“Serious legal gaps leaves young women unprotected from dating and digital abuse” - Women’s Aid.
Today, Monday 15th February 2016, Women’s Aid, the national agency supporting women and children affected by domestic violence, begins a final push to put domestic violence on the political agenda during the General Election campaign. Women’s Aid is urging the next Government to fully protect young women from dating abuse by amending the Domestic Violence Act and also is calling for a new law to protect women from digital abuse and stalking. Over the next few weeks they will raise the issue of funding cuts to domestic violence services. Women’s Aid, despite a cut in core funding of 31% during the recession, has recently made its National Freephone Helpline a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week service. The demand for our ‘out of hours’ service has surpassed expectations by 283% in the first month. Margaret Martin, Director of Women’s Aid says: “Demand is increasing while our funding is being cut. Listening, believing and supporting women affected by domestic violence must be a priority. We must be fully resourced to meet the demand we know is there.”
Recently, the organisation is highlighting the issue of dating abuse against young women with its 2in2u National Public Awareness Valentine’s Day Campaign. The reaction to the 2in2u campaign this year has been phenomenal with the issue of digital abuse and ‘revenge porn’ coming to the fore in recent days. Margaret Martin, Director of Women’s Aid says: “It is very timely that we explore the issue of dating and digital abuse during the election campaign. A 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. Abuse can feature within all intimate relationships and 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 change any time soon. This is unacceptable.”
Women’s Aid is also calling on whoever forms the next Government to enact new, all-encompassing legislation to better protect women from digital abuse and stalking and for a better understanding of the harmful and insidious nature of digital abuse. 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, and that stalking be recognised as grounds for a safety order.
Women’s Aid is asking voters to email candidates in their constituencies support in support of its #DomesticViolenceMatters campaign. Ms Martin adds: “In less than two weeks voters will go to the polls. Between now and then we are asking the public to show candidates that domestic violence matters to them. We must remind those candidates seeking election that 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, 211 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.”
Domestic violence impacts on women, children and the community around them. It 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.
Women’s Aid is also highlighting funding cuts for vital services during the #DomesticViolenceMatters campaign. 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. 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. These cuts are having a 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 continued with this work despite the strain on our funding and we are proud to say that we have extended our National Helpline as planned. We know how important it is to be available for women whenever they need us. In the first month, we have taken 383 calls during our new ‘out of hours’ service. We call for the reversal of these cuts and adequate funding for the extension of the National Freephone Helpline.”
Anyone who wants to raise domestic violence during the election can visit www.womensaid.ie/election2016 and take action by emailing candidates and downloading a reminder note for doorstep conversations with canvassers.
Ms Martin concludes: “2016 needs to be 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 on 087 919 2457.
Notes for editors and producers: