Monday 31st December 2018: Women’s Aid, the national domestic violence support organisation, welcomes the commencement of the Domestic Violence Act 2018 but adds that positive change must be felt quickly by women experiencing domestic violence. The new Act includes important measures such as the extension for eligibility for safety orders to young women who experience abuse in dating relationships; recognition of an intimate relationship as an aggravating factor in domestic violence cases and the crime of coercive control. Women's Aid also welcomes the introduction of ‘Out-of-Hours’ Special Sittings of the District Courts to provide for orders in emergency situations and the prohibition of electronic communication with victims.
The new provisions also include important steps to make it easier for those affected by domestic abuse to avail of the court system and link in with specialist support services. Women’s Aid will monitor the impact of the provision to treat the intimate relationship between the abuser and his victim as an aggravating factor through its ongoing Sentencing Watch project with a report due in September 2019. The new reforms are the culmination of many years of lobbying by Women’s Aid and collaboration between national and local domestic violence organisations, other NGos and successive Ministers for Justice, all parties and members in the Dáil and the Seanad.
Speaking about the Domestic Violence Act, Margaret Martin, Director of Women’s Aid, says:
“From 1st January 2019, women must feel change quickly. It must be positive, it must be practical and it must make them and their children safer from abuse. What is promised on paper must be fully resourced to be effective in protecting those affected by domestic violence. We are concerned that an already over-stretched system will see an increase in demand when the new provisions commence. Our National Helpline is available 24/7 to support those who are now covered under the Act as well as others who are wondering how the new laws and provisions will affect them”
After a lengthy campaign highlighting dating abuse against young women, Women’s Aid strongly supports the extension of eligibility for access to Safety and Protection Orders to those in intimate relationships, who have never lived with their boyfriends.
Ms Martin explains,
“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.”
Women’s Aid welcomes the inclusion of the relationship between defendant and victim as an aggravating circumstance in relevant offences.
Ms Martin says:
“We have long argued that when a perpetrator is a current or former intimate partner of the woman that this should be an aggravating factor rather than a mitigating one when it comes to sentencing to acknowledge the unique position that the perpetrator is in including the fact that they have intimate knowledge of and access to their victim and so brutally betrays that trust. This change must bring about better sanctioning for domestic violence perpetrators and contribute to an increased sense of justice for women.”
The organisation will monitor the impact of this change through its Sentencing Watch Project which will collect data on sentencing of perpetrators of domestic violence related offences, in order to improve the working of the legal system for victims of domestic violence and to make sure that sanctions for such offences are “effective, proportionate and dissuasive” and take into consideration appropriate aggravating circumstances as required by Article 45 and 46 of the Istanbul Convention and within the changes as outlined in the Domestic Violence Act.
Ms Martin explains:
“Article 46 of the Istanbul Convention requires that committing an offence against a current or former partner or spouse can be considered an aggravating circumstance when sentencing certain offences such as psychological, physical violence (including violence that causes death), sexual violence and stalking. Our work on Femicide in Ireland shows clearly that this has not been the case. Our figures showing that intimate partners are sentenced, on average, to three years less prison time compared to other men convicted of killing women, suggesting that an intimate relationship is seen as a mitigating rather than an aggravating factor. The Women’s Aid Sentencing Watch will monitor whether the change is seen in the decision making of the Courts.”
Women's Aid also welcomes the introduction of ‘Out-of-Hours’ Special Sittings of the District Courts to provide for orders in emergency situations. Ms Martin continues:
"We hope that Garda will use this provision to offer vulnerable women the chance to apply for immediate protection when it is needed and that this measure is adequately resourced, so that it will work in practice."
The Domestic Violence Act will bring about much needed improvement for women experiencing domestic violence. The systems to support women as they try to access support and protection from abuse must be properly resourced to make sure that the provisions make a real difference for victims of domestic violence especially for specialist support services, the Courts and the Gardaí.
Ms Martin concludes:
“Our Impact Report for 2017 highlighted the level of domestic violence in Irish society and the impact of poorly resourced, inappropriate and inconsistent responses from the State have on women and children struggling against the odds. Our work to inform and support women as they navigate through these systems continues but Women’s Aid and local domestic violence services and refuges must be properly funded to continue to support women and children on the frontline. Women experiencing domestic violence deserve a system that supports and protects them as they move themselves and their children to safety.”
While welcoming wholeheartedly the Domestic Violence Act, Women’s Aid also commits to continue to act for change in areas not covered by the new Act including the area of child access and safety in cases of domestic violence.
Women’s Aid 24hr National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900 www.womensaid.ie.
For more information please call Christina Sherlock, Head of Communications on 0879192457 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.