Irish legislation fails to protect victims of domestic abuse
An issue often overlooked by the mainstream media, Justin Frewen sheds light on the horrific abuse millions of women are subjected to both in times of war and, perhaps more frighteningly, in their own homes during peacetime. In Ireland it is estimated a woman will suffer abuse 35 times before reporting it, but Irish legislation provides scant protection.
Even as the centenary of the first International Day for Women was being celebrated on Tuesday 8th March 2011, millions of women worldwide continue to live in fear for their safety. Despite having been subjected to horrific and appalling violence during wars and conflicts for thousands of years, their suffering has generally only been noted as a backdrop, often serving more to exalt the humanity of one side while execrating the depravity of the other.
Over the past twenty years or so there have been greater efforts, albeit insufficient, to shed more light on the abuse women have and continue to suffer in times of war. For instance, studies undertaken in 1999 in Rwanda, half a decade after the 1994 genocide, showed that as many as 39% of women reported having been raped with as many as 72% stating they knew someone who had been raped.
However, bad enough as it is to be targeted in times of war, many women face the threat of violence and abuse also in their everyday life. In the United States, it has been estimated that just over 22.1% of all women have been subjected to some form of aggression by an intimate partner with some 4.5 million such physical assaults occurring annually. The WHO calculates from its analysis of a range of studies in different countries show that between 40-70% of female murder victims were murdered by an intimate partner.
It is hardly surprising therefore that the United Nations has emphasised violence against women in the choice of its recent global themes for International Women’s Day. In 2009, the theme was ‘Women and men united to end violence against women and girls’ and in 2007 it was ‘Ending Impunity for Violence against Women and Girls’.
Sadly, Ireland is no exception to the problem of domestic abuse. One in five Irish women has been the victim of domestic abuse by a former/current spouse or partner. However, it should be noted that these statistics only include those women who reported the abuse. It has also been calculated that a woman will suffer abuse 35 times before reporting it. As many as 200,000 Irish women live in dread of being abused by current or ex-husbands, partners or boyfriends.
The 2005 National Crime Council 2005 report – Domestic Abuse of Women and Men – reveals that in approximately two-thirds of the cases reviewed abuse began before the relationship was two years old. Over 51% of the 166 women murdered in the Republic were killed by their partner or ex-partner.
Abuse of women during pregnancy is another appalling fact. According to international studies, around one quarter of women were first abused at this time. The domestic violence was sometimes so great that it resulted in the victims having miscarriages. One Dublin maternity hospital found that one in eight women surveyed had been physically assaulted during their pregnancy. This abuse frequently continues after childbirth with some women being forcibly prevented from breastfeeding, beaten while they cradle their child or even raped.
In addition to turning one’s home into a place of terror, domestic abuse can also lead to victims radically reducing their level of participation in society. Many victims simply find it impossible to remain in employment with up to one in eight being obliged to quit their job and 40% taking at least some leave from their workplace.
Finally, domestic violence occurs equally across all socio-economic categories. However, the Task Force on Violence (1997) revealed that being trapped in poverty, having physical or mental difficulties or being socially excluded aggravates the impact of domestic abuse on victims. These findings should be of significant concern given our current economic situation and taken into account by policy makers when devising and implementing solutions to tackle domestic violence.
In short, the shocking truth is that women are at greater risk of being abused by someone they know than any stranger. Given such high levels of domestic violence, it is very probable we know someone who has been abused. However, in most cases we will remain unaware of this abuse as many victims feel unable to talk about their situation.
Many abused women feel Irish law provides scant protection. Although a quarter of all sexual violence directed at adult women is by current or ex-partners, there has only been one successful conviction under marital rape legislation since its introduction almost 20 years ago.
The Domestic Violence Act does not allow an abused partner to obtain a safety order if they lived with their partner for less than six months in the preceding year. Therefore a woman who has been in a relationship with her partner for years but only moved in with him a few months previously would not be able to get a barring or safety order. Furthermore, a woman who is being abused by the father of their child is unable to take out a barring order if she is not living with him. This would hold even if the abuse started before they separated. Many women in Ireland therefore find themselves unprotected by the law.
The moment of separation from a violent partner can be the most dangerous time of all. The greater the abuse, the greater the risk of violence to the abused partner should they try to quit the perpetrator. It is essential women get special protection at this time.
Indeed, engagement with the legal system can place women at heightened risk. Safety and Protection Orders, even where granted, may mean the woman continues to live with her abuser. Should her application be unsuccessful, the woman may be placed at increased risk. Even when an order is granted, a woman’s safety can be compromised as the abuser can be incensed by what she has done or may simply disregard the law.
Ireland also fails to meet UN guidelines for domestic violence legislation, as it fails to cover all those who are or have been in an intimate relationship, irrespective of their relationships and marital status.
There is clearly an urgent need for the current legislation to be amended to ensure no perpetrator of abuse is able to get off on a technicality and that no victim of abuse is left without recourse to the law. Perhaps the leaders of the ‘democratic revolution’ that we are apparently now experiencing, might finally provide women suffering domestic abuse with the legal protection they require to protect them from their violent and manipulative partners.
For further information on the realities of domestic abuse of women in Ireland, please visit www.womensaid.ie. Women’s Aid also run a National Freephone Helpline, which is open from 10am to 10pm, 7 days a week (apart from Christmas Day): 1800 341 900
[Image top via -mrsraggle- on Flickr]