Domestic violence: ‘You don’t know what you are facing when that call comes in’

Families in peril need safe, independent living units, Monaghan-based service Tearmann says

Siobhán McKenna manages the Tearmann domestic violence support organisation which covers counties Monaghan and Cavan. Photograph: Philip Fitzpatrick

Siobhán McKenna manages the Tearmann domestic violence support organisation which covers counties Monaghan and Cavan. Photograph: Philip Fitzpatrick

Your Web Browser may be out of date. If you are using Internet Explorer 9, 10 or 11 our Audio player will not work properly.
For a better experience use Google Chrome, Firefox or Microsoft Edge.

 

Siobhán McKenna said that after more than 20 years working with the Tearmann domestic abuse service she still braces herself when the phone rings.

“You don’t know what you are facing any day when that call comes in,” said the service manager.

Last year Tearmann received more than 2,000 calls, with 284 women seeking help. The service has just three staff, even though it covers two counties, Cavan and Monaghan, while there is no emergency accommodation in either county for those fleeing violence in the home.

The type of situation McKenna and her two colleagues have encountered ranges from women who have suffered broken limbs and severe beatings to those who are regularly humiliated at home or controlled to such a degree that all their movements are monitored .

“We have come across cases where women are living in fear constantly, situations where there is literally a gun under the bed,” she said. “Because this is a farming community and a Border community there are a lot of reasons why people might have firearms and they can be used as a threat.”

While the physical violence is a sickening reminder of why women, and sometimes men, need a safe place to go, McKenna said some women have told her that bruises and even broken arms would heal but psychological and emotional abuse could make them fearful every minute of the day.

Women in Cavan and Monaghan may be offered a place in a refuge in Navan, Dundalk or Drogheda. But throughout the pandemic, demand increased while social distancing limited the numbers the refuges could cater for. “Another problem was that so many B&Bs were closed,” McKenna said.

She believes families in peril should have self-contained, independent living units within a safe complex. “There should be more focus on independent living as well as a range of supports,” she said. “When refuges were first set up there were institutions in society but that has changed.”

Lack of options

Local Fianna Fáil TD Niamh Smyth believes the murder of Clodagh Hawe and her three sons by her husband Alan Hawe in Ballyjamesduff in 2019 underlines the lack of options available for families in danger in the Cavan-Monaghan region.

“A family can seem normal on the outside and perpetrators can play an active part in the community,” she said. “Clodagh herself was a custodian of children as a primary school teacher but in the background she was not safe in her own home.”

According to official Garda statistics the number of reports of domestic abuse by women in Cavan-Monaghan in 2019 was 224, while there were 55 reports from men.

Many working in the area of domestic abuse believe that the number of cases rose significantly during lockdown. However, some victims had little opportunity to seek help as both perpetrator and injured partner were confined to home. “There was no relief during lockdown, no opportunity to get out to work or bring the kids to school,” Ms Smyth said.

Siobhán McKenna said there was a perception that those most at risk of domestic violence were in low-income families or had limited education or work opportunities. But she said people from all socioeconomic groups suffer.

“There are women with nowhere to go even though the family may own two or three houses – but he controls everything. Some women are in highly-paid jobs but with no access to their own salaries,” she added.

“She might have a Merc sitting outside the door but always with only enough petrol for bringing the kids to school,” said the Tearmann manager. She also believes that modern technology can imprison some vulnerable women as not only telephone calls but visitors to the house can be closely monitored by controlling partners.

“It’s all about control. There might be a camera outside the house but it might not be there to catch burglars but to see what she is doing or who is coming to see her. Cars can also be monitored now. Technology can imprison people.”

Monaghan-based GP Illona Duffy said domestic violence was still below the radar and “something that is not talked about, something hidden that you come across by chance”.

New communities

She worries greatly about new communities, women from places such as Eastern Europe who do not speak English and are always accompanied to medical appointments by men “even when it’s for intimate gynaecological examinations”.

The family doctor said she has patients who have lived in Ireland for 10 years and still have no English, making them very vulnerable at work and at home.

“The men all speak English,” she said. Her practice now has a staff member who speaks Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish and some Russian, which makes communicating with the women a little easier.

Dr Duffy agreed there should be emergency accommodation for families who need to flee “but we need to get in earlier before it comes to that”.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.