Contributor to significant understanding of impact of domestic violence

Dr Mary Allen: Born May 17th, 1953; died June 25th, 2013

 Mary Allen: remembered as a committed feminist who deeply believed in gender equality and social justice

Mary Allen: remembered as a committed feminist who deeply believed in gender equality and social justice


Dr Mary Allen, who has died aged 60, was a lecturer at the UCD school of applied social science and former chair of the Women’s Aid board of directors.

She made a significant contribution to the better understanding of domestic violence and its impact on women and children, to the improvement of responses to, and services for, those affected and to the strategic direction of Women’s Aid itself.

Her association with the organisation began when, on secondment from St James’s Hospital, she managed the Women’s Aid training unit from 2000 to 2002. She oversaw the development of specialised training for health professionals which recognised their key role as points of contact for abused women.

Under her guidance, Women’s Aid developed and delivered training for A&E, maternity, student doctors, public health nurses and mental health professionals. An international conference also examined the health consequences of domestic violence.

Women’s Aid director Margaret Martin said: “Mary’s work with the health sector highlighted the real difference that individuals within the system can make to women experiencing domestic violence.”

From Clonakilty, Co Cork, Mary C. Allen graduated in social sciences from University College Cork. She initially worked with community development and social empowerment projects in Zambia, Kenya and Brazil.

Returning to Dublin, she studied for a postgraduate qualification in social work in University College Dublin and then worked as a senior medical social worker and deputy head of department at St James’s Hospital. This practice led to her research interests in both suicidal behaviour and intimate partner violence.

She joined the board of Women’s Aid in 2007. She gave her time and expertise freely during a very challenging time for the organisation; her calm and reassuring presence helped it cope with the impact of the recession, and consequent funding cuts.

At UCD she shared her expertise on ethical practice and ethical research with her students. She set high standards for them and they met that challenge and respected her for the way she mentored them, providing a role model they could admire and aspire to emulate.

A major achievement of the board under Dr Allen’s direction was to secure a permanent home for Women’s Aid at Wilton Place, Dublin. Her research into domestic violence was published in a range of books and peer-reviewed journals.

Her most recent study Journeys to Safety (2011) sought to end the unhelpful and uncritical interventions that often further stigmatise and even endanger abused women.

Through interviews with 10 women abused by intimate partners, she provided insights into how abusive relationships started, the duration of the abuse and the type of abuse experienced, including emotional abuse which Dr Allen described as a “deeper and more central form of abuse”.

Most importantly, her findings challenged the myth of women as passive victims by highlighting women’s everyday resistance to the violence and control perpetrated on them and their children.

Colleagues remember a deeply intelligent woman, with an independent mind and a gentle manner.

She is also remembered as a committed feminist who deeply believed in gender equality and social justice. A woman of many parts and many talents, she was known and loved for her wicked sense of humour.

A member of the board of the Women’s Therapy Centre, she was UCD’s nominee on the board of the National Social Work Qualifications Board. She was a former member of the board of Threshold, Housing Association for Integrated Living and the National Women’s Council.

She is survived by family members and a close circle of friends.