WOMEN and their children affected by domestic violence will be able to access a safe house in West Cork.
The West Cork Women Against Violence Project (WCWAV) has received funding from the Community Foundation for Ireland to purchase such a property in West Cork.
The organisation, based in Bantry, provides support and information to women who are victims of domestic violence.
Accessibility to Cuanlee Refuge in Cork city is difficult for women and their children living in West Cork. It is a long distance to travel, with poor public transport links.
And as Marie Mulholland, co-ordinator at WCWAV, explains, it is not ideal to “pull women and children out of their area completely”.
She said: “You want women to be housed somewhere safe but it’s not ideal to catapult them into the city when they are used to living in a rural area.”
Marie said the idea of the safe house is about trying to find a way to give women and children a safe, nurturing environment with which to stay temporarily.
A safe house differs from a refuge where multiple women and their children share communal cooking and bathroom facilities. In a safe house, the woman and her children use the house as they would a family home.
“It’s trying to model a family home as much as possible. They can cook their meals and eat as a family. Children have their own bedrooms where they can play and do their homework. The idea is to create a nurturing, homely space while still being safe and incredibly secure,” said Marie.
Once WCWAV have found and purchased a house, they will invest in state-of-the-art security and safety measures such as CCTV, panic buttons and reinforced doors, a nightly curfew, check-in by phone from WCWAV and a direct line alert to the garda station.
Marie said: “Security and safety are vital. Key to this is the relationship and the response from the local gardaí. They will know where the safe house is. They will know that any call that comes from the safe house is an absolute priority.”
WCWAV provide a vital service to rural women living in West Cork who are affected by domestic violence. As well as their office in Bantry, they run outreach clinics in various locations around West Cork and will help any woman in crisis who contacts them.
Marie said: “We will see a woman anywhere it is safe for her to see us. We’ve met women in car parks, lay-bys, coffee shops, doctor’s surgeries; wherever is a neutral, safe space. We go to them if they can’t get to us.”
Marie explained the challenges that rural women who are victims of domestic violence can face.
“There is a limited public bus service to Cork city. It is a long journey [to the refuge in the city]. It could take three hours to get there on public transport — that is, if you can afford public transport.
“One of the classic elements of domestic violence is that the abuser isolates his partner from her supports and from her family and friends. When you are living in a rural area, it is much easier to do that because you may be living several miles outside a village.”
Marie went on to say, “abuse covers psychological, emotional, financial and sexual abuse.
“Physical abuse might not even be present because there is coercive control taking place where a woman is in a sort of imprisoned environment and has no options.”
WCWAV run a series of therapeutic programmes for children affected by domestic violence, including play therapy and art therapy.
Marie said: “The women we were seeing were worried about how their children were dealing with the effects of domestic violence. Some children won’t go to school because they don’t want to leave their mother alone.
“They are afraid to leave their mother alone [with an abuser]. They think if they stay, their mother will be protected.”
The safe house in West Cork will act as a vital resource to help protect women and children affected by domestic violence. Once a woman and her children are housed there, a support worker from WCWAV will help put a safety plan in place for the woman and her family.
Marie said: “On a week to week basis, we will assess the woman’s situation. There is no deadline as to how long a woman and her family can stay there but once she is settled and the children are calm and in a routine, we will work with her and her children and look to get her into another home and ensure they have what they need for a safe future.”
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