Second Opinion: Domestic violence isn’t just for festive season
Domestic violence occurs all year round and worsens during the festive season of Christmas and New Year when perpetrators exert more control over finances and family gatherings. The increase in violence is often mistakenly attributed to stress, alcohol consumption, money worries and household bills.
While these family challenges do not help, they do not cause domestic violence. Recessions do not cause domestic violence. All domestic violence happens because perpetrators want to control every aspect of their victims’ lives and for no other reason.
There is more violence during the holiday season because families are at home more. Men and women who are normally at work or engaged in other business, are now around the house and each other, sometimes all day, over the festive period.
School-going children are also on a break and can be victims of violence or are witnesses to it. A holiday means more opportunities to commit these crimes.
There is a high level of awareness about domestic violence. A 2013 Safe Ireland survey on male attitudes found that over half of all men think domestic violence is common and three-quarters think it is on the increase.
A majority of men are aware of the impact of domestic violence on women, with 95 per cent believing women in abusive relationships and their children suffer from depression and anxiety.
Two-thirds of men think women in domestic violence situations may need hospitalisation and nearly half of men believe these women could be killed.
Statistics show that, despite high levels of awareness and the best efforts of almost 100 different organisations around the country, and Cosc, The National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence, domestic violence is increasing.
The Courts Service Annual Report 2012 shows that applications to the District Court for safety, protection and barring orders increased by 19 per cent, to 12,655.
Women’s support services received nearly 50,000 calls in 2012 and Amen, which provides supports to male victims, over 5,000 contacts.
The vast majority of perpetrators are men. Services were unable to accommodate many women and their children because refuges were full or there was no refuge in the area.
The National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence 2010-2014 has made some progress but, although it is an excellent strategy, its 59 different actions are not preventing domestic violence. So what is going wrong?
A mid-term progress review of the strategy carried out by the Institute of Public Administration and published in July 2012 highlighted some major problems.
First, support services for victims of domestic violence are generally provided by the voluntary sector and are funded by the HSE.
Unfortunately, “There is little evidence of an improvement in relationships between the statutory and voluntary sectors . . . this has the potential to impact adversely on strategy implementation.”
Secondly, there has been an overemphasis on awareness-raising and not enough on better laws to protect victims and punish perpetrators.
The June 2013 progress report from Cosc says that “consolidation and reform of domestic violence legislation” will be brought to Government by the end of 2014, if “time and resources permit”.
Not a serious offence
The Law Reform Commission (LRC) has just published a report, Aspects of Domestic Violence, which, unbelievably, recommends that breaches of domestic violence orders should not be made a serious offence because this would affect the rights of perpetrators in a disproportionate manner, including refusal of bail.
“Many breaches of domestic violence orders are, in relative terms, minor, and are suitable to be tried summarily as minor offences.” The authors obviously did not take victims’ fear into consideration.
Despite the opinion of the LRC there is some hope that things may improve for victims of domestic violence. The National Strategy has another year to run and a lot can be achieved in a year.
The Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality will hold public hearings on domestic and sexual violence early in 2014.
The committee received 400 pages of submissions from organisations and individuals all of whom want legislative changes.
The Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (also known as the Istanbul convention) might be ratified by the 10 countries needed to bring it into force.
Thirty two countries have already signed the convention and eight member states have ratified it.
The Irish State, which has neither signed nor ratified the convention, will have to comply, like it or not.
Dr Jacky Jones is a former HSE regional manager of health promotion.