Monday 22 January 2018

Carol Hunt: Why do we still see domestic violence as just a nuisance?

Many reports of domestic violence are being treated as a 'nuisance'
Many reports of domestic violence are being treated as a 'nuisance'

The violent domestic abuse of women in Ireland is not just commonplace, often it's not even treated as a real crime.

A new report, 'The Lawlessness of the Home' shows us how women, victims of domestic violence who seek protection, are repeatedly failed by the law and the justice system in this country.

Bluntly put, domestic violence is seen as a nuisance rather then a real crime.

At the centre of this research are the voices of 13 women who bravely told their stories of domestic violence to the researchers.

They are shocking. Not just because of the abuse, violence and misogynistic attitudes they describe, but because of the matter of fact way they tell us how their abuse was not taken seriously by many gardai or legal professionals.


One woman, 'Ciara', a victim of repeated beatings and attempted rape by her ex-husband, described how a judge told her: "I believe there's a bit of domestic violence but I think it's highly exaggerated."

Ciara told researchers: "A bit? I don't think it's taken seriously. That judge didn't take me one bit seriously, and I felt very hurt, I felt really hurt, to say like - a little bit of domestic violence."

Which begs the question, how much domestic violence is 'a lot'? When the woman is permanently damaged? Scarred for life? Or murdered?

Another woman, 'Lisa', whose ex-husband was breaking a safety order, was told by the gardai: "Well, the guards aren't getting involved because it's only a domestic."

This is damning stuff and it's nothing new. Last year, the Garda Inspectorate Report told us that of nearly 11,000 domestic violence call-outs between January and September 2012 only 247 led to an actual arrest - most often not for the violent crime but for breach of a barring order or such like.

Half of the calls weren't even recorded and of those that were, nearly half were recorded incorrectly, usually as a much lesser offence.

But then we still tend to (sometimes unconsciously) blame women for getting themselves into these situations, don't we?

We may not articulate it but there's often a whiff of "well, she must have been doing something to deserve it". We also tell ourselves that if the situation was really that bad she'd leave, wouldn't she?

But, as Justice Catherine McGuinness said last Monday: "Many women were forced to return to violent or abusive relationships due to lack of options. This question seems to upset the system that deals with domestic violence, but she goes back because she has no alternative."

Mrs Justice McGuinness said that the courts need "more resources to deal with cases of domestic violence".

But it's not just the courts who need more resources, domestic violence services are at breaking point as funding is continually cut while crimes against women and their children increase.

Yet when reports such as the SAFE Ireland one are released a common response is an antagonistic "yes, but what about the men?".

Look at any of the comments sections on articles on this topic and you'll read unashamedly misogynistic rants insisting that men are as much at risk of violence from female partners.


Well, here's the facts lads: over 30 years of data and research have confirmed that men are generally the perpetrators of domestic violence and that women are generally the victims.

Irish and worldwide research reveals a consistent pattern of violence in intimate relationships where men are the perpetrators 90pc of the time (that's according to Women's Aid).

Another nasty myth is that women often make false claims about domestic or sexual abuse, when facts show (according to a 2014 EU report) that over 70pc of Irish victims of sexual or domestic abuse don't even bother reporting it.

Why not? Because, as the SAFE Ireland report shows, many of them are failed miserably by our justice system when they do.

Even the name we give it, "domestic violence", seems to put it into the category of a non-crime, a little private dispute between consenting adults, instead of the crime which it is.

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