Today, Tuesday 20th October 2015, Women’s Aid, the national agency supporting women and children affected by domestic violence, will launch its manifesto on domestic violence for the forthcoming General Election at an open meeting for all TDs, Senators, Candidates and political parties and alliances at Buswells Hotel, Dublin 2 between 9am-12pm. The organisation says serious action on domestic violence is needed and it will approach the General Election and its engagement with political parties and candidates as an important opportunity to improve supports to women and children experiencing domestic violence and to remove the barriers that prevent them from moving on to better, safer lives. In its manifesto Women’s Aid outlines what it wants the next government to do to make sure everyone experiencing domestic violence gets the protection and support they need.
Speaking ahead of the launch, Margaret Martin, Director of Women's Aid says: “Domestic violence is a serious crime, one that can result in stress, short and long term trauma and physical injuries and, in extreme cases, homicide. One in five women in Ireland are affected by domestic violence and in 2014 Women’s Aid heard over 16,000 disclosure of abuse against women and over 5,700 disclosures of abuse against children. We know that since we started our records in 1996, 209 women have been murdered in Ireland. 55% of women are killed by their partners or ex-partners. In some homicide cases, children, parents, siblings and friends have also been attacked or killed. The most recent tragedy in Omeath where Garda Tony Golden lost his life highlights the just how dangerous domestic violence is. Therefore, the impacts on women, children and the community around them cannot be minimised or dismissed. We owe it to those affected to take effective political action to protect them, provide them with the support they need and respond fully and appropriately. We must act before more lives are lost and more hurt is caused to women, children and communities.”
Ms Martin explains: “A woman in an abusive relationship needs a range of services to survive, protect herself and any children and to support her to safety. These systems include: free and confidential specialist domestic violence support services, An Garda Síochána, Legal Aid, Social welfare and the Courts. These essential services and systems have been severely impacted by the economic recession. Since 2008 specialist domestic violence support services for women and their children have received substantial funding cuts. Over the last 7 years Government funding to Women’s Aid has decreased by 31%. Other services and systems have also received less funding and have had to reduce capacity while demand has increased.”
Ms Martin adds: “This means that waiting times for the Courts, Health Services and Legal Aid have all increased while welfare payments such as rent supplement and one parent family payments have been reduced. For example, the current waiting time for a hearing for a Domestic Violence Order in Dolphin House, the family law court in Dublin, is 18 weeks. A woman may have to wait for 27 weeks for a legal consultation and 15 months for a solicitor to be allocated. These cuts have real impact on the lives of thousands of women and children living in fear in their own homes.”
Ms Martin continues: “Demand for the Women’s Aid Dublin based one to one service has increased by 40% since the start of the recession. The most recent cut of 20% to Women’s Aid by TUSLA announced in June 2015 came at a time when we were preparing to increase the availability of the National Helpline to 24 hours per day, seven days a week in line with the Istanbul Convention and the EU Victims’ Directive. We know how important it is to be available for women whenever they need us. We call for the reversal of these cuts and adequate funding for the extension of the National Helpline.”
Women’s Aid is also calling for legal reform to the Domestic Violence Act which will provide for emergency Barring Orders, extend eligibility to women in dating relationships and tackle the offence of stalking and online abuse in intimate relationships. Women’s Aid welcomes the Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s commitment last week that Ireland will sign the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) and the improvements outlined in the current Domestic Violence Bill.
However, Ms Martin explains that further legal reform is needed: “We must have a 24/7 on call system to provide emergency barring orders when the Courts are closed. Women's Aid believes that everyone experiencing abuse at the hands of an intimate partner or ex-partner deserves legal protection and that protection should be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Another key area of concern is the lack of legal protection for young women who have never lived with their boyfriends. Women in dating relationships are left unprotected under current legislation. 16% of women accessing our One to One services in 2014 had never cohabitated with their abuser nor had a child in common. They cannot access legal protection under the Domestic Violence Act and there is no indication that this will be tackled any time soon. To fully protect young women from dating abuse, Women’s Aid urges the next Government to recognise that abuse can feature within all intimate relationships, and make safety orders available to women who have never lived with their boyfriends. Until these changes are made, young women in dating relationships remain at risk.”
Better legal protection is also needed in order to facilitate access to justice and safety for women being stalked online. Ms. Martin explains: “Women are often controlled, followed, harassed and stalked by their abusers both during the relationship and after separation which includes traditional methods of stalking as well as the use of electronic technologies including threatening texts, phone calls, emails, and use of spyware. Indirect forms of harassment include communication to third parties about the woman including posting intimate images or videos to the internet without her consent and spreading lies and damaging rumours via social media. In our experience, the definition of harassment in law is complex and hard to prove, and rarely used to protect women who are stalked by their boyfriends or exes. Women’s Aid recommends that a specific stalking offence be introduced in Irish law, with a comprehensive but not exhaustive definition, including new forms of cyber-stalking, as well as recognition of stalking as grounds for a safety order.”
Women’s Aid believes that the next Government must ensure that relevant staff of all statutory systems that provide assistance to victims, including An Garda Síochána, are trained, resourced and informed about domestic violence. Ms Martin says: “All first points of contact that a woman experiencing domestic violence may turn to need to know how to recognise domestic violence, respond and refer appropriately. Training should be in line with best practice for responding to domestic violence by providing information and skills on the dynamics of abuse, the effects of abuse, risk assessment and appropriate referrals. Training should also focus on the intersection of domestic violence and child abuse. This training should be delivered in conjunction with specialist support services and victims of domestic violence.”
Ms Martin concludes: “We need to see a turning point for women and children affected by domestic violence. Whoever forms the next government and members of the next Dáil and Seanad, must take domestic violence against women and children seriously.”
For more information contact Christina Sherlock, Communications and Campaigns Officer, 01-678 8858 or 087 919 2457.
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