The recent conviction of Adrian Bayley in Australia for the brutal rape and murder of Jill Meagher, the savage murder of Jolanta Lubiene and her eight year old daughter Enrika in county Kerry and the media furore around the photos of celebrity cook Nigella Lawson being assaulted by her husband, have all brought into sharp focus the issue of violence against women.Co-incidentally two weeks ago the annual report for 2012 from Women’s Aid was published. Its facts were equally shocking.
· One in five women in the Irish state will experience violence and abuse from an intimate partner
· 3,230 disclosures of direct child Abuse to the Women’s Aid Helpline – a 55% increase on the previous year
· 11,729 calls to the Freephone Helpline
· 32 calls per day
· 49% of the women supported in One to One service were experiencing abuse from a former husband, partner or boyfriend
· 30% of first time one to one support visits were with women from migrant communities
· The most dangerous time can be when a woman is planning or making her exit and in the period afterwards.The facts are equally stark in the north. The Making the Grade report in 2007 revealed that:
· In 2006/7 the PSNI responded to a domestic incident every 22 minutes of every day of the year.
· In 2006/7 there were more domestic violence related crimes (10,115) than the combined total for sexual offences against children, indecent exposure, robbery, armed robbery, hijacking, fraud and counterfeiting, shoplifting, dangerous driving, offences and firearms offences
· 20% of all attempted murders in 2006/7 had a domestic motivation
· The rate of conviction for rape decreased from 28.2% in 1994 to 19% in 2005.
· The number of recorded rapes increased from 292 in 2001 to 457 in 2006.
· 84% of victims of sexual offences were women.But as with any statistics it is essential that you look beyond the bullet points and focus on the human experience that they reflect.
The Women’s Aid report records harrowing accounts of this experience. Women have described being locked in and prevented from leaving their houses, being drugged, assaulted and hospitalised, being beaten while pregnant or breast-feeding, being gagged to stop screaming, being raped and sexually abused, including being pinned down and assaulted, and being forced to have sex in return for money to feed their children.For women violence includes but is not limited to domestic violence, forced marriage, rape and sexual assault, crimes in the name of honour, murder, trafficking and sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation, sexual harassment and stalking. It causes physical damage ranging from death to miscarriages to broken limbs. Sexual offences can also result in sexually transmitted diseases and forced pregnancies, as well as leaving long term psychological damage.
Kofi Annan, the former head of the United Nations said:“Violence against women is perhaps the most shameful human rights violation and it is perhaps the most pervasive. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth. As long as it continues we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development and peace.”
Safe Ireland also published the results of a one day survey which revealed that almost 850 women and children received support and protection from domestic violence over a single 24-hour period on November 6th last year.
The survey found that more than 500 women and over 300 children sought domestic violence services on that day. Almost 270 women and children were accommodated in refuge, with 21 women being turned away due to lack of space. The census also found that more than 20 pregnant women looked for safety from violence.
At its core violence against women is a cause and a consequence of women’s inequality. It cannot be challenged and defeated without a recognition of this.So how do we end it? Coherent, integrated and properly economic, social, cultural and political strategies are needed. Such strategies do work.
Regrettably, in the south the promised consolidated domestic violence legislation contained in the Programme for Government has yet to be delivered. This week I again asked about this in the Dáil. The Minister for Justice wrote me a letter saying that it will be ‘progressed as soon as possible having regard to the need for consultations and other legislative priorities in the Department of Justice and Equality.’Other legislative priorities? What greater priority should there be than protecting the lives and human rights of women and girls.
The bottom line is that there is no underlying strategic approach or priority being given to this issue.The Minister also told my comrade Mary Lou McDonald that the government has still not signed the European Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. It apparently supports the aims and terms in principle but he claims there is a ‘particular difficulty reconciling property rights under the Irish constitution with the requirement under Article 52 of the European Convention and the availability of barring orders.’
This is also the rationale presented by the Minister for rejecting Woman’s Aid recommendation for an on call system for accessing emergency barring orders to give women and children protection. And yet when the government rushed through legislation in the Dáil earlier this year on the Irish Bank Resolution Company it included a provision requiring the ‘permanent or temporary interference with property rights for the common good.’So, we can have rushed legislation on property rights to aid banks but no legislation on property rights to help women victims of violence. And all the while violence against women continues.