Catherine Ferrin, team leader for Outreach Services for Belfast and Lisburn Women’s Aid, talks to journalist Kathryn Johnston about her role in helping women who are suffering domestic violence.
“Remember years ago when people wore rubber bands with ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ written on them? A woman suffering domestic violence has an invisible rubber band on her wrist constantly reminding her of all the possible consequences of her every action. ‘What would Jim do? What would Sean do? Or what would Bobby do? No matter what the woman does or doesn’t do, the man will find a fault.”
These words about domestic abuse were spoken by Catherine Ferrin, who is the Team Leader for Outreach Services for Belfast and Lisburn Women’s Aid. Her team of 22 are responsible for five projects, covering greater Belfast, Lisburn and as far out as Downpatrick and Ballynahinch.
‘“They are the most fantastic team you could work with. They are amazing,” she said.
“We support women and children to be able to stay in their own home. That’s a big step, because in domestic violence families can often become homeless. I’m really excited to be doing this work where women can have the option to be able to stay at home – which means the children can keep their family pets, their toys, their bedrooms, their friends – and most importantly their schools.”
“The effect of domestic violence on a family is like a tsunami,” Catherine added. “It has the potential to destroy absolutely everything.”
She stressed that there is no typical woman who contacts Women’s Aid.
“It can be any woman – and every woman. And the perpetrator can be any man in any walk of life. He could be a charismatic community leader, a judge, a policeman, unemployed – it doesn’t matter.”
In 2017, domestic violence incidents reported to the Police Service of Northern Ireland reached an all-time high of 30,000.
“That’s not an epidemic, it’s a pandemic,” Catherine said
“Those figures cover 30,000 incidents which were actually reported to the PSNI. But police statistics indicate that a woman may have suffered a domestic incident up to 35 times before seeking help.
“A woman suffering domestic violence may ring the police because she wants the hurt, the pain, the grief to stop.
“But she also wants to live. To live with that fear is very hard. I’ve seen women coming into refuges over the years and always looking over their shoulder for where the next blow is coming from. It’s a life sentence.”
She pointed to the experience of just one of the many women she has met in this situation. She took out a non-molestation order, which her husband breached four times before being fined £200. “There you are, that’s £50 a beating,” she told me.
Catherine has an acting background and was commissioned by Training Women Network and the Department for Communities to write and perform a piece on paramilitarism and the effect on women. It was performed in Dungannon, QUB, Foyle and Duncairn Arts Centre in north Belfast.
Catherine has also set up her own drama group called Silver Sister productions
‘The Other Side’ features Sarah, who lives with a man who is a perpetrator of domestic violence.
“He is a well-known, well-respected man in a fictional community. It’s not about any one community – it’s for a mixed group of women and I wanted everyone in the room to be able to relate to Sarah.
“The response to it was very positive, and it sparked off a great conversation afterwards, among women from all over Belfast who wanted to build capacity in their own areas and take on more leadership roles within their own communities.
“Recently the Ulster University asked me to write a sequel to be performed for the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in April.
“I need to tweak it a bit to show Sarah has a future. The last thing she was doing in ‘The Other Side’ was lying on the floor after taking an overdose.
“It’s five years later and Sarah has moved on from her husband.