Friday 18 January 2019

Unlike Clodagh and her family, Donna was lucky - she survived

Donna Foster said she ‘honestly believed’ she was about to die when she was attacked by her partner Patrick O’Rourke, who was sentenced to nine years in jail for the brutal assault Pic: Courtpix
Donna Foster said she ‘honestly believed’ she was about to die when she was attacked by her partner Patrick O’Rourke, who was sentenced to nine years in jail for the brutal assault Pic: Courtpix
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

Donna Foster's former partner stabbed her so viciously that her airway was exposed through her neck and her small intestine was visible through her abdomen.

Last week, she told the Central Criminal Court that Patrick O'Rourke, from Cooline Drive, Cobh, Co Cork, had become incensed when she told him she was leaving him in August 2015.

It felt, she said, like he "never stopped stabbing her" with a boning knife he had taken from a press in the kitchen. The only reason she survived was because a child in the house risked her own life and threw herself between Ms Foster and her partner, suffering serious injury herself in the process.

"I sustained serious stab wounds from a continuous, vicious and frenzied attack which left me fighting for my life, as I truly and honestly believed I was about to die," Ms Foster said in court last week, before O'Rourke was sentenced to nine years for attempting to kill her.

Anyone who wonders why women don't "just leave" their abusive partners should read Ms Foster's victim impact statement, detailing the horrific injuries she suffered when she tried to do just that.

In fact, studies have consistently revealed that the most dangerous time for women in an abusive relationship is when they decide to leave.

Which is why the revelation that nearly 6,000 women and children - equivalent to the entire population of Westport - were turned away from refuges last year is so shameful.

These were women and children who had bravely taken a decision to leave and seek help only to have doors slammed in their faces because of a chronic lack of space.

Who knows how long these women had been working up the courage to leave their abusive partners? Or how many blows and kicks and vicious treatment they endured before they ran?

We don't know what finally prompted them to flee. But we do know what happened next. They were told that their attempts to escape were in vain.

There was no help out there. Maybe, they should "just leave" another day.

According to the Council of Europe, there should be a minimum of one refuge space per 10,000 people, which would require 446 places in Ireland. Instead, there are fewer than 150.

If Donna Foster had managed to leave her home last year in search of a bed in a refuge, would she have got one?

Or would she have been sent back to the man who attempted to murder her? Would anyone have known?

The truth is, we don't know what happened to those 6,000 women and children after they were denied a place in a refuge. No one keeps track.

We don't know how many were subsequently beaten for their attempts to get help or how many have since given up any hope of finding a way out of their abusive relationship.

What we do know is that more than 200 women have died violently since 1996, with 87pc being killed by a man that they knew.

We also know that, last year alone, Women's Aid logged more than 22,000 separate incidences of abuse of women and children.

These included 970 threats to kill and 579 additional disclosures of assaults, including being cut with knives, hit with golf clubs, scalded with hot water, and strangled.

We also know that the single biggest reason that women don't leave their abusive partners is that they have nowhere to go.

The response of the State to this epidemic of violence has been to cut funding to Women's Aid by more than 30pc over the past seven years. Protecting women and children has not been a priority.

Marie Mulholland, coordinator of West Cork Women Against Violence Project, told Newstalk reporter Richard Chambers this week that she had been unable to secure a bed in Cork's refuge for any of the women she worked with in more than 18 months because it was constantly full.

Instead, she had to try to keep some money available with which she could book women and their children into a B&B at short notice.

Ms Mulholland, who operates with just two part-time support workers and one part-time administrator, said the funding she received from the Government for counselling dried up in July.

So, because of the huge waiting list that exists for the service, she appealed to the courts service for money from the poor box - the second time in three years she has had to seek funding from that source.

What does it say about our society that vulnerable women and children are reliant on alms from the poor box in order to remain safe?

Why is it that the Government, which had no problem finding €90m for consultants for Irish Water when the country was allegedly broke, can't provide funding to save women and children from threats of violence?

Donna Foster was lucky - she survived. Clodagh Hawe and her three children were not as fortunate.

Her husband Alan used a hatchet and knives to butcher his family before taking his own life in August.

Now, Ms Hawe's mother and sister have courageously spoken out about their unimaginable loss and urged women who are living in fear to speak out and get help.

"Clodagh was warm, loving, bright and capable and she was bringing her boys, Liam, Niall and Ryan, up to have those same qualities," Jacqueline Connolly, Ms Hawe's sister, said.

"They will live on and her strength will live on. After their deaths, we want to help women who are living in fear and isolation in their own homes. So please support our fundraising appeal for Women's Aid."

With the State shamefully failing to meet its basic obligations to women, the country is fortunate to have people like Jacqueline Connolly and her mother, Mary Coll, who have the strength to use their own tragedy as the impetus to help others.

Anyone suffering any form of physical or emotional abuse can contact Women's Aid on its 24-hour helpline on 1800 341 900 or visit www.WomensAid.ie.

To donate to the Clodagh Hawe memorial fund, please visit https://give.everydayhero.com/ie/in-memory-of-clodagh-liam-niall-and-ryan.

Irish Independent

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