Rita Fagan is a force of nature. It took about two minutes in her company to reach such a conclusion last Wednesday morning at the Waterford Crystal Sports and Leisure Centre.
She’s a go-to person, a can-do person; a true community stalwart and a woman that you know people in Inchicore have felt confident in turning to for over a decade or more.
Rita was in Waterford to last week to speak at a meeting organised by the Waterford Local Area Network (LAN) on domestic violence against women.
As the Director of the Family Resource Centre Community Development Project in Inchicore, she has built up considerable experience in dealing with women in abusive relationships.
In a packed meeting room on the Cork Road, Rita spoke with passion, purpose and conviction about what can be done locally to help those in abusive relationships.
And given the support network that is already in place in the city, Rita believes that Waterford women who need help have many willing hands outstretched towards them.
“There are very good services here,” she said. “You have many people in place across the various agencies and groups who truly care and who can directly address abused women within their own community.”
Rita told the meeting about the importance of having an ear to the ground and how the establishment of an outreach centre could further assist women living in a domestic climate of fear.
“Now when you’re working in a community, you’re in a very dangerous space as you’re operating in the same area as the perpetrator and that can pose problems, as I’m sure many of you are already well aware of.”
She spoke about talking to a five-year-old child who told her about not being able to protect her mother.
She spoke of a woman who died from cancer which was diagnosed after being prolonged suffering at the hands of a partner who repeatedly trod on her kidneys and womb.
She also referenced the 157 women who have died as a result of domestic violence in Ireland since 1996, a figure which came as a surprise to many at the meeting.
“How is it that this particular death toll doesn’t seem to get highlighted anywhere while alcohol-related road traffic accidents dominate headlines on a regular basis,” Rita questioned.
“Now don’t get me wrong, every life lost is a tragedy, but in my view it’s nothing short of outrageous that these 157 seem to have been largely forgotten about. It’s as if the Government doesn’t give a damn about them.”
On the ground in Waterford, there are several excellent groups providing an invaluable service to women affected by domestic abuse.
Sile Vereker of the Waterford Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre heads up one of these vital operations.
“It’s important that the message gets out there about domestic abuse because it takes on many guises other than bruises and other outward indicators,” said Sile at last Wednesday’s meeting.
“There’s mental and psychological abuse, there’s sexual abuse and financial abuse to name but a few.
“And that’s why a meeting like this, involving all the relevant local groups, provides us with the best opportunity of addressing how we can all come together to provide a seamless support source for women suffering abuse.”
To have a range of local groups including Oasis House Women’s Refuge, Tosach (the independent mother’s project on Barrack Street), the Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, Waterford Women’s Centre and local Gardaí on the same page makes sense.
A co-ordinated cross community strategy is surely the most practical means available of helping those who need most help, many of whom remain silent due to fear, in Rita Fagan’s view.
“Many aren’t ready to seek support. They’re in a terrible situation and they’re crippled by it. But that doesn’t mean we stop trying to reach out.”
A few lines in a LAN guide for women titled ‘Enough is Enough’ caught my eye.
They state: “You have an absolute right to be safe in your home and everywhere else. Telling someone that you are in an abusive relationship can be very difficult…
“Remember you will not be judged by the services, for what’s happened to you, for being who you are, for asking for help, for needing support (we all do!). You are not alone.” Anything but.