‘During the pandemic things have really got much worse for women’ – Tearmann DVS
Calls for Counties Cavan and Monaghan to have a designated refuge for victims of domestic violence were repeated at the latest meeting of the Joint Policing Committee (JPC).
“The only accommodation is in Louth or Meath, or for part of northwest Cavan, in Sligo. So we have two large rural counties without a refuge,” observed Deputy Brendan Smith at Friday’s online discussion. The Fianna Fáil TD informed the committee of his efforts in advocating for a locally based refuge with the Minister for Children, a move that was endorsed by many of the contributors.
Addressing the meeting, Siobhán McKenna of Tearmann Domestic Violence Services, explained that Tusla is currently undertaking a national audit on emergency refuge accommodation.
“So nothing will progress until that audit is complete,” she asserted. “The national development plan for domestic violence services is happening at the same time, and the audit will feed into that.”
Siobhán explained that learnings from Covid could inform the plan, and future crisis accommodation.
“We may be looking at some different type of model, we don’t know yet exactly what that model would look like, but it would certainly be independent units for families where they can continue to live as family units,” she said.
When Cllr TP O’Reilly observed that available refuge accommodation is essential to enable a victim to leave “at the drop of a hat” and not “feel intimidated to stay”, Siobhan agreed.
“Crisis accommodation for many people needs to be available when that crisis is happening. We would see that crisis accommodation going forward would hopefully be short term,” she said, indicating the need for protocols to be put in place with the local authorities regarding access to housing, and buy in from other Departments to ensure suitable supports.
Siobhán informed the meeting that nationally, in the three months from September to December 2020, a total of 2,018 women and 550 children had sought some form of domestic violence service; and of those, 611 women and 122 children were first-time service users.
“We know during the pandemic things have really got much worse for women and the opportunities to resolve those are less,” said Siobhán.
Given the pandemic related increase in cases, Sinn Fein TD Pauline Tully asked Siobhán if Tearmann had adequate resources to deal with this surge.
“Certainly in terms of services, and resources for Cavan and Monaghan are very very small - one of the least in the country,” explained Siobhán. However, she added that Tearmann is currently undergoing a merger with the national organisation, Safe Ireland and will come under its management. Stemming from this she development she said: “We have high hopes for the area in terms of new developments and further resources going forward.”
Also, responding to a question from Deputy Tully, Siobhan confirmed that Tearmann vacancies advertised, would be community based across both Cavan and Monaghan.
The meeting had earlier heard contributions from Chief Superintendent Aidan Glacken in which he advised caution as he reported “a slight decrease over the last 12 months” in domestic violence related matters.
“However in certain sub categories we’ve seen an increase in breaches of court orders, in assaults related to domestic incidents and also there are three cases of coercive control, which is new legislation, under investigation,” he said.
The chief super noted there were 62 reported assaults so far this year in County Cavan. “Of that, 20 related to domestic violence incidents,” he confirmed.
The prelude to the calls for a locally based refuge were informative presentations on Tearmannn Domestic Violence Services, and separately, An Garda Síochána’s Divisional Protective Services Unit (DPSU).
Detective Sergeant Rose McGirl outlined that the DPSU had been formally established in July 2020, with Inspector Niall McKiernan at the helm to investigate all sexual crime and serious domestic incidents. It has centres in both Virginia and Clones, each staffed with one detective sergeant and five detective gardaí.
The Clones based detective sergeant repeatedly stressed their victim centred ethos.
“We are trying to avoid any re-traumatisation of the victim, to build trust and ultimately remove any barriers that a victim may have in coming forward to disclose their situation, or enter the criminal justice system,” explained Det Sgt McGirl.
A key policy for the DPSU is to have one point of contact per victim so there is no need to talk to different garda at different times or make contact to different stations.
They also provide “regular milestone updates” as appropriate to each victim to ensure they are kept up to date, know what they can expect, to provide an opportunity to voice any concerns they may have, and to try to address those concerns.
Meanwhile, in Siobhán McKenna’s presentation on Tearmann Domestic Violence Services she said that almost one in three Irish women “have experienced some form of psychological violence by their partner”.
“Fifteen per cent of Irish women (over the age of 15) have experienced physical or sexual violence by their partner. Six per cent have experienced sexual violence.”
Siobhán explained that domestic violence could be summed up in the two words “intentional” and “persistent”.
“The perpetrator knows exactly what they are doing, and it persists over time.”
She outlined a number of common tactics used by abusers, including isolating the victim, so they become focussed on the abuser to try to avoid conflict. The abusers deny responsibility for their actions, blame the victims, and when any abuse happens, try to minimise it.
“The women in the relationship then, they actually begin to feel responsible,” said Siobhán.
“We would always say, the only thing that any woman has to have to be a victim of domestic violence is a caring, responsible nature. The perpetrator then takes advantage of that.”
She observed that physical injuries may not be treated because women perceive shame in seeking help, or “whenever they arrive at the hospital the perpetrator is at their shoulder, so they can’t disclose or talk about what’s happened”.
Siobhan further explained that the service they provide is not prescriptive - they support the victim and explain the range of options available to empower them to decide their next step.