Violence against women in Ireland
By Deborah Condon
Violence against women and girls is a
human rights and public health emergency worldwide, according to the World
Health Organisation. It causes mental and physical injury, exposes women
and girls to diseases and forced pregnancy, increases women’s vulnerability
in all spheres of their lives and in the worst cases, ends in death.
But what about the situation in Ireland?
According to a recent report from Amnesty International, violence against
women in this country is widespread. Furthermore the government is not
doing enough to identify, combat and redress this 'grave and systematic
human rights abuse'.
This is a serious accusation, but unfortunately
the facts are there to back it up. Continuing research has shown that violence
against women is prevalent here, yet despite task forces, report and committees,
the government has done little to actually help the victims of abuse.
The facts about levels of violence here
-The Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland
(SAVI) Report (2002) found that one in four women had experienced some
form of sexual abuse in their lifetime and one in five had experienced
sexual assault as adults.
-In 2003, the Women's Aid helpline answered
almost 13,000 calls. One in three of these related to physical violence,
13% to sexual abuse.
-Between January 1996 and the end of June
2005, 109 women were murdered in Ireland, 72 of these in their own homes.
In those cases which have been resolved (up to the end of June 2005), all
were perpetrated by a man and almost half were perpetrated by the woman's
partner or ex-partner.
-A survey conducted by Dublin's Rotunda
Maternity Hospital in 2000, found that in a sample of 400 pregnant women,
one in eight had experienced abuse at the hands of their partner while
-A survey of women attending GP surgeries
in 2002 found that two in five women who had been involved in a sexual
relationship with a man, had experienced violence. This violence ranged
from being punched in the face to being choked.
As shocking as these figures are, it is
widely accepted that they probably under-represent the true extent of the
problem. This is due to significant under-reporting of violence by women.
A study by Women's Aid in the mid-1990s found that only one in five women
who experienced domestic violence in Ireland ever contacted the Gardai.
"While stigma and shame are still
unfortunately an issue, low reporting is also due to women's lack of confidence
in the justice system", explained Sean Love, director of Amnesty's
According to the Amnesty report, most
reports of violence against women do not result in a conviction and there
is little monitoring of the effectiveness of legal and other measures to
prevent, identify, investigate and punish this violence.
It highlights the fact that the conviction
rate for domestic violence has dropped from 16% in 1997 to 6.5% in 2002,
despite the introduction of the 1996 Domestic Violence Act. Furthermore
the Gardai's Domestic Violence Intervention policy has not been reviewed
and women experiencing domestic violence, rape and sexual assault 'report
inconsistent responses' from Gardai.
Meanwhile family law courts are overstretched
and victims of domestic violence can experience long delays in accessing
the courts for protective orders, such as a barring order. Where these
orders are obtained, they are 'not vigorously enforced'.
"The extent to which men are charged
with appropriate criminal offences for acts of violence in the family is
but it is believed that they are often charged with least serious offences,
such as breaching a barring order", the report said.
It notes that the effectiveness of the
justice system and its sensitivity towards women experiencing violence
has not been the subject of any official government review to date.
So what has the government done? Well
way back in 1997, it published the Report of the Task Force on Violence
Against Women. This contained comprehensive
proposals for a coordinated, coherent and integrated response to violence
against women. This, the task force said, should be done through the development
of services and preventative strategies and the improvement of legislation
and law enforcement.
However two crucial components of the
report were never implemented - a national strategy on violence against
women and 'monitoring and evaluating systems' for the planning and delivery
of the measures it proposes.
Also in 1997, a National Steering Committee
on Violence Against Women was established to implement the task force's
report. However according to Amnesty, this committee 'has not been enabled
to adequately fulfil any of its original nine functions'.
Amnesty also notes that funding for frontline
services, which offer essential support to victims, remains fixed at the
2003 allocation. This means that despite more people attempting to avail
of these services, funding has not increased in two years.
"What Amnesty highlights in its report
is pervasive and avoidable state failure to protect women from serious
violations of their human rights", Mr Love said.
However Amnesty also emphasises the role
Irish society should be playing in tackling this issue.
"We, Irish society, have both the
power and the responsibility to finally end this abuse. Individuals are
to the eradication of this human rights violation. Violence against women
is not a private matter - it is everyone's business."
The Amnesty report, Justice and Accountability:
Stop Violence Against Women, was published
in June, 2005.