More than 800 pharmacies in towns and villages across Ireland will serve as ‘safe’ spaces for victims of domestic violence.
Under a newly announced system, victims, who are often monitored or controlled by their abusers, can discreetly ask a pharmacist for a consultation in a private room where they can be connected to specialist services nearby. If they want to get in touch privately with a family member or friend to reach support, they get free access to a phone.
A purple colored sticker on the door or window identifies it as a “safe pharmacy”.
Oonagh O’Hagan, of Plumbridge, Co Tyrone, who runs nine pharmacies in Dublin under the Meaghers brand, said “ambassadors” in each of the participating pharmacies have been trained to provide “compassionate” support to victims.
“All they have to do is come in and ask for a private consultation with a pharmacist, as is done every day with clients seeking help with a rash or prescription medication or anything else,” she said. “It’s not something out of the ordinary in a pharmacy environment and it’s a very discreet, safe, private environment where they can explain to us what’s going on.”
About 85 percent of the population in Ireland live within 3 miles of a pharmacy and nearly half of these businesses have signed up to the scheme.
“Domestic violence is happening right under our noses in every community in Ireland,” said Ms O’Hagen. “All we ask of people is to take that first step. There is no shame or guilt. You are listened to, you are believed, you are supported.”
Women’s Aid, Ireland’s largest non-statutory organization for victims of domestic violence, registered a 10 percent increase in contacts last year, rising from 29,717 the previous year to 33,831.
Victims can rely on the “trust and confidentiality” of local pharmacists as their “first point of contact” when seeking help, Ms O’Hagan said.
“We know from conversations with people that many are subject to strict controls, where their access to a phone is controlled, every movement is monitored or monitored,” she added.
“A pharmacy is a very safe place to go where you could just go for a prescription drug or over-the-counter treatment. It won’t warn anyone as unusual.”
The Safe Pharmacy program is led by the Irish Pharmacy Union and supported by the Domestic Violence Service Safe Ireland, the Health Service Executive and the Garda.