Helping victims of domestic violence
‘WOMEN WHO experience domestic violence can do it, you can come out the other side and achieve exactly what you want to out of the rest of your life.’
A courtroom can be an intimidating place at the best of times, but for a woman who has been continuously bullied, criticised, or violently abused by a husband or partner, perhaps for years at a time, Dolores Geraghty at the St. Fergal’s Resource Centre is there for them to lean on as they rebuild their lives.
Mother-of four Dolores has recently taken over the position of women’s issues support worker at the centre, but has been there as part of a CE scheme for over three years.
While her work focuses primarily on women from the Ballywaltrim area, Dolores said that a man in need of help would never be turned away and that a person’s finances are not taken into consideration. ‘ You could be a multimillionaire and if you need our help you will get it,’ she said, adding that men can also be the victims of domestic violence.
Her duties in any given week are many and varied, but would include giving her clients information on free legal aid, helping fill out forms and going to Wicklow with them to the legal aid centre.
She can arrange a solicitor for anyone who may need one, deal with issues such as maintenance, access, and even go to court with the woman to help them through the experience.
‘It is a minefield,’ said Dolores, of the legal issues that surround the breakdown of a relationship when children or property are involved, or the process a person must go through to deal with domestic abuse.
‘There is more to domestic violence than hitting,’ said Dolores, remarking that the emotional and mental abuse can be even more traumatic. ‘ The abused woman can be told she is ugly, or worthless. “you’re a slut, nobody would be bothered with you, your dress sense is awful” the man might say, day-in day-out.’
She added that there is a councillor on staff at St. Fergal’s to whom clients can speak if they wish, and other staff who will tell them everything they need to know about social welfare and other rights or entitlements.
‘The service is free of charge and completely confidential,’ she said, adding that the combined services at the centre, including education, are designed to empower women to get out there and re-start their lives through educating themselves and building up confidence. Even getting their hair and nails done can give them a bit of a lift to help them through the harder days.
She said that the centre includes a creche at a very low cost, as well as an after-school homework club, so that the cost of child-care need not stand in the way of someone wishing to move forward with work or study.
Dolores would often be the first port of call for any woman in crisis who comes to the centre. ‘The women can be really afraid, and it’s so hard to go to court on your own, so it’s great to have someone there with you,’ she said. ‘It could take months before the person feels strong enough to take that step to maybe go to court for a barring or protection order.’ She added that the threat of withholding financial support is another form of abuse and intimidation, and an attempt to control the victim.
‘We try to encourage our clients not to be afraid - it’s the law!’ said Dolores, stressing, however, that she and the other members of staff would never put anyone under pressure to end a relationship or do anything against their will. ‘It all has to be their own decision, we are here to advise and support.’
Despite its gruelling and sensitive nature, Dolores loves her work. ‘I love seeing a woman come out of court happy, relieved and empowered,’ she said.
She also volunteers for the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and, as well as taking calls, has the daunting task of meeting victims from all over Ireland at the sexual assault treatment unit of the Rotunda to council them, let them know what services are available and to help them through what is a truly dreadful experience. ‘The centre is looking for volunteers,’ she said. ‘Anyone interested in helping can contact them on (01) 6614911.’
Over the past number of years, Dolores has been studying hard and has qualifications in psychology and counselling. Not only are her four children, aged between 14 and 27, immensely proud of their mother, but she is deservedly proud of her own considerable achievements.
‘It’s very hard sometimes but I love the work. When you are helping somebody it is all worthwhile,’ she said. In her spare time she likes to relax by taking long walks, and spending valued time with her family and friends. ‘The facilities at the St. Fergal’s Resource Centre are absolutely fantastic,’ she said. ‘And it really works because the courses, the creche, the homework club and so on are always busy.’
Dolores’ job is funded by the dormant accounts fund through An Pobal. St. Fergal’s Resource Centre can be contacted on (01) 2760376.
Delores dedicates her life to helping others rebuild theirs.