Yesterday, 1st December 2017, Margaret Martin, Director of Women's Aid and Linda Smith, the manager of the 24hr National Freephone Helpline were joined by Norah Casey to present a petition to the Minister of Justice Charlie Flanagan. The petition urges action on measures to protection children in domestic violence situations.
On Day 7 and 8 of our national 16 Days of Action campaign we focus on children and the impact of domestic violence. The link between child abuse and domestic violence has been clearly established with domestic violence being a very common context in which child abuse takes place. It has also been found that the more severe the domestic violence, the more severe the abuse of children in the same context.
As part of our campaign to improve the safety of and protection for children we ran a petition campaign with our Facebook Community based in the Republic of Ireland from 26th October to 22nd November 2017. We asked members to support an online petition to the effect that:
“4,000 cases of child abuse were disclosed to our services in 2016. Yet, when an Irish court bars an abusive husband from the home, it also grants him unsupervised access to the children. This puts children at risk. Sign the petition and tell Minister Flanagan to change this.”
The response to the petition was phenomenal with almost 5,000 signatures collected. We printed out these signatures and have included these along with the letter. Many signatories shared their own stories and experiences of being harassed and abused by the father of their children with whom they had separated from because of domestic violence. The abuse continued during access arrangements. We know from our own services that 26% of women we supported in 2016 were experiencing abuse by an ex-partner and almost 4,000 disclosures of child abuse in the context of domestic violence against the mother were also made.
Women's Aid has welcomed the consolidation and updating of the Domestic Violence Bill 1996 and the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Bill 2002 into a new comprehensive Bill which is now in its final stages. We have noted the valuable and engaged debate on this Bill in the Seanad and commend the shared commitment to improving and passing this important legislation. It is truly an important Bill which will make a difference to women once it is passed.
However, we have consistently pointed to a lack of Provisions to improve safety and welfare of children in situations of domestic violence. And we believe there were three areas where the Bill could’ve positively impacted on children experiencing domestic violence and the measures Women’s Aid propose as part of our submission on the Domestic Violence Bill includes:
Recommendation 4: To include in the Bill a provision by which, when granting a Barring Order, the Court should consider the safety and well-being of any children of the relationship and take interim measures, as necessary, for their protection.
Recommendation 5: To include in the Bill to provide for experts being available to the Court to assess the risk the perpetrator poses to children and the impact on them of direct and/or indirect abuse.
We will continue our campaign to increase the protections for children and women experiencing domestic violence. Thank you to everyone who supported the petition.