Women’s Aid, the national domestic abuse support organisation, welcomes the important steps taken in the Houses of the Oireachtas this week which will improve the safety of women and children affected by domestic violence. The Domestic Violence Bill 2017, introduced into Seaned Éireann by the Tanáiste Frances Fitzgerald (on 28th February 2017), consolidates and reforms the law on domestic violence to provide better protection for victims. The Bill also includes provisions to enable Ireland to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, more commonly known as the Istanbul Convention. According to Women’s Aid, the Bill includes important measures to extend eligibility for safety orders to young women who experience abuse in dating relationships, it prohibit electronic communication with victims and makes it easier for those affected by domestic violence to avail of the court system and link in with specialist support services.
Speaking about the Domestic Violence Bill 2017, Margaret Martin, Director of Women’s Aid, says: “After a lengthy campaign highlighting dating abuse against young women, we strongly support this Bill. In particular, we are pleased with the Tanáiste’s commitment to extend access to Safety and Protection Orders to those in intimate relationships, who have never lived with their boyfriends. This change will make a significant difference to the safety of younger women. We also welcome the move to prevent abusers to communicate electronically with their victims, a step in the right direction to address the digital abuse and online harassment of women by partners and exes.”
Ms Martin continues: “However, we are concerned at the lack of measures to provide immediate protection when the courts are not sitting. If a woman is assaulted on a Friday evening, she cannot avail of legal protection until Monday morning. This can be longer in areas outside Dublin, where Courts don’t sit every day. It may be unsafe for a woman and her children to remain in the home and they have to flee and seek protection with family, friends or refuge. We hear from women whose only option is to sleep in her car with the children during this time. It is also common for women and children to stay in dangerous situations because they have nowhere else to go. It’s not too late to include this critical measure and we call for the inclusion of a provision has been made to allow for Garda to apply for 24/7 Out of Hours Barring Orders to an on-call judge.”
According to Women’s Aid, the Domestic Violence Bill neglects to note the links between domestic violence and child abuse. Domestic violence is a very common context in which child abuse takes place. Research shows that the more severe the domestic violence against the mother, the more severe the abuse is against the children. Unfortunately, the Domestic Violence Bill currently lacks measures to assess the safety of children when Barring Orders are being made.
Ms Martin explains: “In our experience supporting women in the Courts, when Barring Orders are granted to protect a woman from her abusive partner, there is often no assessment process looking at the safety and well-being of the children of the relationship. Unfortunately, the Domestic Violence Bill currently lacks measures to address this. Measures must be included whereby the risk posed by a perpetrator of domestic violence to the children in the family and the impact of such abuse is expertly assessed and that allow immediate interim measures to be taken to protect children.”
In addition, Women’s Aid broadly welcomes other bills which have gone through the House this week (Mediation Bill 2017 and Victims of Crime Bill 2016) but calls for an explicit recognition of the unsuitability of a mediation process for Family Law Cases in the context of Domestic Violence and believes that such cases must be exempt. Women’s Aid recognises the potential of mediation to positively resolve family disputes in cases where there is no domestic violence.However, where domestic violence is present, mediation is not appropriate. It could put women at risk during the process and lead to unsafe and unfair outcomes for women and their children. This is due to the power imbalance between the parties and the fear and intimidation experienced by women subjected to domestic violence. Participation in mediation can put women in danger of further abuse and harassment through contact with the abuser on arrival, during negotiations and afterwards.
Commenting on the Mediation Bill 2017, Ms Martin says: “We welcome the Mediation Bill 2017 and the provision that cases heard under the Domestic Violence Act are exempt from this process. However, many women separating from an abusive partner may be involved in other Family Law proceedings such as separation, divorce, child custody and access or maintenanceand there does not seem to be a process for screening such cases out. Women's Aid believes that the new Bill would better protect those separating from an abusive partner from unintended negative consequences of mediation by extending the exemption to Family Law proceedings where domestic violence is a factor. We also believe that given the prevalence of domestic violence, it is essential that systematic screening and training is put into place to identify Family Law cases where mediation would not be appropriate.
Women’s Aid also welcomes the Victims of Crime Bill 2016, also before the Dáil this week, as it will increase the rights of victims of crime in criminal proceedings. Ms Martin outlines: “We welcome particularly that women can choose a person to accompany them to the Garda when making the complaint. This may help women in reporting incidents of domestic violence and may be especially useful to women that may not be comfortable dealing with Garda for a variety of reasons. Also, the EU Victims’ Directive is not only concerned with proceedings in criminal justice (dealt with in this Bill), but also with broader rights of all victims (even those who do not make a complaint) to support services. Therefore this Bill needs to be accompanied by increased investment in support services and in training for professionals that may come into contact with victims including Police, court staff, and legal professionals.”
The Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. www.womensaid.ie
For more information contact Christina Sherlock, Communications and Campaigns Officer, 01-678 8858 or 087 919 2457.
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