One in five Waterford city households is affected by domestic abuse, a meeting at the Waterford Crystal Sports and Leisure Centre was told on Wednesday.
That alarming figure was one of several issues raised at a public meeting organised by the Waterford Local Area Network (LAN) on violence against women.
The meeting also revealed an expectation that a co-ordinated citywide approach to dealing with domestic abuse may be established in a bid to improve services to those directly affected.
Sile Vereker, who runs the Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre on Waterside, said that such a strategy would be run on a community basis.
“That would be the most suitable approach when you consider the issue we’re discussing here today,” she said. “To provide a service within a community is the likeliest means by which an abused person will avail of such a facility.
“By coming together through this meeting, with all of the various groups that are in place across the city which deal with domestic abuse in its totality or at some related level, we hope we can create a greater co-ordinated approach to dealing with domestic abuse.”
The well-attended meeting on the Cork Road heard from several experienced workers in this field, including Rita Fagan, a Community Development Project worker based in the Inchicore area of Dublin.
“Since 1996, 157 women have died as a result of domestic abuse in Ireland,” she said.
“It’s as unbelievable as it is unacceptable but that is the unfortunate reality. It’s in every community up and down the country but it’s very important that women, as it is in the majority of cases, realise that there is support available to them, that there is help out there.”
Added Ms Fagan: “From what I’ve picked up on this morning and from speaking to people in Waterford, it’s clear that there is a lot of help available to women, to women confident enough to seek help, that is.”
And what is stopping other women from coming forward to seek help? “Fear. Fear of what might happen to them if their abuser finds out about it, fear of what might happen to their children, fear of what might happen financially.”
Referring back to those who have died at the hands of domestic abusers, Rita Fagan said: “It’s worth pointing out that the figure of 157 deaths may not represent the real extent of this crisis and that’s what exactly what it is because women are losing their lives.
“I knew of one woman who was repeatedly stood on by her abuser, down hard on her kidneys and her womb and she developed cancer. As far as doctors are concerned, medically, cancer is what she died from. And there are many more who have suffered the same fate.”
Both Sile Vereker and Rita Fagan said that women, particularly those who have yet to come forward, need to know that help is available to them in their own communities.
“Many women cannot make the decision to leave their homes,” said Sile. “Despite the violence, many of them still love their husbands while hating the physical, mental and financial abuse inflicted upon them.
“All that we can do is let women know that help, if they need it, is available to them whenever they require it.”
* If you or a loved one are affected by domestic abuse, there are several offices and agencies willing to listen, including Oasis House Women’s Refuge (1890-264-364), Waterford Garda Station (051-305300), Waterford Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (1800-296-296), Waterford Women’s Centre (051-351918) and Waterford Men Ending Domestic Violence (051-844260).