particularly the Family Resource Centres in the city and county that allow us space to meet with women and are always great champions of our work.
We do a lot of work with communities because our ultimate aim is zero tolerance of domestic abuse. We can do all the firefighting with women that we want, but unless we as a society actually challenge the misconceptions and stigma attached to domestic abuse, we are always going to be needed to do this work.
If you are concerned about your own situation or that of someone you love, please phone us confidentially on 091 394 880 (24h)